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Planning and Promoting Cities

This subsection examines some examples of Classical, European, and American planning and mid-American Boosterism that influenced the Plan of Chicago. As throughout Make Big Plans our focus will be on the way in which maps and other images reflected, shaped, and promoted these ideas. The images and ideas in the Plan of Chicago drew extensively from Europe, but they also reveal the motivations for the Plan embedded in the American past and late nineteenth and early twentieth century Chicago.

The Plan opens with a history of urban planning, beginning with an appreciation of Greek and Roman planning, and Renaissance and Baroque Europe’s interpretation and adaptation of those ideals. But the authors reserve their greatest praise for the massive transformations that European cities, most especially Paris, had undergone in the nineteenth century. This was typical of the City Beautiful movement, most of whose aesthetic inspirations came from Europe, rather than from America.

Yet, in crafting the Plan of Chicago Burnham and Bennett worked on a landscape shaped by an American legacy of planning that was already centuries old, and in many respects deeply reflective of American ideals, experiences, and culture. These included strains of colonialism, empire-building, and utopianism, mixed with the American penchant for self-promotion, mobility, and entrepreneurialism, all molded by the practical urgencies of rapid settlement. Burnham and Bennett decried these urgencies as the cause of what they saw as a disorderly city. Yet they could not entirely escape them. Indeed, the Plan itself can and should be seen as an unusually glossy product of Midwestern Boosterism created for a rapidly growing commercial metropolis.