Chicago Fail

I’m toying with the idea of turning this blog into specifically my thoughts on and first stabs at forming opinions on issues of urban planning – or I might just pollute the ‘net with another blog.  In any case, I thought this worth sharing:

I attended a couple lectures as part of the Chicago Humanities Festival which honored and discussed the 100th anniversary of the Burnham Plan of Chicago, the document by Daniel Burnham and others which laid out not only the physical plan of the city, but the principles behind which Chicago has developed over the past century.  Looking at the plan and a map of downtown Chicago currently, it’s interesting to see what has and has not come into being, but I think the most entertaining and tragic deviation is as follows.

In the Plan, Burnham envisioned a variety of public spaces which celebrated civic life, including museums, lakefront park space, etc.   The centerpiece west of the Loop would be a “center for civic, intellectual, and cultural life” accessible via a wide boulevard called Congress Parkway, and from which diagonal streets like Ogden would lead outward into the rest of the city. Illustrated below:

An illustration of the city according to the plan

An illustration of the city according to the plan

Here is the city now, with some labels, for reference – courtesy of Google Maps.

Downtown Chicago as it looks today (Google Maps)

Downtown Chicago as it looks today (Google Maps)

So, obviously we never got that civic center, although we did get some cool museums in the mix.  What we actually got was – in pretty much exactly that spot – a big circle of highway intersections, the interchange among 90/94 and 290 (with 55 somewhere close by).  I think that pretty much qualifies as an epic fail.

Highway interchange, and epic fail

Highway interchange, and epic fail

I think that says volumes about how much cars have polluted our cities and generally our quality of life.  This was the conclusion I came to while listening to the talk, although they only talked a little about transport in particular.  So here’s a way to think about it:  cars themselves, and not merely their emissions, are polluting our cities.

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3 comments so far

  1. Michael Hampton on

    Urban planning usually does fail.

  2. colin on

    i dont see the fail ???

  3. r00t on

    Not quite right. The Chicago River was moved west in the 1920s, so your orientation is a bit off.

    The large north-south street going through that civic center area is Halsted Street. The diagonal street that enters from the southwest is what was Blue Island. (The street lives on as a path across the UIC campus.) So the Civic Center would be where the UIC-Halsted L station is. Since there are almost 30,000 students at the university, that area is probably far more alive than if a bunch of politicians were there.


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