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The Plan of Chicago

Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City

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 history reveals the Plan’s central role in shaping the ways people envision the cityscape and urban life itself. 

Smith’s concise and accessible narrative begins with a survey of Chicago’s stunning rise from a tiny frontier settlement to the nation’s second-largest city. He then offers an illuminating exploration of the Plan’s creation and reveals how it embodies the renowned architect’s belief that cities can and must be remade for the better. The Plan defined the City Beautiful movement and was the first comprehensive attempt to reimagine a major American city. Smith points out the ways the Plan continues to influence debates, even a century after its publication, about how to create a vibrant and habitable urban environment. 

Richly illustrated and incisively written, his insightful book will be indispensable to our understanding of Chicago, Daniel Burnham, and the emergence of the modern city.

Read an excerpt.

202 pages | 62 halftones, 6 maps | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2006

Chicago Visions and Revisions

Architecture: American Architecture

Chicago and Illinois

Geography: Urban Geography

History: Urban History


“The story of Burnham’s plan has been told many times but never in a more appealing or succinct style than in Carl Smith’s modest little book, The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City. . . . What sets this book apart from other Burnham histories is Smith’s attention to the filthy, miserable, nineteenth-century city that repelled and motivated Burnham, and the extraordinary promotional effort led by the Commercial Club of Chicago that sold his plan to the public. . . . A clear-eyed assessment of Burnham.”

Lois Wille | Chicago Tribune

“Carl Smith breathes inspired new life into Daniel Burnham, the major figure behind the 1909 Plan of Chicago. Smith vividly describes both the thoughtful conceptualization and the masterful showmanship of Burnham and his many collaborators in the Plan development. Smith shows that this is a plan that reshaped American notions of the modern city.”

Ann Durkin Keating, coeditor of The Encyclopedia of Chicago

“Carl Smith’s The Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City is a triumph of meticulous research, clear organization, and accessible writing.  In his hands the story of the Plan, the campaign to promote it, and its influence on generations of Chicagoans come alive.” —Robert Bruegmann, University of Illinois at Chicago, author of Sprawl: A Compact History


Robert Bruegmann

"Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago has long been regarded as one of the benchmark documents of American urban and regional planning in the twentieth century.  Carl Smith has now provided the first book-length study of this signal moment in the history of American city, exploring its larger context and helping modern readers understand the role it played in shaping the subsequent history not just of Chicago but of metropolitan America."

William Cronon, author of  Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West.

“An imaginative, beautifully produced, and visually appealing masterpiece of stirring prose and stunning illustration. . . . Carl Smith’s book is a concise, splendidly accessible, and beautifully constructed introduction to a seminal work of American urban planning and its enduring influence on Chicago and other American cities. He writes particularly well, without padding or academic jargon, and admirable self-restraint: He tells us just enough about the men and the times that created The Plan of Chicago to make us want to learn more on our own. One can offer no higher praise for a writer.”

New York Sun | William Bryk

“A concise and reader-friendly introduction to the visionary and ambitious plan that helped shape much of the Windy City as we know it today.”

Chicago Sun-Times | Kevin Nance

“This well-written book on the 1909 Plan of Chicago, ‘The Burnham Plan,’ excellently summarizes numerous publications about the plan and its influence on Chicago’s development.”–J.W. Stamper, CHOICE


"Smith’s storytelling, saturated in engaging fact, gives sharp yet sweeping coverage of how the plan came to be and how certain parts were laboriously implemented. . . . Smith’s addition to the history and architecture of the city gives fresh perspective on where we’ve been and where we’re going."

Robert Duffer | Make

"Smith takes up where [Pierce’s History of Chicago] left off, and his work may stand alongside hers as the starting point for numerous inquiries into the fascinating city of Chicago."

Elaine Lewinnek | Urban History

"Smith has produced a compelling and informative story of a time when the civic realm was still robust. By focusing on the individuals behind the Plan, placing the Plan in the context of Chicago’s history, and offering a wealth of detailed knowledge, Smith has written an important book. One cannot fully understand either city planning or the role of business in urban development without knowing what happened in Chicago in 1909."

Robert A, Beauregard | Enterprise and Society

“Fascinating. . . . One comes away from this finely written book with the conviction that Burnham is arguably not only the most influential person in Chicago’s history—but also America’s most successful architect and visionary urban planner. . . . The Plan of Chicago tells one of the great American urban stories.”

James Schmiechen | Michigan Historical Review

"Smith's storytelling, saturated in engaging fact, gives sharp yet sweeping coverage of how the Plan came to be and how certain parts were laboriously implemented."


Table of Contents


List of Illustrations

1. Planning Before the Plan
2. Antecedents and Inspirations
3. The City the Planners Saw
4. The Plan Comes Together
5. Creating the Plan
6. Reading the Plan
7. Promotion
8. Implementation
9. Heritage

Bibliographical Essay

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