DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.

Comparing Chicago’s City Plans

The 1909 plan established “civic beauty satisfies a craving of human nature so deep and so compelling that people will travel far to find and enjoy it” (p. 30). A comprehensive city plan, Burnham and Bennett noted would result in a triangular standard “of commercial integrity, of taste, and of knowledge,” three elements they believed to be “prerequisites of lasting success” (p. 34). Burnham’s plan recognized “formless growth of the city is neither economical nor satisfactory” (ibid).[1] These same standards have been revisited as Chicago authored its 2012 plan.


The 1909 plan was a working document, allowing for and encouraging flexible adaptation. “[I]t is quite possible,” Burnham noted, “when particular portions for the plan shall be taken up for execution, wider knowledge, longer experience, or a change in local conditions may suggest a better solution” (Plan, p. 2). Burnham recognized the “real test of this plan will be found in its application” (ibid, p. 58). The 2012 plan reiterated Burnham’s litmus test, noting what “one stakeholder deems essential today may become moot in the not so distant future” (Final, p. 10). It stressed the commitment to strengthening community through culture, education and commerce, echoing Burnham’s original plan, which set its goal as “working out the means whereby the city may be made an efficient instrument for providing all its people with the best possible conditions of living” (Plan, p. 1). In the same way the plan itself is meant to be unsolidified, defining what may construe “the best possible conditions of living” is fluid as well.


Burnham emphasized economic benefits resulting from a well-designed plan, whether through regenerative powers of fresh air and exercise yielding more productive laborers and more efficient commerce and industry, or through increased tourism. Chicago today still benefits from Burnham’s foresight, and the current plan emphasized and sought to capitalize upon these economic benefits, noting Chicago had 1.2 million overseas visitors in 2010-2011, adding “culture attracts tourism, which brings direct spending into local economies” (Final, p. 15). Cultural development not only serves to benefit the city in the form of increased tax revenue, but will benefit small businesses as well.


Burnham additionally noted Chicago would profit economically from an “orderly arrangement of fine buildings and monuments” bringing “fame and wealth” (Plan, p. 30). Echoes of Burnham’s emphasis on Chicago’s “fame and wealth” appeared in the 2012 proposal, which stated access “to cultural opportunity is one reason people want to visit and live in cities” (Final, p. 15). Public art, Burnham’s “fine…monuments,” was an integral part of his plan, serving as a means to attract visitors to the area. He noted one prominent donor of these monuments: “the Benjamin Franklin Ferguson Monument Fund of a million dollars,” which was “available for defraying the cost of statuary…to be erected in the parks and boulevards of the city” (Plan, p. 121). Many monuments across Chicago were installed as a result of this endowment fund, and because of a clause insisting sculptures commemorate “worthy men and women of America, or important events in American history,” Jackson and Lincoln Parks appear to be monumental, visual history lessons (ibid). Yet many older works of art have fallen into ruins. If the public art itself is neglected, how may these history lessons be relevant to Chicago educators today?


One of Burnham’s initial goals included unification of a city marked by diversity. He emphasized the ability of a well-designed plan to “bring order out of the chaos incident to rapid growth, and…the influx of people of many nationalities without common traditions or habits of life” (Plan, p. 1). As Chicago wrote their new version of the city’s plan, Burnham’s theories of building a unified yet diversified city were revisited. The 2012 Plan extended beyond the typical K-12 classroom, earmarking an additional amount between $51,000 to 250,000 for a parent “outreach program for household-wide cultural appreciation and participation,” as well as $50,000 for “programs for adults participating in the arts, both formally and informally,” with an additional $50,000 designated toward development and “implementation of arts education curriculum in all schools” (Supplemental, pp. 3, 2). Although this amount seems paltry when allocated across CPS, it reflects only a small part of the amount allocated to support arts across Chicago.[2]


By exploring Burnham’s 1909 plan, I learned in the past public space surrounding monumental works of art was intended to be a democratic space created to unify a diversified population, resulting in economic strength of the city. In addition to nurturing and building upon the original commitment to developing a participatory democratic space that would potentially provide economic growth, the current plan suggested “Neighborhood showcases of culture” become sites for cultural education. The 2012 plan emphasized the concept of “Place,” part of the title of a section dedicating 3 of its 48 pages to place-based initiatives (Final, pp. 28-31). The Plan introduced eight separate initiatives, which include linking individual neighborhoods to downtown; maximizing cultural opportunities with youth to senior initiatives; creating a single “go to” website listing all cultural events; further expanding art into public spaces; creating neighborhood councils which serve as a collaboration between private, public and not for profit entities; increased funding initiatives including grant writing, endowments and neighborhood donors; reclamation of underutilized space for cultural activities; and increased support for individual cultural centers, with a specific emphasis on the South side of Chicago (ibid). With an emphasis on “Place” as a source of unifying and strengthening community, the 2012 plan at first glance may fit nicely into the role of critically transforming monumental art through place-based pedagogy. Yet is the proposal practical, and what are some possible approaches educators may use in implementing the plan?

[1] According to the 2012 plan corporate involvement in developing and supporting art and culture in Chicago is paramount. Commercial involvement in the arts was crucial to Burnham (1909) as well. He noted commercial support of the arts and commercial integrity were closely intertwined with a population’s mental and emotional well-being: “the responsibility…and the necessity for establishing and maintaining…standards of commercial integrity, of taste, and of knowledge…are the prerequisites of lasting success, and the only real satisfaction of the human mind” (p. 34). In the 2012 plan commercial support continues to play an important role in the arts. In addition to the aforementioned amounts, $50,000 has been designated for “Coordinated and staffed multi-year corporate sponsorship campaign of arts education programs,” with an additional $51,000-250,000 going toward “Corporate and nonprofit adopt-a-school arts education program” (Supplemental, 2012, p. 2). Fifty thousand more will go toward what has been identified as the “Mayor’s Corporate Arts Citizen Award for support of arts education” (ibid).

[2] For an entire breakdown of the funds, see the Supplemental in its entirety.



DRAFT: This module has unpublished changes.