Big Plans, and a Digital Resource to Illustrate Them | Newberry

Big Plans, and a Digital Resource to Illustrate Them

New website from the Newberry critically assesses Daniel Burnham’s influential and controversial Plan of Chicago through maps, views, and a range of other images

“View looking south over the lagoons of the proposed park for the South Shore,” by Jules Guerin. Part of the Plan of Chicago. 1909.

January 2016

The Newberry is pleased to announce the launch of a new website devoted to Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett’s 1909 Plan of Chicago and its place in the history of American urban planning and image-making. This landmark document continues to serve as a touchstone in debates over how to organize urban landscapes. Make Big Plans: Daniel Burnham’s Vision of an American Metropolis sheds light on these debates by exploring the Plan as a document that harnessed not only the power of ideas but also the allure of images to communicate its vision and ensure its influence.

With over 130 high-resolution images, as well as accompanying contextual essays, Make Big Plans is itself the product of ambitious planning, offering users an array of historical materials, from maps, views, and panoramas to photographs, postcards, and advertisements. The website was made possible by a generous grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Though Make Big Plans is organized by theme and chronology, the site’s content is driven by images,” says Jim Akerman, co-curator of the Make Big Plans project and curator of maps at the Newberry. “The emphasis on imagery reflects Burnham’s own approach to planning cities, which he saw primarily as an aesthetic endeavor. We believe that by presenting the Plan of Chicago in relation to both urban planning and American visual culture at large, Make Big Plans will allow students, educators, and scholars to explore the influence of the plan and its limitations.”

Culled from the Newberry and from other collections across the country, the images available on the website illustrate the Western European and early American visions of urban design that preceded the Plan as well as those that emerged in its wake. A zooming tool allows users to peruse the images in greater detail; meanwhile, the site’s indexing allows for the images to be sorted according to genre and subject terms such as “agriculture and rural landscapes,” “grid plans,” and “roads and highways.”

Make Big Plans grew out of the Newberry’s participation in the Burnham Plan Centennial of 2009. As part of the city-wide celebration of the Plan of Chicago, the Newberry curated a photographic panel exhibition that was displayed in over 60 venues across the Chicago area, organized public programming, and launched a digital slideshow freely accessible to the public online. The new website represents a greatly expanded version of this 2009 site (also titled Make Big Plans).

Over time, the Newberry will continue to expand this new digital resource, adding images and accompanying text to further build upon its themes.