Burnham Plan Centennial

Gazette Article by: Nan Greenough
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall/Winter 2008

One hundred years ago, Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett collaborated with the Commercial Club of Chicago to create a new plan for the greater Chicago region. Today the 1909 Plan of Chicago still shapes how we live. Best known for its comprehensive scope, the Plan’s legacies include Chicago’s sweeping lakefront, Northerly Island, Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive, the “emerald necklace” of county forest preserves, and other elements of the region’s transportation system.
Daniel Burnham, known for his admonition to “make no little plans,” created a blueprint for the region that was distinctive in its scope. The plan focused on six major physical elements: the lakefront, a highway system outside the city, improvement of the railway systems, acquisition of a ring of outer parks, a systematic arrangement of streets, and the creation of a civic center of cultural institutions and government.

The Plan of Chicago provides principles that continue to inform planning and development in the Chicago region today including: optimism and bold thinking, regionalism (from Kenosha to DeKalb to Michigan City), a focus on quality of life and, most importantly, a blueprint for action.

In 2009 an ambitious region-wide Burnham Plan Centennial celebration will provide a chance to look back 100 years for inspiration, and to acknowledge the big dreams that led to a tradition of thinking comprehensively about the region’s development.

Winnetkan Bob Piper, architect and planner, started thinking and talking about the need to recognize the Plan over a decade ago. His efforts and those of others led to The Burnham Plan Centennial Committee, which convened in late 2006 following years of planning. Supporting this effort are The Burnham Plan Centennial Partners, hundreds of community and not-for-profit organizations, educational and cultural institutions, and public agencies throughout the region that are planning an array of history- and future-focused activities. Both the Winnetka Historical Society and the Village of Winnetka are partners in this effort.

Winnetka shares directly in the 1909 Plan legacy. Burnham’s associate Edward Bennett was engaged to write the Plan of Winnetka, published in 1921. The principles in that plan are still largely reflected in the Village’s current comprehensive plan.

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