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"The other side of the Burnham Plan"

Daniel Burnham is getting a lot of attention here in Chicago right now, with 2009 being the centennial of his landmark Plan of Chicago. I've been meaning to read Carl Smith's well-received The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City.

But I've now come across another book, What Would Jane Say? City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos, by Janice Metzger, which postulates how the great social reformer (and Burnham contemporary) Jane Addams would have responded to the Plan. On the blog of Lake Claremont Press, Erik Germani writes:

Instrumental as they were in shaping the development of Chicago’s neighborhoods and creating its social institutions, the women were left on the sidelines while Burnham and the Commercial Club laid the course of Chicago’s future. The men knew that there was no profit in catering to the poor and downtrodden, as they certainly wouldn’t be footing the bill for their grandiose designs. So the Plan of Chicago was published, representing only the voices of the elite.

Though the plan’s drafters may have been uninterested in what Addams had to say, Janice Metzger cares, and makes the case that we should care, too. Her book, What Would Jane Say? City-Building Women and a Tale of Two Chicagos, breaks down the plan (and details its break downs), then imagines how the women would have responded to it, substantiating her speculation with detailed research.

Sounds like Metzger's book would be an excellent companion piece to Smith's. I think I'll read Smith first, and then Metzger as a sort of rebuttal.

August 9, 2009 in Books, Chicago Observations | Permalink


Hi Pete,

Thanks for re-posting. "What Would Jane Say?" is quite a book and we get it back from the printer this week. Definitely expands the Burnham Plan conversations. Hope you enjoy!


Posted by: Sharon Woodhouse at Aug 10, 2009 5:16:59 PM

I ended up reading and reviewing Smith's book last year and highly recommend it, but even he admits that Burnham and his buddies believed in the "trickle-down" theory of urban planning; that if you design a city mostly for the benefit of the rich, only then will the rich actually stick around and provide the money needed for the poor, a philosophy that can easily be seen in Burnham's soaring skyscrapers and almost complete lack of neighborhood parks. Don't forget, even when his plan first came out, it was already being criticized for the way that actual humans are almost an afterthought to it all; notice for example how humans rarely appear in the plan's illustrations as anything other than little dots, a criticism that was made over and over even by his contemporaries.

Posted by: Jason Pettus at Aug 22, 2009 10:20:00 AM