After Burnham

Chicago, Illinois

In these stunning renderings from the University of Notre Dame, you will likely recognize the City of Chicago. Or at least, the echoes of today’s Chicago, seen through the lens of a possible year 2109. Using Daniel Burnham’s Plan for Chicago from 1909 as inspiration, students envisioned “…an extended period of 21st century economic and population decline, followed by revival.” The revival period sees most of today’s contemporary skyscrapers replaced by 4-6 story midrises and major freeways have become parks. “As modern buildings throughout Chicago age and face restoration or replacement,” students explained, “Fiscal prudence and environmental sensibility will recall us to perennial architectural virtues of durability and beauty.”

“Jurors were very impressed with the scope, complexity and ambitiousness of this plan,” said Brent Toderian, “Even as the details generated considerable discussion and debate!”

After Burnham Chicago overview
An overview inspired by the Plan for Chicago. Source: University of Notre Dame.

In addition to the erasure of most of Chicago’s skyscrapers, the plan sees the reclamation of 70% of the suburban settlement for open land for agriculture, commercial forestry, passive wastewater treatment, forest preserves and prairie. And in a nod to Burnham, students have envisioned removing the Chicago Circle freeway interchange in order to build Burnham’s Civic Center on the original proposed site.

“Call it a vision, a dream, or a lesson in civics,” said Jeff Speck, “This incredibly thoughtful, skillful, and refined proposal for the not-so-near future did not win the Regional Plan category – a category without a winner – because it could not be called a plan without a plausible implementation strategy for getting us to it from today’s reality. The problem with regional planning, as practiced in America at least, is that we lack the political mechanisms for making the proper decisions about our collective future. Until that changes, we will be stuck with unambitious regional plans and gorgeous impossible dreams, the latter of which could not be better personified than by this powerful proposal.”

Top photo: An aerial of the proposal. Source: University of Notre Dame.

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