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The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

(Chicago Visions and Revisions)

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  366 ratings  ·  46 reviews
Arguably the most influential document in the history of urban planning, Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago, coauthored by Edward Bennett and produced in collaboration with the Commercial Club of Chicago, proposed many of the city’s most distinctive features, including its lakefront parks and roadways, the Magnificent Mile, and Navy Pier. Carl Smith’s fascinating histor ...more
Paperback, 202 pages
Published August 15th 2007 by University of Chicago Press (first published January 1st 2006)
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3.49  · 
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 ·  366 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Jul 02, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 52-in-2009
The Plan of Chicago by Carl Smith (pp. 172)

The Plan of Chicago discusses the classic 1,650 page, two volume city planning document of the same name published by Daniel Burnham, Edward Bennett, and the Commercial Club of Chicago. Carl Smith tells the story of the over 300 individuals who came together over almost two decades to influence the growth and development of Chicago.

While only 172 pages and supported with numerous illustrations and turn of the century photos, Smith’s work is a dense rea
Stephen Rynkiewicz
Chicago has dozens of neighborhood groups that try to nudge the course of development. A century ago there was "The Plan of Chicago," a coffee-table book produced by Daniel Burnham's architectural practice, funded by Burnham and a host of business heavyweights. It's comforting that community organizers now can speak with the same authority as those captains of industry once did with the Burnham Plan. But as a community volunteer who reads a lot of planning documents, I can't help but think that ...more
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was ok
The book was ok for me. It was interesting, though not fascinating. To me, the book seemed more like a book review, with a little bit of history and nice pictures injected into the text. I didn't learn anything new than what I'd seen and watched on WTTW. I guess I was looking for more details of the Plan, which I may have to read other books for. It did, however, made me appreciate a grand planning and ways to gain public support. Burnham and co. did think big!
Mumford observes, however, that des
Jun 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an efficiently well-written book that explains the 1909 Plan of Chicago's origins as both a response to its explosive 19th century growth and rosy expectations of future ascendance. Smith argues that the plan had important impact on the development of some of Chicago's most cherished urban features, helped launch the field of urban planning, and was the perhaps the crowning achievement of the legendary career of its central visionary, Daniel H. Burnham.
Michael Lewyn
Jul 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The purpose of this book seems to be to describe the history and historical context of Burnham's 1909 Chicago plan. In the 1860s, planners took Paris apart and put it back together, destroying many streets, building many more, and creating the Paris we know today. Burnham and other supporters of the "City Beautiful" movement thought Paris looked pretty good compared to the fast-growing but dirty, congested and disorderly industrial cities of the late 19th century, and wanted American cities to l ...more
Dec 01, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A must read for anyone interested in the growth of American cities and the rise of the urban planner. What intrigued me even more was the engagement by civic leaders in the development of "The Plan," a pioneering effort, published in 1909, to organise Chicago for economic growth and liveability. Businessmen contributed their time, led by architect Daniel Burnham, to create their vision for the city. Their descendants did the same thing when civic leaders came together to push through the Milleni ...more
Kris Gallagher
Sep 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this as part of the course that I am helping to teach and was surprised by how interesting and readable it is. A fast, photo-filled overview of how Chicago came to be as it is today. Also, why we have streets named Wacker and not named Pine.
Feb 23, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
don't recommend
Jason Pettus
Jun 22, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(Full review can be found at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [].)

It's simply impossible to understand the importance of architect Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago without first looking at some pre-Plan statistics: for instance, the fact that from 1840 to 1900, the population of the city grew from 5,000 to over two million; that by then the city limits stretched over 180 square miles, including 3,000 miles of streets and 1,400 miles of alleys; that barely hal
Jul 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice quick read... my graduate school professor and supervisor gave it to me as a present nearly 10 years ago. It's a step by step detailed account of how the Plan of Chicago came to be. Even though I only lived in Chicago for 2.5 years, it always had a special connection to me personally... even before I lived there it was the ideally planned city and inspired me to choose my profession. The multifaceted strategy to build public and private support for Daniel Burnham's vision is really ground z ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
When Nate gave this book to me and I started reading it, I realized that this wasn't the text of THE plan of Chicago, but a kind of paraphrasing of it, and I said to Nate "why can't I just read the real thing." Well, one reason is it's a huge honking book, that's why. But I was definitely glad because this short and sweet book, filled with pictures, covers the history of Daniel Burnham, and what led up to the plan, as well as (my favorite part) the actual changes made in the city, after the plan ...more
Dec 26, 2007 rated it liked it
An interesting follow up for anyone who read "Devil in the White City." Daniel Burnham (the primary planner of the Columbian Exposition of 1893) drafted a comprehensive plan for improvements to the city of Chicago. There are several things that are remarkable about the plan, but I thought it was fascinating that this was a privately-funded plan.

The book itself is too dry and academic for my tastes. I wish the book explored more of the implementation of the plan itself. But otherwise, if you've
Aug 15, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I like moving through Chicago with some background about why and how buildings, trains, and streets were constructed. This book did not give me that history. The book missed exciting opportunities to draw parallels between Chicago of the late 1800s/early 1900s and today, characterize Burnham and others realistically as opposed to iconic men of History, describe "City Beautiful" and other intellectual movements, and comment on prevailing sexism, racism, and classism logics. Instead, the book spen ...more
Sep 05, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This fall's One Book, One Chicago selection.

An interesting book that tells the story of the creation of The Plan of Chicago (often referred to as the Burnham Plan), describes the Plan itself, and discusses the impact it had on Chicago city planning.

I found it dense in spots, and when I didn't have personal knowledge of the area of the city that was being discussed, I got a little lost, but it's worth it for the accompanying art alone--illustrations from the Plan, and pictures of Chicago over the
Jul 30, 2011 rated it liked it
Interesting and thorough, if somewhat dry. An obvious choice for anyone who loves Chicago and/or urban planning. I think I would have liked it more if Smith sprinkled in more "and you can see the effects of this today..." explanations throughout the book rather than saving it to the last couple chapters. Very nice to have the illustrations and photos. It was fun to see what they thought chicago would look like and how it actually turned out. Grant park? Got it! Giant domed building at Congress a ...more
Oct 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this more than the actual Plan. Smith turns a healthy critical eye on the Plan and its creators and gives credit where merited. I appreciated that he mentions on several occasions that there is no proof Burnham said "Make no little plans!". Our politicians flock to that quote to justify any wreckless boondoggle, like the 2016 Olympic bid. Little and medium plans are also worthwhile.
Aug 31, 2009 rated it liked it
The Fall 2009 "One Book One Chicago" pick. We're celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan for making Chicago a livable city, notably by turning the lakefront into open parkland for all. After multiple library renewals, finally made the effort to finish this. It was rather boring in sections, with lots of mundane detail on the committees. The last two chapters about how the plan was promoted and which parts of the plan were actually implemented were the most interesting.
Though the title screams beach read!, this slim history of the Plan of Chicago and its primary mustachio'd planner, Daniel Burnham, is a densely packed account of an era's mindset, aesthetic, ideals and flaws. Equal parts repetitive and educational, it's a must-read if you want a better look at one of Chicago's defining documents and an example of big plans stirring major blood. Plus it's 75% cheaper than a reproduction of the actual Plan of Chicago and has pretty pictures!
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chicago, nonfiction
Being a Chicago girl, I am addicted to learning more about the city. In 1909 Daniel Burnham published a book called The Plan of Chicago. This book is by Carl Smith and talks about that book, why it was needed and what came out of it.

I thought it was really interesting to see many of the proposals at the turn of the century alive and well today.

There are tons of cool city pictures from the book itself as well as photographs taken at various times.
Apr 27, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
More interesting than I expected but definitely more for planning or Chicago nerds. The last chapter, Heritage, could have been skipped or shortened considerably. I also wish some maps comparing the plan to today's Chicago would be been included. Still, a pretty quick read and good overview of the plan's beginnings, making, promotion, and implementation.
Shannon Maza
May 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This certainly wasn't a page turner, but from a historical perspective, very informative. When the book referenced certain areas of Chicago, it helped that I live here and could picture what they were talking about. This would be good for a history class but not if you are looking for something to appeal to your imagination.
I enjoyed the sections about Chicago's development since Burnham the most. I kinda feel bad for Burnham. From everyone I've talked to about Devil in the White City, people without a background in architecture preferred the Burnham story while readers with a background in architecture enjoyed the murder story more.
Aug 22, 2009 rated it liked it
Urban Planning book about Chicago and understanding how the Plan of Chicago was created. Anyone interested in the history of Chicago and how certain streets, buildings and bridges came to be would like this book.
Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history-project
Carl Smith's review of The Plan of Chicago was written for the original's 100th anniversary. I found it a surprisingly written with a good pace and level of detail. I would have loved more illustrations, but maybe I'll just have to go find and explore a copy of the actual Plan.
Sep 06, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not much to say here, other than it’s a non-fiction book about the making and implementing of the Plan of Chicago. Since I live here, I thought I should read it. It’s pretty cool to see how things in the plan played out in real life.
Jerry Delaney
Sep 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Every Chicagoan should know about Daniel Burnham. I hope most do. But this book us through the 1909 Plan of Chicago, one of the first urban planning documents. Not everything in the plan was implemented, of course, and it's fun to speculate what things would look like now if they had.
Aug 19, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, non-fiction
This book was great because I truly will never have the time to read the entire plan. It was very honest about the times and Burnham's role in writing this plan. As with his architecture, he was the big idea guy, who had others execute.
Saint Isidore of Seville
still reading it because tim said he wanted a book on Burnham
Jun 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned so much about what makes Chicago such a dynamic and singular city. Plus it was history...I just LOVE the subject
Erin Bresnahan
Liked it but it was a bit dry, like a history book.
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