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Daniel Burnham's most enduring legacy had impact on the suburbs
By Deborah Donovan | Daily Herald Staff

Daniel H. Burnham

 

Courtesy Chicago History Museum

From the 1909 Plan: "Bird's-eye view, showing the location of the city on the shores of Lake Michigan, together with the smaller surrounding towns connected with Chicago by radiating arteries. Painted for the Commercial Club by Jules Guerin."

 

Courtesy Chicago History Museum

Jeff Mishur, of artexcursions.com, speaks Sunday at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

 

Carl Smith, history professor at Northwestern University, will speak Aug. 9.

 

"The Plan of Chicago," by Carl Smith.

 

1909 Chicago Plan: "View looking north on the south branch of the Chicago River, showing the suggested arrangement of streets and ways for teaming an reception of freight by boat, at different levels."

 

Courtesy Chicago History Museum

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Published: 7/19/2009 12:01 AM

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Where you can catch Burnham exhibits, programs

The Newberry Library and the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee have created "Make Big Plans: Burnham's Vision of an American Metropolis."

This exhibit at more than 50 libraries throughout the metropolitan area commemorates the Plan of Chicago and emphasizes its relevance to metropolitan development into the future.

Maps, views, and photographs are displayed through October.

The exhibit can also be viewed on line at www.burnhamplan100.org/newberryexhibit/index.shtml.

Here are the libraries in the Northwest suburbs:

• Arlington Heights Memorial Library, ahml.info, 500 N. Dunton Ave.

• Bloomingdale Public Library, mybpl.org/bpl., 101 Fairfield Way.

• Des Plaines Public Library, dppl.org/home/index.shtml, 1501 Ellinwood St.

• Indian Trails Public Library District, indiantrailslibrary.org, 355 S. Schoenbeck Road, Wheeling.

• Morton Arboretum, mortonarb.org, 4100 Illinois Route 53 Lisle.

• O'Hare International Airport, flychicago.com/OHare/OHareHomepage.shtm,10510 W. Zemke Boulevard 2nd Floor, Chicago.

• Schaumburg Township District Library, stdl.org, 130 S. Roselle Road.

• For details about the Burnham Plan Centennial visit www.burnhamplan100.org.

The Northwest suburbs are more than 15 miles from the lakefront - the jewel that pops to mind when Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago is mentioned.

But in this centennial of the most influential document in the history of American urban planning, it's worth noting that the plan's influence spread to the suburbs and indirectly to cities around the world.

The transportation systems, railroad and highways, and the Cook and DuPage County forest preserves are the most obvious suburban results.

That's the word from two of the speakers who will participate in a free lecture series that starts today at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library.

The library is among four in the Chicago region hosting speakers sponsored by the Newberry Library and has added a few of its own to the series.

In another piece of centennial celebration, a photopanel and digital exhibit that will be displayed at the library through October is from the Newberry Library and the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee.

"Daniel Burnham worked on the project over three years," said Jeff Mishur, who will lead off the library's lecture series today.

"He never received a penny for his work on the Plan of Chicago, but as a member of the Commercial Club of Chicago (the sponsor of the plan) he was also expected to fund the project, which he did," said Mishur in an e-mail.

Mishur, whose company, artexcursions.com, gives lectures and tours on art, architecture and culture, agrees with Carl Smith, another of the speakers, about the current importance of the Plan.

Smith, scheduled to speak Aug. 9, is a history professor at Northwestern University who thinks the importance of the plan is its inspiration for the future.

"The greatest value of the centennial is not looking back but looking ahead, taking this as an occasion to think about what we like and don't like about our built environment and how we might improve it," said Smith.

He is the author of "The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City," (University of Chicago, $12).

Burnham was a known architect when he designed Chicago's 1893 Columbian Exhibition, said Smith.

"The fair got him interested," he said. "If we could build a model city within Chicago, maybe we could make the real city more like the model one."

This led Burnham into becoming a leading figure of the city beautiful movement.

The Chicago Plan was an indictment of unchecked urban growth, said Mishur.

"We should be even more concerned about this than Burnham and (co-author Edward) Bennett were in 1909," said Mishur. "If we leave the planning of an environment to commercial developers, real estate agents who support development for its own sake, and politicians who do the same we will end up with a disaster. The rule of thumb will be: Build as much as possible, as fast as possible, for as cheaply as possible."

While other planners suggested many elements before Burnham and Bennett wrote the Plan of Chicago, putting them together in one large concept to avoid a crazy quilt of transportation and development was the gift of this work, said Smith.

"It is very much a regional plan with focus on Chicago as the essential element connecting to places well beyond Arlington Heights," said Smith. "He certainly was interested in the relation of suburbs to the city and satellite independent towns like Waukegan and Elgin."