Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
After launching my Burnham Plan 100 anniversary and having teased you last year, I will keep the ball rolling with some quotes from the Burnham Plan itself. People just don’t write like they used to. It’s a shame, because there was some great rhetoric back in the day. IMO, there is no substitute for reading primary sources. Particularly in this case when it is so readable and so accessible. As you read these quotes, and hopefully read the plan for yourself, consider the opinions expressed both as they relate to the challenges of the era as they experienced them, and to your own personal thinking and conventional wisdom on urban planning today.
The page numbers are from the Princeton Architectural Press reprint edition of the Plan of Chicago, available via Amazon Marketplace. You might find Carl Smith’s The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City a useful companion guide.
“The people of Chicago have ceased to be impressed by rapid growth or the great size of the city. What they insist asking now is, How are we living? Are we in reality prosperous?”, p. 32
“City life has attractions that make a strong appeal to human nature. Opportunities for large success, for wealth and power and social consideration, for amusement and instruction, for the increase of knowledge and the cultivation of taste, are greater for the average person in the city than in the country. The city, therefore, is constantly drawing from the country the young men and women of ambition and self-reliance, who are lured thither by the great prizes which in a democracy are open to the competition of all.”, p. 33
“To many who have given little consideration to the subject,a plan seems to call for large expenditures and a consequent increase in taxation. The reverse is the case. It is certain that civic improvement will go on at an accelerated rate; and if those improvements shall be marshaled according to a well-ordered plan great saving must result. Good order and convenience are not expensive; but haphazard and ill-considered projects invariably result in extravagance and wastefulness.”, p. 4
“Density of population beyond a certain point results in disorder, vice, and disease, and thereby becomes the greatest menace to the well-being of the city.”, p. 48
“People flock to those cities where conditions of work are good, where means of recreation abound, where there are attractions for the senses and the intellect. Persons of wealth and refinement seek such cities as their abiding-places; and those who have accumulated wealth in a city bent on improvement remain there. Moreover, there is no stronger appeal made to the American citizen of today than comes from the call of one’s native or adopted city to enter upon the service of creating better surroundings not only for one’s self, but for all those who must of necessity earn their bread in the sweat of their brows. Nor is the call of posterity to be denied. To love and render service to one’s city, to have a part in its advancement, to seek to better its conditions and to promote its highest interests, – these are both the duty and privilege of the patriot of peace.”, pp. 81-82
Much more to come, including various topical discussions on urban design and highways.