The Burnham Plan Centennial - Bold Plans, Big Dreams

About the Centennial

Centennial Year in Review

A message from Executive Director Emily Harris:


In 2009, Chicagoans — from the city and region — demonstrated that we care about our future and take inspiration from our past. In what other city could the anniversary of a plan engage 300 partner organizations and hundreds of thousands of people?

Perhaps we should not be surprised that the Centennial of Burnham and Bennett's 1909 Plan of Chicago had such resonance. After all, we are a city where cab drivers and doormen know our architectural history, and a region where voters annually defy the odds by supporting referenda to protect open space.

One of the year's most interesting moments for me was during a spring design meeting in the pouring rain with UNStudio principal Ben Van Berkel when he said that he thinks Chicago is unique in the world because of its historic tradition of embracing its lakefront as a front yard and its wide boulevard-like streets that allow its architectural context to shine. He -- and others -- also comented on our unprecedented willingness to roll up our sleeves and work together to solve collective problems. "This would never happen in New York," said Manahatta author Eric Sanderson when he witnessed the outpouring of collaborative environmental energy at the Centennial's November 5 Green Legacy Event.

Is it really over?

Yes. The year 2009 has come to a close and with it the region-wide celebration of the ability of a remarkable plan to inspire us to action. And, no. We must continue, as Pat Reardon said, to "be new Burnhams." The remarkable power of the Centennial was to take urban regional planning and make it real, important and tangible. It gave extra support to agencies like CMAP, who can now tap into a network of partners to have learned that people really care.

So the public libraries, cultural institutions, community organizations, schools and others who were involved now know that their "customers" -- library patrons, teachers, students, residents -- take inspiration from our history and want to take action to shape our future. And the planning agencies, environmental advocates and public officials now know that if they take the time to talk about their work and vision in ways that we can all understand -- and if they take advantage of collective deadlines and build on partnerships -- the public will respond.


There are too many people to thank for the success of our year-long demonstration of Chicagoans' commitment to a better future for all. The committee leadership who solidified the Centennial vision and the small staff who implemented it; the generous donors; the unsung heroes who designed the exhibits, produced the films, wrote and published the books, built the pavilions, gave the community tours; the thousands of people who astounded partner organizations by breaking attendance records...the list is endless.

But I would be remiss if I didn't thank two individuals who remain with us in spirit: Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. It may be that we also owe thanks to The Devil in the White City for popularizing Daniel Burnham, but I think that even without it, Burnham's gift for stating a vision and challenging his peers to think beyond the immediate would have resonated powerfully. Like the conductor of a symphony, he surrounded himself with exquisite talent to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts. No one fits that description of talent better than Edward Bennett, who designed and then worked for years to execute the elements of the Plan.

These two leaders -- the visionary and the implementer -- inspired their peers and the generations that have followed to believe in design excellence, regional thinking and conservation as core elements of urban success. They dared us to challenge complacency and ask "How are we living?" and celebrated what they called "the spirit of Chicago" which they characterized as "the constant, steady determination to bring about the very best conditions of city life for all the people..."

This year, thousands of children and adults demonstrated that these words and ideas are alive in Chicago. They showed that collective public events can bring diverse communities together, and harness our energy to get results. On behalf of the Burnham Plan Centennial Committee and staff, it was an honor to be involved.

Emily Harris
Executive Director
Burnham Plan Centennial

Our Region Our Future

Our Region Our Future

In order to examine the centennial year and explore opportunities to build on its momentum, the Burnham Plan Centennial produced "Our Region. Our Future." This booklet offers images from the centennial's more than  1,000 program partner events and gives ideas on how to continue taking steps toward a better future for all.

Our Region Our Future

Creating Tomorrow's Green Region

In celebration of the 21 Green Legacy Projects and their successes throughout the year, the Burnham Plan Centennial published "Creating Tomorrow's Green Region." This booklet showcases the projects, explains the progress made this year, and highlights the next steps needed to preserve, protect and expand the region's green infrastructure.

This website will continue to exist as a record and a resource for five years hosted by the University of Chicago. It will then be archived by the Illinois State Library. The records of the Centennial will be archived at The Art Institute of Chicago Ryerson & Burnham Libraries for permanent use.

The Burnham Plan Centennial
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