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Burnham’s Plan; Modernity and Progress

Commerce and the circulation of capital has been a key concern of local politicians and planners in the Modern Era. Technological innovations of the 19th century transformed the Western world into industrial spheres. The railroad and steam engine created paths along which industry and trade centered. Chicago grew at such a trade nuclei. Urban planning became essential to organize complex infrastructures including transportation, communications, sewage and electricity. Technological innovation became synonymous with the notion of progress and modernization became the ideology of not only industry but also the goal of urban planning. According to Graham and Marvin in Splintering Urbanism, Western societies regarded the standardized, orderly and unitary city plan as the culmination of the modernist project throughout the mid-19th century until the mid-20th century (62). During this period of 'the modern unitary city ideal,' issues of infrastructural and technological investment dominated urban politics. Western cities were transformed from unplanned, fragmented- networked systems into centralized and standardized systems under the logic of Haussmannnisation (40-42).

These systems were meant to provide both predictable and dependable services within urban space and in larger trade networks. Such cities were viewed as organisms with a circulatory system that transported goods, capital and individuals; and respiratory systems or green space that maintained civic and recreational health of the city (55, Burnham 80-87).

Burnham's plan of Chicago strongly emphasized an articulation between recreational spaces and spaces that facilitate economic flows. His plan was largely implemented. Thanks to Burnham's plan, the entire shoreline along Lake Michigan is public park space, and today the lake shore path serves as a transportation highway for bike commuters and a recreational path. Burnham's plan was largely accepted by the city because his representations of space fit the city's idea of how Chicago had began and would continue to develop. Burnham's ideas evolved from a representational space to a representation of space that the city used to design its infrastructure. This form influenced practices of Chicago residents, and although infrastructure of Chicago was lain in the early 1900s, space continually is produced and reproduced through social practice and redevelopment. "It was Haussmann's theory that the money thus spent made a better city, and that a better city was a greater producer of wealth" (Burnham 18).

Chicago's transportation networks facilitated a healthy flow of capital and the city became America's main non-coastal transportation hub (Miguel D'Escoto (CDOT), City Club of Chicago meeting Oct. 7, 2002). His plan organized the transportation networks into a system of radials and circuits (Burnham, 68). You can see how these circular loops spread westward from the lake in the plan displayed above. These thoroughfares consisted of both rail lines, a subway system and roads. These loops were crossed by a system of diagonals designed to save transportation time and increase circulatory efficiency. Many diagonals 'fortunately' already existed in Chicago before Burnham's plan (84). These radials and circuits were lain upon a gridion system of local roadways. Boulevards were designed mainly in residential areas so "the working people will enjoy a maximum of fresh air and light; and so will work with the greatest effectiveness" (86).

Beautification of the transportation infrastructure was key to the city's civic and economic health for Burnham. He proposed many ways to beautify the city-some were built others remained in the space of plans. Disgusted by the unsightly prominence railroads had taken in many other modern cities across the world, he proposed that the freight infrastructure be built underneath passenger infrastructure. This happened in part by the construction of sub-ways and the 'El' or elevated mass transit system. An aesthetic arrangement would not only beautify the space but also enhance efficiency of circulation. "Cleanliness and pleasing treatment of the roadways, the embankments, the drainage channels, the fences, yards and the stations large and small insure better service on part of railroad employees, while the appearance of the city is immensely improved thereby" (Burnham, 70).

Boulevards were designed mainly in residential areas so "the working people will enjoy a maximum of fresh air and light; and so will work with the greatest effectiveness" (86). Burnham's intentions for Boulevards illustrate the symbiotic relationship between the transportation and recreational networks necessary to his vision of a healthy city The inner transportation loop was designated for the circulation of merchandise and goods essential to the 'elements of life' (70). The inner circuit would also serve as the basis for service infrastructure including water, sewers, telephone and power (68). According to the plan, the heart of Chicago should be surrounded by a circuit of railways intended for both freight, subways for passengers (69). This loop would be encased by a series of three additional roughly concentric loops that would span outward across the cityscape. According to Burnham, these circuits would secure a complete system of distribution of both people and freight throughout the city (68). His comprehensive plan's attention to circulation and respiration is largely responsible for the economic growth and success of Chicago in the 20th century. In the following section I will describe the conditions of the city streets in the late 19th century, by briefly describing political issues, activism and representations of Chicago's streets in maps. In subsequent sections I will describe contemporary policy and how it developed into the Regional Transportation Plan for 2020 in the Chicago land area. By analyzing the history of cycling (practice), transportation planning (representation of space) and activism (representational space) in Chicago, I hope to make explicit such spatio-temporal rhythms that Lefebvre describes, and the interconnectedness of the three parts of his triad. This exploration of the history of space should contextualize the social movement in its relation to the 'production' of Chicago's city streets by planners, municipal interests and the practice of everyday life.  

 

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