Ten planning lessons from Daniel Burnham’s Chicago

The following are ten planning lessons from multiples visits to the dynamic City of Chicago.

  • The city’s 22-mile long lakefront is Chicago’s crown jewel. For nearly the entire shoreline to have been preserved as parkland for public use is one of history’s great urban achievements. Should the Bears mistakenly venture out to the suburbs, Soldier Field should be demolished so that the city’s near Southside neighborhoods can be better connected to the central facets of this crown jewel.
  • Despite its diminutive size, compared to other waterways the Chicago River is quite remarkable, especially when experienced by boat or from grand vistas along it throughout downtown and nearby areas.
  • Damn, it gets dark early in the late fall and winter months. Furthermore, in Chicago, those areas lying beneath the shadows of skyscrapers and/or located beneath the “L’s” tracks have even shorter windows of daylight throughout the year. One has to wonder if darkness as early as 4:30 in the afternoon impacts the social, physical, and mental health of those communities located near the eastern edge of a time zone. While down-shielded lighting helps protect the night sky, perhaps outdoor/indoor lighting plans that improve mental health during such times would be an idea for consideration.

Source: onlyinyourstate.com

  • For the city to begin growing again, Chicago must overcome those divisive aspects that separate its citizens by race, class, education, opportunity, and safety. Otherwise, the have-nots will either continue to flee Chicago for places perceived to be more welcoming or remain trapped in the city’s unequal north/south divide.
  • Living amongst high-rises has it own set of unique difficulties, not the least of which is how clearly one hears activities taking place on the street level despite being many stories above the din. Perhaps one gets used to it, but maybe developers should be required to design residential towers with better sound insulation.
  • As much as I love Chicago’s mass transit options, the long-term impacts of near-constant noises emitting from trains running along the “L” has to be hard on the hearing of nearby residents. From this planner’s perspective, at-grade and underground rail options have far less noise impacts on those residing nearby.
  • The absence of an express train option to/from O’Hare International Airport (O’Hare) is the single biggest oversight and drawback of traveling here via air. It should NOT take more than an hour to get to the airport from downtown using so-called “rapid transit.” Even 1-2 nonstop trains in the morning and another 1-2 in the late afternoon or evening would be helpful to those who don’t want to agonize through 16-18 stops in the vain hope that they won’t miss their flight.
  • It is quite impressive to see the fleet of snow plows lined up to tackle a snow event at O’Hare. At the same time, it is always amazing how often flights get delayed/canceled by a minimal snowfall, despite such an army of vehicles at work.
  • O’Hare and other major airports are truly cities unto themselves, except for the lack of permanent residents. The planning requirements are just as complex and require as much forethought and in-depth consideration. As a result, citizen participation should be just as key of a component as it is for comparable cities.
  • Chicago, much like Los Angeles and New York City are incredible beehives of constant activity. They pulsate like the heart of the nation that they reflect. Having visited these great metropolises multiple times, they each have their own pluses and minuses, but one cannot help but be awe-inspired by all of them.


If Chicago intrigues you too, here are several books about the city that are available via Amazon.com.*

……….Link – The Third Coast……………………………………………Link – Lakefront

*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using the above links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

This entry was posted in Active transportation, air travel, airport planning, airports, Alternative transportation, architecture, bicycling, Biking, Bus transportation, Cities, civics, commerce, culture, downtown, engineering, fun, geography, historic preservation, history, land use, Passenger rail, pictures, placemaking, planning, rail, Railroads, rivers/watersheds, skylines, skyscrapers, spatial design, sprawl, Statistics, third places, tourism, traffic, transit, Transportation, Travel, Uncategorized, urban design, urban planning, weather, zoning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ten planning lessons from Daniel Burnham’s Chicago

  1. jeansc35 says:

    I offered a comment about this post, but still don’t see it up. I should have Saved it so I could paste it in here. I’ll send you this version.I grew up in Chicago and live here now, not voluntarily. 1. Soldier Field is a memorial to our warriors. It should never be demolished. Only the recent “flying saucer” addition should be removed. Soldier Field does not impede people traveling from the near South Side to the CBD.2. Most of the lakefront is landfill, begun after the Fire. Debris was just dumped in. Streeterville has its own colorful story. White man has been very good in protecting the fake lakefront he created; not at all good in protecting the original lake shore provided by nature.3. Most of the water in the Chicago River is treated sewage effluent. MWRD has been doing an excellent job of this. Reversing the flow of the South Branch and breaching the water divide has been very harmful, now posing even greater threats to the Great Lakes ecosystems from the Asian carps, which came here from farther south. 4. Artificial Light At Night [ALAN] is bad for all living creatures. Not just astronomy. Humans have done the best we can with time zones. People who need more light at night should provide it inside their homes, or move closer to the Equator. Humans have been dealing with short winter days in mid and high latitudes for thousands of years. We have cultures to deal with it. Alarm clocks are actually much worse for human health. 5. What’s worse than the lingering segregation is crime in the streets and on mass transit, and involuntary unemployment and underemployment. Fix these evils first.6. High-rise living isn’t really good for people. Multiple-glazed windows cut down a lot on street noise. But people in high rises should be able to hear some street noise, because it might come from crimes to which they can be witness to, and call police and news media. Some valuable videos of crimes have been taken from high rises.7. The people who built ‘L’ tracks over streets and alleys did the best they could at the time. The buildings were there first. If I had my ‘druthers, I’d put generous green spaces along both sides, then actual streets, and finally buildings whose fronts face the tracks. This would also reduce the opportunity for the criminal graffiti. But my idea would require a width of about half a block. That’s a lot of demolition! The treasured Vautravers Building was moved west to enable complete rebuilding of a section of track north of Belmont, to straighten it and save travel time. It’s now being fully rehabbed. Farther north, the RPM project is rebuilding a longer section of track and stations, with trackage elevated higher. I don’t know offhand if there will be a sound wall by the tracks, but the new structure should be less noisy than the old. As always, multi-glazed windows reduce outside noise.8. The CTA’s website says the travel time on the Blue Line from downtown to O’Hare is much less than 1 hour. To have some trains run express, you’d either have to build an extra track (where?) or cancel some local runs. Travelers should just leave earlier.9. The most important groups who should be involved in planning at O’Hare are the pilots and air traffic controllers. Safety comes first.


  2. problogic says:

    Thank you for your feedback, Jean. Sorry that you didn’t like the lessons that were listed based on my many visits. Perhaps stating the lake front was “natural” should be removed. Otherwise, the lessons are those learned while visiting Chicago many times. We each have our own impressions and ideas and they will vary based on our individual personality and interests.


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