The City Beautiful Movement, 1890–1920
Summary and Keywords
The City Beautiful movement arose in the 1890s in response to the accumulating dirt and disorder in industrial cities, which threatened economic efficiency and social peace. City Beautiful advocates believed that better sanitation, improved circulation of traffic, monumental civic centers, parks, parkways, public spaces, civic art, and the reduction of outdoor advertising would make cities throughout the United States more profitable and harmonious. Engaging architects and planners, businessmen and professionals, and social reformers and journalists, the City Beautiful movement expressed a boosterish desire for landscape beauty and civic grandeur, but also raised aspirations for a more humane and functional city. “Mean streets make mean people,” wrote the movement’s publicist and leading theorist, Charles Mulford Robinson, encapsulating the belief in positive environmentalism that drove the movement. Combining the parks and boulevards of landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted with the neoclassical architecture of Daniel H. Burnham’s White City at the Chicago’s World Columbian Exposition in 1893, the City Beautiful movement also encouraged a view of the metropolis as a delicate organism that could be improved by bold, comprehensive planning. Two organizations, the American Park and Outdoor Art Association (founded in 1897) and the American League for Civic Improvements (founded in 1900), provided the movement with a national presence. But the movement also depended on the work of civic-minded women and men in nearly 2,500 municipal improvement associations scattered across the nation. Reaching its zenith in Burnham’s remaking of Washington, D.C., and his coauthored Plan of Chicago (1909), the movement slowly declined in favor of the “City Efficient” and a more technocratic city-planning profession. Aside from a legacy of still-treasured urban spaces and structures, the City Beautiful movement contributed to a range of urban reforms, from civic education and municipal housekeeping to city planning and regionalism.
Keywords: city planning, municipal reform, urban beautification, civic art, public sculpture, parks, World’s Columbian Exposition, urban aesthetics, Frederick Law Olmsted, Daniel H. Burnham, Charles Mulford Robinson
Ugly, Dirty, and Unhealthy Cities Generate Utopian Visions
American cities grew rapidly during the 19th century and became centers of industrial production. Only sixteen cities exceeded 50,000 in population in 1860; by 1910, more than one hundred did. Poverty and social unrest, crime and overcrowding, and uncontrolled growth overburdened these cities. Uncollected garbage, human and animal excrement, and industrial by-products filled the streets, compromised water supplies, and emitted a pervasive stench. Cholera, typhoid, and diphtheria ravaged urban populations. Coal smoke and other pollutants fouled city air and led to respiratory ailments. Solid wastes, buried underground or dumped in huge slag heaps, further compromised both health and quality of life. The clang and grind of machinery, snarls of traffic, networks of overhead wires, construction sites, vacant lots, and decaying buildings further blighted the landscape. In the last decade of the century, an avalanche of commercial advertising added to the clutter and chaos of city streets.1
Over the course of the 19th century, sanitarians and physicians, landscape architects and civil engineers, and business leaders and citizen activists clamored for new municipal powers and services to address environmental threats. In the middle decades of the 19th century, the courts expanded municipal powers to take property for a public purpose under eminent domain, regulate private and public nuisances, and wield police power to protect the safety, health, and convenience of citizens. Such legal innovations made possible the construction of waterworks, sewers, and the paving of streets. Municipal governments also regulated building practices and offensive trades, demolished buildings and removed obstructions, seized property through eminent domain, and constructed public parks. New public agencies took over from private agencies the responsibility for providing clean water, removing waste, protecting air quality, and improving conditions in the slums.2
A series of terrifying epidemics in the 1870s revealed that much still had to be done. Improved waterworks and the spread of the flush toilet added vast quantities of wastewater to city streets. The filth or miasma theory of disease held decaying organic wastes and stagnant water responsible for disease. Beset by the highest death rate in the nation, Chicago pioneered the comprehensive sanitary sewer system in the 1850s. But widespread adoption of sewers only came in the 1880s, driven by continuing epidemics and increasing acceptance of the germ theory of disease. By 1910, virtually every city had a sewer system. Improved standards of street cleaning supplemented sewer construction, especially after George Waring’s spectacular success in New York City beginning in 1894.3
The City Beautiful movement emerged against this backdrop of environmental reforms. City Beautiful activists embraced a strategy of positive environmentalism, believing that the improvement of individual character and civic life depended on improved environments rather than rigid behavioral standards and coercive measures. Social progress, as the philosopher John Dewey summed up the new consensus, depended on “the intelligent selection and determination of the environments in which we act.” A moral environmentalism had long shaped efforts at sanitation, under the assumption that the poor and working class could not possibly lead upright lives surrounded by dirt and disorder. But now the strategy focused less on deficiencies of individual character and more on the inadequacies of the physical city. Extended to the wider city, positive environmentalism demanded not just sanitation, but parks and playgrounds, uplifting civic spaces, art, and pageants, urban transit and lighting, and unified railway stations.4
Over the course of the 19th century, the successes of sanitarians and engineers in constructing urban systems raised expectations about technological solutions to urban problems. Over the same period, communitarians built and utopians wrote about settlements that combined the benefits of the machine with the qualities of a garden. As one utopian novelist put it in 1902, the city should be “treated as the canvas of a painter or the marble of a sculptor”; everything should be done “to enhance the beauty of any part of the growing city, or to increase its convenience or the comfort or welfare of its inhabitants.” A city of convenience and beauty promised to reconcile the machine and the garden.5
By the end of the century, public opinion, literary utopias, and the aspirations of environmental reformers coalesced around the ideal of a technologically sophisticated city set within and attuned to the rhythms of nature. The authors of urban utopians built on the accomplishments of 19th-century reformers and anticipated the vision of the City Beautiful. Perfect sewage and water distribution, cooling and heating, rapid transit, and instantaneous communication turned these imagined cities into what another utopian novelist called “immense palaces nicely intermingled with fragrant gardens and luxuriant parks—there being no dirty streets or unsightly habitations of any description.” The utopians’ civic centers, parks, parkways, and boulevards fit into many of the City Beautiful plans to come.6
Fears of Urban Destruction and a Philosophy of Public Parks
The City Beautiful vision originated out of 19th-century accomplishments, including piped water and underground sewers, paved and lighted streets, street cleaning and trash collection, zoning laws and public health regulations, and parks and playgrounds. But the City Beautiful also responded to darker fears of urban destruction. As American cities filled with immigrants and migrants who were unprepared for urban life, the middle classes fled to outlying suburbs. Overcrowding, physical deterioration, and inadequate municipal services turned neighborhoods into slums. Crime punctuated everyday life and occasionally escalated into large-scale violence. “If the club of the policeman, knocking out the brains of the rioter will answer,” a religious weekly editorialized in 1877, “then all well and good; but if it does not . . ., then bullets and bayonets, canister and grape . . . constitute the one remedy.” Such visions isolated the volatile city as a threat to civilization.7
Sensational newspapers, crime magazines, and dime novels added to the image of the urban menace. With advances in flash photography, exposés like Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives (1890) provided the affluent with glimpses of places into which they rarely ventured. A suburbanizing middle class, increasingly unfamiliar with the actual slums, devoured the dystopian novels of urban destruction that arose alongside the utopian literature of the period. Ignatius Donnelly’s fictional destruction of New York City, Caesar’s Columns (1890), depicted a nightmare of violence between greedy capitalists and the debased poor; by 1906, it had sold half a million copies. Nightmare images of urban life even appeared within the utopian literature. Julian West, the fictional hero of Edward Bellamy’s influential novel Looking Backward, 1888–2000, awoke in 2000 to find that Boston had become a city of “large open squares filled with trees, along which statues glistened and fountains flashed in the late-afternoon sun.” But West also recalled in a dream that Boston had once reeked “with the effluvia of a slave ship’s between decks” and been infested with “half-clad brutalized children,” like “starving bands of mongrel curs” fighting over garbage.8
Labor unrest lent a hard edge to urban disorder, exploding in massive waves of strikes and armed encounters. Living close to their work in polluting factories and overcrowded into substandard housing, industrial workers harbored grievances related to both urban workplace and neighborhood. When Riis explored “the foul core of New York’s slums,” he described the city’s poor as “shiftless, destructive, and stupid,” just “what the tenements have made them.” The “sea of a mighty population, held in galling fetters, heaves uneasily in the tenements,” Riis wrote; the city had already “felt the swell of its resistless flood. If it rises once more, no human power may avail to check it.” Riis was referring to New York City’s 1863 draft riots, but economic depression and labor unrest intensified such fears in the 1890s.9
Political corruption, especially at the municipal level, appeared to paralyze public efforts to address urban ills. Although modern historians point to the unheralded triumph of municipal governance, middle-class reformers at the time focused on corrupt bosses collecting bribes and herding ignorant and immigrant voters to the polls. Public service corporations, the agencies upon which improved environments depended, stood at the center of municipal corruption, distributing bribes to secure franchises to supply transit, electricity, and other utilities. While reformers wished for a spirit of civic loyalty to redeem the city, they also knew that American cities lacked the landmarks, symbols, and traditions that might kindle such loyalty. Little in these cities engaged the emotions, the senses, or the imagination—“no magic to stir men’s blood,” in the phrase attributed to Daniel Burnham by his editor and biographer Charles Moore.10
At the core of the City Beautiful impulse lay a belief that a more attractive and inspiring urban environment would inspire a surge of civic loyalty. The advocates of public parks had already pointed the way. In the 1840s, the landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing called for public parks to bring the benefits of a middle landscape—neither urban grid nor wilderness, but nature ordered and improved by human effort—into the heart of the city. Downing extolled the public park as “republican in its very idea and tendency,” as it “raises up the man of the working men to the same level of enjoyment with the man of leisure and accomplishment.” The park, Downing added, “would soften and humanize the rude, educate and enlighten the ignorant, and give continual enjoyment to the educated.” In mixing affluent urbanites and the lower classes, the public park provided one affirmation of an organic, interdependent society in an otherwise competitive urban environment.11
Public parks proved popular, both among real estate speculators, who recognized their impact on surrounding land values, and the citizenry at large that flocked to them. But no one did more to advance the cause of parks and articulate their larger public purpose than the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Alarmed by the pace of urbanization and the attendant coarsening of individual character and degradation of the physical environment, Olmsted argued that “the further progress of civilization is to depend mainly upon the influences by which men’s minds and characters will be affected while living in large towns.” The city promoted “a peculiarly hard sort of selfishness,” but the park provided a positive environment that brought people together so that each contributed to “the pleasure of the others, all helping to the greater happiness of each.” The park also would exert a “harmonizing and refining influence” on the urban masses, Olmsted believed, “favorable to courtesy, self-control, and temperance.”12
The designer of public parks in thirty US cities including Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Montreal, New York City, and San Francisco, Olmsted left a multifaceted legacy that City Beautiful advocates built upon. Aside from his contributions to positive environmentalism, Olmsted championed massive public works that required heavy municipal expense, encouraged the collaboration of artists and professionals, and experimented with strategies for the control of crowds and traffic—all hallmarks of the City Beautiful movement. Extending his vision to include systems of parks, parkways, and boulevards designed to guide and direct urban development, Olmsted pioneered the organic understanding of the city that informed this movement. Olmsted’s consulting practice also trained and nurtured many of the planning consultants of the City Beautiful period.13
The White City
Near the end of his career, Olmsted designed the grounds of “the White City” at the heart of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Although he later expressed dismay over the neoclassical design and architecture of the White City, he had used such elements in his parks, adding one more item to his legacy. But Olmsted’s desire to keep park design in the hands of experts and park management in the hands of professional administrators may best explain his participation in the exposition planning. He had long chafed under his association with what he saw as venal politicians, and he defended his profession as a means for men of intellect and vision to exert an influence usually denied them in municipal affairs. Tapped to recommend a site by a public commission of appointed officials, Olmsted expressed pleasure at the acceptance of his recommendations. The commissioners, he wrote, “could not be led to believe that we should have given this advice without having, as experts, sound reasons for doing it . . . Comparing this experience with some in my earlier professional life, I can but think that it manifests an advance in civilization.” Olmsted must have valued this deference to his professional expertise.14
As Olmsted recognized, the World’s Columbian Exposition provided a model not only of what a city should look like, but how it should be governed. Authorized by an act of Congress in celebration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to America and ostensibly overseen by a public commission, the project actually answered to a private corporation directed by Chicago capitalists. Winning the trust of the corporate directors, the prominent Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham quickly became the undisputed manager of the exposition. Burnham oversaw the transformation of nearly 700 acres of swampy land on Chicago’s southern lakeshore, managing scores of architects and other professionals. Dredged and filled according to Olmsted’s plan, the site accommodated four hundred buildings. At its center stood the Court of Honor, a collection of neoclassical buildings fronting Olmsted’s reflecting pool and dubbed “the White City.” Burnham’s benevolent autocracy ensured the elimination of billboards, the strict control of signage and other communications, and the discrete isolation of deliveries. The exposition’s Columbian Guard kept the peace without interference from corrupt or partisan politicians.15
In terms of physical appearance and function, the White City represented a culmination of advances in urban design, aesthetics, and engineering, as well as in sanitation, transportation, illumination, and public safety. Filtered drinking water, sewage treatment, convenient toilets, and nightly sweeping and cleaning of streets and sidewalks made the White City a wonder. The landscaping and the design of buildings, arising from the collaboration of architects, sculptors, mural painters, and landscape architects, also built on the experiments of the past twenty years. The Court of Honor reflected the principles of the Parisian Écoles des Beaux-Arts and its emphasis on proportion, scale, and the balanced arrangement of forms. Although composed of temporary structures faced with a white plaster called “staff,” the White City left a lasting impression.16
For all its advances in urban utilities, the White City made its greatest contribution in showing that cities could be beautiful. Both the architecture and Olmsted’s landscapes united functionality with visual pleasure. Above all, the White City invoked an emotional response, akin to religious awe, that American cities so conspicuously lacked. Like many future members of the City Beautiful movement, Burnham retained a Protestant religiosity, even a mystical strain, that expressed itself in an effort to inculcate higher ideals of civic spirit in elites, and especially in the masses. Commentators marveled on the good behavior of the “obscure and anonymous myriads of unknown laborers” who attended the fair. “It seemed as though the beauty of the place,” a Protestant minister wrote, “brought gentleness, happiness, and self-respect to its visitors.” Whether order and decorum amounted to civic spirit, the White City heartened those who would redeem the American city.17
The designers of the White City failed to articulate a strategy of comprehensive planning, or even suggest how its successes might be applied to transform actual cities. But they did encourage the belief that an improved urban environment might lead to an improved city and citizenry. The White City demonstrated the potential of combining environmental reforms focused on sanitation and parks to those related to civic art and design. The effect stunned and inspired visitors who saw an ideal image of a future city. The White City energized new and existing municipal improvement associations to clean up and beautify cities across the nation. Writing in 1899, when the term City Beautiful first came into common usage, Charles Mulford Robinson rejected the claim that the White City “created the subsequent aesthetic effort in municipal life.” But he agreed that it “immensely strengthened, quickened, and encouraged” those efforts.18
The City Beautiful Movement Takes Shape in a Plan for the Nation’s Capital
The City Beautiful movement arose during the decade following the Chicago exposition. Improved economic conditions and a lessening of social conflicts in the final years of the 1890s gave the movement an optimistic tenor. As park planning and civic art coalesced, they also combined with a campaign for municipal improvement. Before the Civil War, village improvement societies to encouraged civic pride and a sense of community by beautifying entire communities; these organizations provided a foundation for later municipal improvement programs. Engaging citizens (especially middle-class women), village improvement went beyond sanitation and parks to include tree-lined streets and walks, attractive shops and railroad stations, and trim and well-maintained residential districts. In the 1890s, municipal improvement extended this union of beauty and utility to larger cities and added the additional goals of promoting civic responsibility and efficiency in government.19
As municipal improvers pursued comprehensive beautification and political renewal, landscape architects felt their influence waning. The American Park and Outdoor Art Association (APOAA), founded in 1897, sought to reverse that decline. After a brief resistance, the organization embraced active recreation and urban beauty as part of its goals. By 1902, the APOAA sought federation with other civic associations, especially the National League of Improvement Associations (NLIA). Founded in 1900, the NLIA changed its name to the American League for Civic Improvement (ALCI) in 1901. The change in name and shift of its headquarters from Springfield, Illinois, to Chicago signaled its enlarged ambitions. In 1903, the APOAA and the ALCI, both headed by informed laypeople respectful of professional expertise, united to form the American Civic Association (ACA). As the major organizational expression of the City Beautiful movement, the ACA united citizen activists and professionals and raised hopes for a comprehensive remaking of American cities.20
An essential element of urban beautification, civic art depended on the collaboration of architects, sculptors, and painters in adorning public parks and the facades and interior spaces of public buildings. New York City artists, building on the fame of the White City that many of them had helped to create, established their city’s Municipal Art Society in 1893. Under the motto “to make us love our city, we must make our city lovely,” and inspired as much by European urbanism as the White City, civic art advocates made war on crass commercialism and heedless destruction and spread their ideas nationwide. Moving from piecemeal efforts to more expansive plans and embracing the catchphrase City Beautiful, the drive for civic art spread the idea of ensemble design and the grouping of public buildings to San Francisco, Cleveland, Chicago, and beyond.21
Municipal improvement and civic art articulated an urban conception of beauty and, when combined with park planning, suggested the potential for comprehensive city planning. In 1901, Robinson published his influential codification of the municipal improvement and civic art credos, The Improvement of Towns and Cities, in the hope that “civic art’s transforming touch” would be “carried into every portion of the community.” Only a year later, the 1902 McMillan Plan for Washington, D.C., provided a dramatic example of Robinson’s hopes by combining civic art and park planning into a scheme of municipal improvement that also engaged transit, slum clearance, playgrounds, and scenic preservation.22
Even as Washington became the center of a more assertive federal government in the new century, Pierre L’Enfant’s 1791 plan for a great capital city lay in tatters. L’Enfant’s grand Mall, designed as a unified space, was broken up by gardens, intruded upon by a railroad station, and crossed by a railroad itself. But the centennial celebration of the removal of the nation’s capital to the Potomac provided an opportunity to resurrect L’Enfant’s plan. Initially, however, nothing of the sort was contemplated. As chairman of the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia, the powerful Republican senator James McMillan simply hoped to eliminate grade crossings in the city. McMillan proposed to allow the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad to build a new terminal on the Mall and to cross the Mall above grade on a twenty-foot-high structure. When the Army Corps of Engineers opposed the new terminal, McMillan asked Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb to devise a plan consistent with L’Enfant’s vision for the Mall and favorable to the new terminal.23
The new plan, revealed in February 1900, called for a diagonal Centennial Avenue to cross the length of the Mall and provide frontage for the new terminal. This initiated a battle of plans, including one from the Army Corps of Engineers, to move the terminal off the Mall. Some business leaders also opposed the new avenue, fearing that it would attract the government buildings that they needed elsewhere to upgrade “Murder Bay,” the slumlike wedge of land between Pennsylvania Avenue and the Mall (now known as the Federal Triangle). Centennial Avenue also interfered with the vision of park advocates on the Washington Board of Trade for a grand “ring street” connecting (and upgrading) various parks in the district. Starting from the Mall, the ring street would connect a variety of green spaces, including the undeveloped Potomac Park southwest of the Washington Monument and the National Zoological Park in the northwest suburbs.24
In May 1900, McMillan hoped to placate all sides by introducing legislation to establish a panel of art professionals to devise a plan for the Mall–Triangle area and develop a connection to Potomac Park and the zoo. But officials in the Army Corps of Engineers secured a change in the legislation that left them in charge. In December, the American Institute of Architects entered the fray. Having rescheduled the conference to meet in Washington, Glenn Brown, secretary of the American Institute of Architects, established the conference theme as the “grouping of public buildings” (a code word for the professionals’ conception of civic art). A partisan of the L’Enfant plan, Brown hoped to usurp the engineers who, he said, had “never been accused of being artistic.” The conference focused on the civic core but in ignoring the parks and transit issues, it failed to rally sufficient support.25
McMillan, also eager to elbow the engineers out, succeeded in uniting architects and park advocates on a special commission to advise the Senate Committee on the District of Columbia. The new US Senate Park Commission, also known as the McMillan Commission, reassembled a version of the World’s Columbian Exposition team. Its members included Burnham and Charles McKim, a New York architect who had worked with Burnham on the White City, as well as Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. (son of the pioneer park planner). McMillan urged them to proceed cautiously in the hope that he could maneuver the new plan through various congressional committees. But Burnham convinced the commission to exceed its mandate and produce a grand, authoritative plan, including a resolution of the controversial issue of the terminal (which the Pennsylvania Railroad hired Burnham to design). To Burnham’s good fortune, the Pennsylvania Railroad wanted to construct a new union station northeast of the Mall. Burnham also secured additional funds to build three-dimensional models of central Washington before and after implementation of the proposed plan.26
First exhibited in January 1902, the McMillan plan offered the most comprehensive plan of civic improvement and beautification to date. With a redesigned Mall at the center, it employed ensemble design to group buildings and set them off with gardens to maximum effect (much of this was McKim’s work). McMillan’s plan also provided for the new union station, a memorial bridge over the Potomac, and a gradual clearing of the slums in the Triangle. It included a system of parkways, connecting green spaces on both sides of the Potomac, and preserved the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal as a scenic and recreational resource. Suggestions for a new system of neighborhood parks and playgrounds, an enhanced Georgetown waterfront, a Great Falls of the Potomac national park, and a reclamation of the Anacostia flats as a waterfront park rounded out the McMillan plan, which profoundly shaped the future development of the capital, as well as planning practices in the United States.27
Motivations and Strategies in the Formative and Transitional Art of City Beautification
With city coffers filling and the new U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt championing an expansive public interest, the McMillan plan sparked interest in comprehensive planning in cities across the nation. Robinson, once content with piecemeal efforts, now argued in Modern Civic Art; or, The City Made Beautiful (1903) that “in the effort for civic improvement . . . the first step is to secure a comprehensive plan.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, already engaged in three separate planning efforts involving park planning, sewers and sanitation, and street paving, claimed for itself the mantle of comprehensive planning. A host of giant civic schemes followed, focused on civic centers, gateway railroad stations, processional boulevards, belt parkways, outer park systems, and public playgrounds. Although still piecemeal and separate, such projects made comprehensive planning easier to envision and trained many who would later engage in it.28
A wide variety of motivations shaped these efforts, ranging from a desire to attract investors and customers and repair or enhance a city’s reputation to the determination to impose social control on unruly urban masses and construct a cohesive moral order. But for the middle-class business and professional leaders who drove the movement, a faith in organic, evolutionary progress, a belief in the civic duty of all to work for the good of their city, and a conviction that expertise could identify and secure the public interest justified their efforts. City Beautiful proponents surely showed too much faith in experts and their supposed ability to identify the public good and transcend conflicting interests. City Beautiful advocates’ deference to vested interests and their narrow and homogenized conception of moral order compromised their efforts. One of the most popular of City Beautiful developments, the playground, most overtly embraced top-down social control. But City Beautiful proponents also acted from a genuine desire for civic improvement and the good of the whole society.29
Civic improvement organizations and plans sprouted in large, medium, and small cities. Burnham continued to be a central figure, particularly in the larger cities. He served on the commission that designed Cleveland’s civic center in 1902, contributed to plans for Manila and Baguio in the Philippines and for San Francisco in 1905, and took the lead role in the construction of Union Station in Washington, D.C., between 1903 and 1907. The consolidation of the railroad industry freed private capital for facility upgrades and union operations, making the gateway railroad station one of the movement’s more common successes. The huge expense of civic centers and their disruption of downtown real estate markets meant that more plans were made than centers constructed. But, where successful, they energized the movement.30
Robinson worked with some larger cities, including Detroit, Los Angeles, and Denver, with little success. His genius came not in grand, monumental plans, but in turning small parcels of land into civic vignettes that brought out the individuality of a place and expressed civic pride. Both directly and indirectly, he shaped the landscapes of scores of small and medium-sized cities and towns. Placing civic buildings, usually columned and white, on river bluffs and other prominent sites and attending to the width and appearance of “parked” boulevards (i.e., with grassy medians) and tidy, unfenced, tree-lined residential streets, Robinson sought to inspire his clients rather than overwhelm them with unachievable plans. The siting, neoclassical design, and surrounding plazas of countless public buildings, from libraries to city halls to state capitols, can be traced to Robinson and his articulation of City Beautiful principles.31
Among the most common City Beautiful projects, processional boulevards punctured the gridiron of streets and belt parkways linked parks and increased access to open spaces. Boulevards attracted and protected grand residences, discouraging suburban escape and promoting compact settlement. Invoking utility and beauty (the watchwords of the movement), Robinson explained that boulevards provided “shortcuts to traffic” and provided “variety in street intersection, revealing pleasant vistas, and making easy the provision of little open spaces.” The promise of easing traffic congestion supposedly justified the expense of boulevards. But while the boulevards achieved some success, the assumption of a radial-center pattern of traffic did not age well in the automotive era, when city centers no longer served as focal points. Wide, diagonal boulevards also created barriers to pedestrians and stranded parcels of land.32
But the diagonal boulevards, some of which are still in use today, reflected creative thinking about urban circulation and lent grace and beauty to many cities. Belt parkways had greater success in easing congestion and sometimes served as spines to direct new development. Parkways, Robinson added, linked parks and extended the benefits of natural beauty into “busy, workaday sections of the town.” At their best, the parkways respected the natural contours of land and provided access to outer park systems and forest preservers.33
Without legal tools or an established discipline of city planning, City Beautiful proponents engaged in a formative art. No one knew exactly what to expect and new concerns and issues emerged over time. Private groups, usually business or civic associations with occasional labor support, initiated most plans; the federal government commissioned the plans for Manila and Baguio, executed by Burnham, which were the only plans fully implemented. Architects and landscape architects predominated among the professionals; engineers played almost no part. Promotion and deference to business remained key; only billboards and utility wires, roundly opposed by the greater public, justified the danger of taking on vested interests. Housing, the placement of industry, and sanitation were largely ignored or left to other experts.34
The City Beautiful movement’s emphasis on civic life, education, and culture did challenge the view of the city as an economic machine, however. Burnham’s ambitious plan for San Francisco included an inner ring street lined with cultural institutions, parks on every hilltop, and an outer beltway featuring spectacular views of the region. His grand civic plaza, with converging boulevards, would have been enormously expensive and difficult at best for traffic patterns. Opponents of such improvements saw the city as simply an economic machine. Grand improvements also required centralized control, and yet Robinson counseled against the minor uses of regulatory power for the enemies that it made. City Beautiful projects thus depended on the political skill of their proponents. They considered excess condemnation as a means of financing improvements, but judged it too radical. The courts never endorsed this extension of eminent domain, so the movement relied largely on the public mood. Unlike Burnham’s “make no little plans,” Robinson advocated small, cost-conscious acts of beautification, finding opportunities in the cityscape to emphasize the individuality of a place.35
As they encountered new legal and physical challenges, City Beautiful advocates also practiced a transitional art. While the movement maintained an emphasis on volunteerism, improvement required some governmental role and pointed toward the value of an official planning commission. After Hartford, Connecticut, created the first planning commission in 1907, the official planning commission became a key element of City Beautiful plans. But even the creation of a commission did not resolve all legal issues, as the editor Herbert Croly made clear in his critique of the report of the New York City Improvement Commission in 1907. The city, Croly argued, lacked the borrowing capacity and the power of excess condemnation to overcome the resistance of landowners and real estate speculators. City Beautiful plans in St. Louis and Chicago stressed the financial benefits of beauty in trying to secure greater power to issue bonds to pay for improvements. In Chicago, a team of lawyers even explored a consolidated regional government to increase bonding power. But such efforts never overcame the limited public powers at the disposal of the movement.36
“Make No Little Plans”: Plan of Chicago (1909)
The boldest plans of the City Beautiful era broke free of the aesthetic framework and limited public powers and offered a comprehensive and expansive vision of the urban future. None did so more than Plan of Chicago (1909). Devised by Burnham and his young, Beaux Arts–trained assistant Edward H. Bennett, Plan of Chicago is the best known and arguably the most successful of City Beautiful plans. The plan relied on the money and talent of hundreds of Chicagoans and a host of expert-led committees. Much of this came from the ranks of the Merchants Club, which commissioned and sponsored the plan, and the Commercial Club (the two clubs merged in 1906 under the latter name). Although Plan of Chicago asserted that rapid growth made it previously “impossible to plan,” the project also built on a host of established and long-simmering plans stretching back to the transportation and sanitary improvements that made Chicago’s marshy site productive and inhabitable. More recent contributions included plans for park systems along the disheveled lakefront (to which Burnham had contributed), an outer park system, the union of five major railroad terminals, and transit expert Bion J. Arnold’s scheme for restructuring Chicago’s elevated, surface, and subsurface transit lines.37
The most distinctive element in Plan of Chicago was a strategy for solidifying and enhancing Chicago’s commercial dominance of its region, facilitating movement into and around the urban core. Chicago’s growth had increased the value of downtown real estate many times over during the previous thirty years, but congestion now threatened that value. Reflecting the ambitions of the commercial and financial elite that commissioned it, the plan treated Chicago as a place “without bounds or limits,” surrounded by “illimitable space now occupied by a population capable of illimitable expansion.” To secure that expansion, however, Burnham sought to ease congestion that seemed bound to “increase in geometrical ratio” to the city’s reach. The plan envisioned regional highways, both radial and concentric, reaching sixty miles into the hinterland. On the city’s far southwest side, a new freight handling center would work as a “perfect machine” serving the twenty-two railroads entering the city. In the central city, complementary freight distribution and passenger routing systems utilized existing underground tunnels and linked the railroad terminals to the city’s transit system. Taken together, these improvements would enable Chicago to accommodate “many times” its current traffic.38
Even beauty served the cause of commercial dominance and economic efficiency. “Beauty has always paid better than any other commodity,” Burnham told the Commercial Club in 1897, “and always will.” If the city would “put on a charming dress,” he told a confidant in the same year, it will serve “to keep our rich people and their money here, and to bring others.” Beauty would also make Chicago “a good labor market,” according to Plan of Chicago, “in the sense that labor is sufficiently comfortable to be efficient and content.” Lakefront parks and wooded preserves encouraged wage-earners to “take up the burden of life in our crowded streets and endless stretches of buildings with renewed vigor and hopefulness.”39
Plan of Chicago’s blueprint for commercial dominance was embedded, however, into a much more expansive vision of city life. “Make no little plans,” Burnham is supposed to have said, “they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” There was nothing little about Plan of Chicago. Believing that “good citizenship is the prime object of good city planning,” Burnham and his associates embraced the positive environmentalism and the faith in the harmonizing influence of civic art that the City Beautiful movement had done so much to spread. Their plan endeavored to turn the city into “an efficient instrument for providing all its people with the best possible conditions of living.” A plan for a well-ordered and convenient city, they believed, would win over public sentiment and improve life for all.40
But a lingering fear also shaped Plan of Chicago. The very first page invoked a fear of chaos that rapid growth and “the influx of people of many nationalities without common traditions or habits of life” created. Burnham and Bennett knew that the “frequent outbreaks against law and order” troubling Chicago expressed grievances stemming “from narrow and pleasureless lives.” But they hoped that the grand civic center (which was never built), the boulevards and parks, and above all, the lakefront (which “by right belongs to the people”) still might create an organic unity. Burnham always emphasized the importance of Lake Michigan as a civic and recreational resource that might promote unity and contentment; he struggled against plans to make it a working harbor. He often ended his speeches by invoking the lake as a means toward the City Beautiful movement’s animating vision of a technologically sophisticated city, attuned to the rhythms of nature. It seemed, Burnham declaimed, “as if the lake has been singing to us all those years.” We had finally taken notice, so that in the future, we would be “merged into nature and become part of her.”41
As much as Plan of Chicago imagined the city of the future, it was nevertheless rooted in an analysis of the city of 1909. Accurately describing and assessing the contemporary city helped to establish the plan’s credibility. In surveying the noise, filth, congestion, and general inefficiency of the city, the analysis emphasized the costs of a lack of planning. Substandard housing, unpaved streets, illogical location of transit and other facilities, and railroad crossing at grade all wasted the time and taxed the health and well-being of Chicagoans and exacerbated labor troubles. State-imposed limitations on the borrowing capacity of the city, overlapping local governments and boards, and a corrupt political culture sapped the ability of the city to address these challenges. “The public authorities,” Burnham told business leaders in the Commercial Club, “do not do their duty and they must be made to.” Ensuring that elected officials did their duty comprised a significant element of Burnham’s strategy for the plan.42
In Chicago, as elsewhere, the success of the City Beautiful movement depended on its political strategy. Burnham and the various committees established advisory boards that engaged state and local officials, from the governor of Illinois down to the Chicago Board of Education and park commissioners. In the fall of 1907, Chicago voters rejected a charter reform that would have consolidated many local governing bodies and strengthened the hand of elite reformers. In the wake of that defeat, the plan’s proponents redoubled their efforts to court local officials and build public support. They cultivated alliances with everyone, ranging from such unsavory politicians as Mike “Hinky Dink” Kenna and “Bathhouse” John Coughlin to the outspoken settlement house leader Jane Addams. The plan’s proponents also worked closely with propertied interests and the Army Corps of Engineers to secure support for lakefront parks. Their proposal for a new bridge across the main stem of the Chicago River at Michigan Avenue (easing a bottleneck and extending that avenue north of the river in what is now known as “the Magnificent Mile”) required diplomacy with propertied interests, various governing bodies, and local legislators.43
The City Beautiful Movement and the Democratic Process
Plan of Chicago established city planning as a powerful force in municipal politics, creating a stirring expression of the City Beautiful movement’s optimism about the city and its plasticity. The city’s challenges could be overcome, Plan of Chicago promised, and “a unified city, wherein each portion will have organic relations to all other portions,” could be created. The publication of the plan on July 4 reflected this optimism, as did the physical artifact itself. Burnham learned of the power of visual effects from his work on the McMillan plan, so he secured the services of Jules Guerin (who had worked on the Washington project) to head a group of seven gifted artists who produced the drawings for Plan of Chicago. That tome, with a midnight-green cover, the title and cipher of the Commercial Club impressed in gold upon it, and weighing more than five pounds, appealed first and foremost to the senses. The publication offered the reader/viewer a vision of a future Chicago, invoking wonder at the urbane beauty of a serenely civilized place. In arguing that the “cities that truly exercise dominion rule by reason of their appeal to the highest emotions of the human mind,” Plan of Chicago announced its own ambitions.44
But while every significant public official received a copy of Plan of Chicago, the $25 price put it out of reach of most Chicagoans. To win over machine politicians, secure enabling legislation from the state, create an official city planning commission, and defeat the Army Corps of Engineers over lakefront planning, the backers of Plan of Chicago needed the general public as an ally. To secure public support for implementation of the plan, Chicago mayor Fred Busse appointed 328 men to the Chicago Plan Commission in November 1909. Chaired by Charles Wacker, the Commission hired the master salesman Walter D. Mooney to head a publicity effort. Cultivating newspaper editors and reporters, Mooney blanketed the city with five hundred lantern-slide lectures, reaching 150,000 people. He also produced several short publications, including Chicago’s Greatest Issue: An Official Plan (1911), provided free to property owners and those who paid more than $25 rent a month. In addition, Moody negotiated an agreement to make another of his publications, Wacker’s Manual of the Plan of Chicago (1911), the civics textbook for eighth graders in Chicago. Moody’s film, A Tale of Our City, reached sixty theaters and 175,000 viewers. In part due to Moody’s efforts, Chicagoans approved $234 million in eighty-six Plan-related bond issues between 1912 and 1931.45
But the success of such publicity campaigns signaled the eclipse of the City Beautiful movement. The top-down effort to lobby key decision-makers while overawing the public with a media blitz belied the most promising methods and the most alluring vision of the movement. At its best, the City Beautiful movement relied on a civic-spirited citizenry energized by a vision of the city as an organism designed to enhance people’s lives, rather than merely an economic machine for the accumulation of wealth. The logical product of that vision would be an enlarged public realm as a barrier against the encroachments of crass commercialism. Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, connecting City Hall with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, demonstrated the potential of linking the center of democratic power with the institutions of a public culture. The project made a start in asserting the claims of a shared public realm and setting limits to dominance of private interest. The Boston Public Library off Copley Square, the Detroit Public Library and Institute of Arts, the Denver Public Library and Art Museum, and Cleveland’s six-building Group Plan anchor similar spaces. But the full realization of that public and democratic vision required an engaged and active citizenry as a counterweight to commercial interests.46
The City Beautiful movement’s encounter with the explosion of commercial billboards revealed the limits of its democratic vision. City Beautiful advocates had long complained about commercial billboards that obtruded, as Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., put it, into public space with “all sorts of sordid ideas.” The billboard menace, however, called forth their suspicions of mass democracy, as they equated the “din” of visual salesmanship with “a riot” of “the mob.” But the billboard industry proved adept at—indeed, had pioneered—the same sort of public relations that the Chicago Plan Commission employed. Industry spokesmen insisted that the billboards offered color, amusement, and companionship to harried urbanites, providing relief from the dreary and monotonous industrial cityscape. Some even asserted the billboard’s public service, calling it a more genuinely public art than the elitist civic monuments that City Beautiful activists favored. Monumental architecture spoke in authoritarian idiom, demanding obedience, it seemed, while the billboards spoke in favor of freedom over self-denial.47
The difference between an elite culture imposed upon the masses and a mass culture offered by commercial agencies did not necessarily favor the City Beautiful concept. The use of civic monuments to produce a unified and loyal citizenry, moreover, too closely resembled the advertisers’ effort to mold mass markets. Both sides seemed to think of the urban populace as spectators; neither envisioned an active, deliberating public. Moody’s use of the advertisers’ techniques of public relations had already blurred any distinction between the two sides. Worse, the trends in city life favored billboards over civic monuments. Civic identity depended on “permanent, unimpeachable” architectural forms, The Architectural Record opined in 1915, which billboards defiled. But the accelerating pace of city life, particularly with the spread of the automobile, overwhelmed the unimpeachable monument with the fleeting, transitory billboard. Then, during World War I, Plan of Chicago’s Guerin volunteered for George Creel’s Committee on Public Information, using the same public relations techniques to build support for the war effort. The City Beautiful movement’s faith in public space as the source of a unifying vision had begun to give way to a new model of the public, associated with the mass consumption of goods and ideas and signaling a move toward mass-mediated forms of civic and mass culture.48
Even as the City Beautiful movement found itself squeezed by an expansive capitalism, it also suffered assault from the champions of participatory democracy. Some in the movement saw civic art as a means to “soothe . . . popular discontent” or advertise the benevolence of a philanthropic elite. Robinson called for imposing civic centers that would “visibly dominate” the city. “To them,” he wrote, “the community would look up, seeing them lording over it at every turn, as, in fact, the government ought to do.” But others thought that civic spaces should promote a “spirit of liberalism and equality,” encourage interaction among diverse peoples, and “arouse in the individual a keen sense of proprietary pride.” Charles Zueblin, an academic sociologist who rose to the presidency of the American League for Civic Improvement, initially saw the movement as ultimately a matter of citizenship and “the idea of striving for a purification of politics.” He stood with those who wanted public spaces that served as “open-air clubs at which political affairs and questions of art and literature were discussed from varied, individual points of view.” But Zueblin eventually left a movement that he found deficient in democratic credentials to search for better ways of promoting a deliberating public, including university extension and the forum movement.49
Women stood at the forefront of those who tried to lead the City Beautiful movement in more democratic directions. Believing that the improvement of city life depended on the actions of every citizen, women’s clubs set out “to promote by education and active co-operation a higher public spirit and a better social order.” A more inclusive civic life, they argued, would reveal that citizens could become experts when they focused on local conditions. By building a parallel movement for municipal housekeeping (applying the domestic skills of women to the city as a whole), they enlarged their own role in civic life. Caroline Crane spoke on municipal housekeeping in more than sixty cities, always renting the largest possible hall. The “people will come,” she argued, “when the selection of a large and popular auditorium makes it plain that they are really expected to come.” To secure a higher level of municipal service, municipal housekeepers published popular books, articles, and pamphlets; held public meetings; conducted surveys; held protests; ran political candidates; accepted official positions; and even submitted a bid for a garbage removal contract. No one struggled more consistently to make political reform an integral part of the City Beautiful movement than women.50
Women and the Path from the City Beautiful/Livable to the City Practical/Profitable
Municipal housekeepers broadened the agenda of the City Beautiful movement to include cleaner streets and improved sanitation, pure water and smoke abatement, careful disposal of wastes, inspection of public markets and supplies of milk and meat, and regulation of buildings to ensure adequate light and ventilation. The effort led to new legislation and new municipal responsibilities regarding littering, the placement of noxious industries, new methods of garbage disposal, restrictions on dumping, and the regulation of public markets. The interest in public markets challenged the prejudices of some in the movement. An inveterate foe of clutter, Robinson treated public markets, generating litter, congestion, and odor, as antithetical to clean and efficient cities and regularly recommended their removal. But women defended the importance of access to clean and healthful markets, recommending regulation and upgrading rather than removal.51
As part of the effort to broaden the agenda of the City Beautiful movement, women agitated for social as well as physical planning. The movement tended to avoid housing reform, land-use regulation, and other issues that required greater public control over private interests. The movement avoided the social issues surrounding poverty altogether. About “such details—sociologically pressing though they are—as sunless bedrooms, dark halls and stairs, foul cellars, dangerous employments, and an absence of bathrooms,” Robinson wrote, “civic art has no responsibility, however earnestly it deplores them.” Plan of Chicago warned of the eventual necessity of providing public housing for low-income Chicagoans who had become “so degraded by long life in the slums that they have lost all power of caring for themselves.” But housing and poverty and other social issues remained off the City Beautiful agenda.52
Male reformers tended to look to private enterprise to address social issues. Women more commonly demanded an expansion of municipal responsibilities, in the belief that there is “a common dependency from which there is no escape.” In dealing with pollution and urban cleanliness, women wanted immediate action and municipal regulation rather than a cautious, cost-benefit approach. The gender differences boiled down to a choice between the city profitable or the city livable. Women sought a new attitude about—and within—municipal government, holding that “the welfare of human beings is the chief business of a city government.” The struggle over Chicago’s lakefront illustrates the point. Whether focused on the lakefront in terms of industrial and harbor development or recreational and commercial opportunities, men thought in terms of profit. Faced with the male City Club’s lakefront plan for a commercial development with restaurants, boardwalks, and plenty of parking, the Women’s City Club advocated for a public lakefront, accessible by streetcar extension and open to all in “a broad and democratic spirit.”53
Women played key roles on the Committee on Congestion of Population (CCP) in New York, which launched a public exhibition on poverty and housing in 1908 and laid the groundwork for the first national conference on city planning, held in 1909. The settlement house leader Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch chaired the committee, and activist (and Addams associate) Florence Kelley organized the exhibition. As Simkhovitch explained, the exhibition “pictured graphically what overcrowding meant in New York’s tenements.” Well acquainted with the challenges of immigrant and working-class neighborhoods, settlement leaders pushed for a bottom-up form of city planning that included such issues as child care, education, recreation, and health care.54
The National Conference on City Planning convened in Washington, D.C., in May. The only woman to address the conference, Simkhovitch pushed for neighborhood self-determination and community organization. Speaking for the city livable, she insisted that “no matter how good a plan looks from the point of view of a sound economy, it is not a good plan unless the people like it.” Inspired by the example of European planning efforts in land-use controls and the construction of new towns and garden cities for the working classes, Simkhovitch nonetheless knew that her neighbors did not want to lose “the social advantages which a city affords.” Any solution of the housing problem would have to take the needs and desires of the poor into account.55
The impassioned arguments of the social reformers for a fight for “sunlight and pure air against greed” captured the imagination of some City Beautiful practitioners at the first National Conference on City Planning. But most attendees saw physical and social planning as two distinct, if related, issues. As the struggle to control future national conferences ensued, veterans of the City Beautiful movement seized the opportunity to think through exactly what planning might become. Some stood with the insurgents in seeking to make city planning “a social and democratic movement,” but most found the insurgents too radical and impractical, likely to frighten ordinary citizens and alienate powerful interests.56
Future conferences and the emerging profession of city planning narrowed rather than broadened the scope of city planning. Downplaying the democratic and popular dimensions of its activity, the new profession appealed to more powerful and conservative groups. Where the City Beautiful movement once had welcomed women’s contributions, the profession found the emphasis on beauty to be effeminate. As male professionals embraced “the city practical,” they also closed the doors to women. “There is nothing effeminate and sentimental about it,” one male professional said of city planning, “—like tying tidies on telephone poles and putting doilies on cross-walks,—it is vigorous, virile, sane.” The purview of planning and environmental reform narrowed, leaving off such supposedly female concerns as beauty, sympathy, and social justice.57
At the same time, the emerging profession redefined planning as a dynamic process of constant monitoring, revision, and guidance of the city’s growth, rather than the publication of a single dramatic plan geared toward enlisting public support. More process than result, city planning might have enlisted the entire citizenry in the creation, implementation, monitoring, and constant revision of a plan. Moreover, it might have followed the City Beautiful movement’s emphasis on the city as an organism and treated planning as an aspect of human ecology. Olmsted, Jr., pointed the way in 1911, defining comprehensive planning as “a single complex subject” focused on “the intelligent control and guidance of the entire physical growth and alteration of cities.” A comprehensive city planning outline for Pittsburgh, published in 1910, illustrated the potential of this approach. Addressing transportation, water and sewage, public control over private development, flood control, and smoke abatement, it focused on the essential elements of the city as an ecosystem.58
Like the City Beautiful movement, both the science of ecology and the city planning profession emerged against the backdrop of successful environmental reform. As water and sewer systems dramatically extended life expectancies, success excited greater ambitions. Ellen Richards, a municipal housekeeper and sanitary chemist, introduced ecology to the American public in 1892 and worked to popularize it for much of her life. To preserve the physical environment that was our home, Richards wrote in 1910, “there must be inculcated habits of using the material things in daily life in such a way as to promote and not to diminish health.” It was of the “greatest importance that every one should acquire such habits of belief,” she concluded, and that ecological knowledge be directed to “inculcating right and safe ways in daily life.” Worried about the growing specialization of scientific and technical knowledge, Richards understood ecology as an integrative science aimed at the transformation of daily life.59
In contrast, the city planning profession remained focused on cultivating a narrow, professional expertise. Trends toward specialization, professionalization, and bureaucratization undercut the efforts of citizen activists and generalists. Architects, landscape architects, housing reformers, and playground advocates all went their separate ways. Alumni of the CCP effort began meeting as a separate National Housing Association in 1911. Competing with other professions, municipal engineers established exclusive control of matters of sanitation, street construction, and drainage. Among the new specialized commissions proliferating in municipal government, city planning commissions empowered professions and excluded lay activists.60
A short-lived and in many ways unsuccessful effort, the City Beautiful movement nevertheless left behind an impressive and useful legacy. Across the United States, many beloved urban spaces and ensembles of buildings from the City Beautiful movement remain. Chicago’s lakefront parks, Washington, D.C.’s monumental core, Cleveland’s downtown mall and cluster of civic and governmental buildings, Denver’s partially realized civic center and formal gardens, grand railroad stations in Kansas City, Los Angeles, and Washington, university campuses such as Columbia University in New York City and Yale University in New Haven, and boulevards, public buildings, parks, and parkways in numerous cities, large and small, all testify to the enduring value of the City Beautiful movement. The movement’s emphasis on civic architecture, landscaped parks, and generous public spaces influenced the Congress for the New Urbanism and interest in form-based zoning codes. In perhaps its most important contribution, the City Beautiful movement remains a source of insight and inspiration for those who believe that cities are organisms that can be both efficient and beautiful.
Discussion of the Literature
The history of the City Beautiful movement intersects with architectural history, the history of technology, and urban and political history, and sources in these fields can be consulted usefully. But the movement is centrally located in the history of city planning, the serious study of which began with John W. Reps, The Making of Urban America and Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890.61 Each provides a broad survey of planning history, paying considerable attention to the City Beautiful movement.
William H. Wilson spent more than a quarter-century studying the City Beautiful movement, beginning with The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City.62 His many books and articles, and especially his later and more synthetic book-length study, The City Beautiful Movement, provide a useful starting point for a more in-depth investigation.63 So, too, does the work of Jon A. Peterson, whose article “The City Beautiful Movement: Forgotten Origins and Lost Meanings” stimulated greater interest in the movement.64 While focused on the eventual emergence of the city planning profession, Peterson’s The Birth of City Planning in the United States 1840–1917 is full of insights on the City Beautiful movement.65 Michelle H. Bogart’s Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930 focuses on a group of public arts advocates who first popularized the term City Beautiful.66
Feminist scholars have deepened our understanding of a movement that relied so heavily on women. Suellen M. Hoy’s “‘Municipal Housekeeping’: The Role of Women in Improving Urban Sanitation Practices, 1880–1917” documents the crucial role that women played in the effort to sanitize and beautify American cities.67 Maureen Flanagan’s “The City Profitable, the City Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s,” investigates the different agendas of male and female reformers while casting the City Beautiful movement as an environmental reform.68 Susan Marie Wirka’s “The City Social Movement: Progressive Women Reformers and Early Social Planning” details the role of women in trying to broaden the agenda of the City Beautiful and City Efficient movements.69
Several studies place the City Beautiful movement in broader contexts. Paul S. Boyer’s Urban Masses and Moral Order locates the City Beautiful movement in a long history of elite efforts to reform the urban masses morally, a view that has been both influential and challenged.70 Stanley K. Schultz’s Constructing Urban Culture: American Cities and City Planning, 1800–1920 traces the 19th-century development of many of the legal tools that City Beautiful activists employed, as well of the vision of a technologically sophisticated city set in a garden that animated their efforts.71 M. Christine Boyer’s Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning places the City Beautiful movement in a structuralist account of planning discourses.72 John D. Fairfield’s The Mysteries of the Great City: The Politics of Urban Design, 1877–1937 examines the City Beautiful movement in the context of social and political conflicts in the turn-of-the-century American city.73
The Chicago story is carefully examined in Carl Smith’s Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City.74 Burnham’s career receives a fuller treatment in Thomas S. Hines’s Burnham of Chicago.75 The international dimensions of the City Beautiful have been comparatively neglected, but for a start, see Mario Manieri-Elia, “Toward an ‘Imperial City’: Daniel H. Burnham and the City Beautiful Movement,” in Giorgio Ciucci, Francesco Dal Co, Mario Manien-Ella, and Manfredo Tafuri, The American City: From the Civil War to the New Deal (Barbara Luigia LaPenta, trans.), 1–142; and the “City of Monuments” chapter in Cities of Tomorrow; An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design Since 1880, by Peter Hall.76
The City Beautiful movement can be tracked in the rich periodical literature published during the Progressive era. A useful research guide for these publications is The Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Although it only reaches back to the later years of the movement, The International Index: A Guide to Periodical Literature in the Social Sciences and Humanities is also useful. Both are widely available through college libraries. One of the lay leaders of the movement, J. Horace McFarland, edited a “Beautiful America” section of the Ladies Home Journal between 1904 and 1907.
The papers of several leaders on the movement are available as well. Materials by and related to Frederick Law Olmsted can be found at the Frederick Law Olmsted National Historical Site and the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. The professional and personal papers of Daniel H. Burnham, along with other archival material, are available at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago. The University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Special Collections houses the Charles Mulford Robinson Papers The J. Horace McFarland’s papers are housed at the Pennsylvania State Archives.
The most important publications of the City Beautiful movement are available digitally, including Charles Mulford Robinson, The Improvement of Towns and Cities and Modern Civic Art; or, The City Made Beautiful and Burnham and Bennett, Plan of Chicago.
Links to Digital Materials
“Architecture: The City Beautiful Movement,” Encyclopedia of Chicago
City Beautiful Movement The New York Preservation Archive Project
City Beautiful; The 1901 Plan for Washington D. C. University of Virginia Xroads
Baker, Laura E. “Public Sites Versus Public Sights: The Progressive Response to Outdoor Advertising and the Commercialization of Public Space.” American Quarterly 59 (December 2007): 1187–1213.Find this resource:
Bogart, Michelle H. Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.Find this resource:
Boyer, Paul S. Urban Masses and Moral Order. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978.Find this resource:
Brownless, David B. Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia: The Museum: Distributed by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 1989.Find this resource:
Burnham, Daniel H., and Edward H. Bennett. Plan of Chicago. Chicago: Commercial Club, 1909.Find this resource:
Fairfield, John D. The Mysteries of the Great City: The Politics of Urban Design, 1877–1937. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993.Find this resource:
Flanagan, Maureen A. “The City Profitable, the City Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s.” Journal of Urban History 22 (January 1996): 163–190.Find this resource:
Hines, Thomas S. Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.Find this resource:
Hoy, Suellen M. “‘Municipal Housekeeping’: The Role of Women in Improving Urban Sanitation Practices, 1880–1917.” In Pollution and Reform in American Cities, 1870–1930. Edited by Martin V. Melosi, 173–198. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980.Find this resource:
Mattson, Kevin. Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy in the Progressive Era. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998.Find this resource:
Peterson, Jon A. The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.Find this resource:
Schultz, Stanley K. Constructing Urban Culture: American Cities and City Planning, 1800–1920. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989.Find this resource:
Smith, Carl. Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.Find this resource:
Wilson, William H. The City Beautiful Movement. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.Find this resource:
(1.) Suellen Hoy, Chasing Dirt: The American Pursuit of Cleanliness (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Martin V. Melosi, Effluent America: Cities, Industry, Energy, and the Environment (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001); Joel Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective (Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 1996); Laura E. Baker, “Public Sites Versus Public Sights: The Progressive Response to Outdoor Advertising and the Commercialization of Public Space,” American Quarterly 59 (December 2007), 1187–1213; and, on urban population, US Census Bureau, “ Population of the 100 Largest Cities and other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990.
(2.) Stanley K. Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture: American Cities and City Planning, 1800–1920 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989); Harold Platt, Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Stanley K. Schultz and Clay McShane, “To Engineer the Metropolis: Sewers, Sanitation, and City Planning in Late-Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American History 65 (September 1978), 389–411; Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008).
(3.) Melosi, The Sanitary City, 71–112; and Hoy, Chasing Dirt, 59–86.
(4.) Paul S. Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978), 220–232, 261–278; Dewey quoted on 225; and Jon A. Peterson, The Birth of City Planning in the United States, 1840–1917 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 98–104.
(5.) Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture, 3–32; novelist quoted on 21; and Leo Marx, The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1964).
(6.) Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture, 3–32, novelist quoted on 25.
(7.) Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 123–131.
(8.) Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order in America, 123–131; Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward (New York: Ticknor and Co., 1888; reissued, New York, New American Library, 1960), quoted passage on 213; and Schulz, Constructing Urban Culture, 3–4.
(9.) Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (New York: Scribners, 1890), passim; quoted passages on 55, 273, 296; and Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 123–131.
(10.) Jon C. Teaford, The Unheralded Triumph: City Government in America, 1870–1900 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1984); Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 261–265; Kevin Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public: The Struggle for Urban Participatory Democracy in the Progressive Era (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1998), 14–20; Charles Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, Architect, Planner of Cities (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1921), “magic,” vol. 2, 147; and Carl Smith, Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), on Moore’s attribution of the phrase to Burnham, 98.
(11.) William H. Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1989), 13–14; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 98–108.
(12.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 39–54; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 14–22, “progress” on 19; “hard” on 20; Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 236–240; “pleasure” on 239; “harmonizing” on 238.
(13.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 22–33; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 29–73.
(14.) John D. Fairfield, The Mysteries of the Great City: The Politics of Urban Design, 1877–1937 (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993), 41–49; Olmsted quoted on 42; Geoffrey Blodgett, “Frederick Law Olmsted: Landscape Architecture as Conservative Reform,” Journal of American History 62 (March 1976), 869–889; Roy Rosenzweig and Elizabeth Blackmar, The Park and the People: A History of Central Park (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).
(15.) Alan Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America: Culture and Society in the Gilded Age (New York: Hill and Wang, 1982), 208–234.
(16.) Trachtenberg, The Incorporation of America; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 56–60; and Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture, 209–217.
(17.) Thomas S. Hines, Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 4–6. passim; Carl Smith, Plan of Chicago: Daniel Burnham and the Remaking of the American City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 19–22, 32–33; and Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 182–184, 269–271; quotations on 183.
(18.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 69–102; Wilson, City Beautiful Movement, 56–64; and Robinson quoted on 60.
(19.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 98–122; and Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 35–45.
(20.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 35–47; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 98–122.
(21.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 102–108, motto quoted on 103; Michele H. Bogart, Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989); and Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 35–47.
(22.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 69–102; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 35–47; and Robinson quoted on 46.
(23.) John W. Reps, The Making of Urban America: A History of City Planning in the United States (Princeton. NJ: Princeton University Press, 1965), 240–262, 502–508; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 77–81.
(24.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 80–85.
(25.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 85–88; and Brown quoted on 86.
(26.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 88–95; and Reps, The Making of Urban America, 502–508.
(27.) Reps, The Making of Urban America, 508; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 94–97.
(28.) Charles Mulford Robinson, Modern Civic Art; or, The City Made Beautiful (New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1903), 32; and Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 98–138.
(29.) Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order, 261–276; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 75–95; Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 139–150, 166–170; Mario Manieri-Elia, “Toward an ‘Imperial City’: Daniel H. Burnham and the City Beautiful Movement,” in Giorgio Ciucci, Francesco Dal Co, Mario Manien-Ella, and Manfredo Tafuri, The American City: From the Civil War to the New Deal, Barbara Luigia LaPenta, trans. (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1979), 1–142.
(30.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 151–162; and Manieri-Elia, “Toward an ‘Imperial City.’”
(31.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 146–149, 190–197; and Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 46–47, 234–238.
(32.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 162–172; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 108–112; Daniel Baldwin Hess, “Transportation Beautiful: Did the City Beautiful Improve Urban Transportation?” Journal of Urban History 32 (May 2006), 511–545; and Robinson quoted on 523.
(33.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 162–172; Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 108–112; Hess, “Transportation Beautiful,” 511–545; and Robinson quoted on 524.
(34.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 175–181.
(35.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 181–192; and Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 99–278.
(36.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 202–206; and Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 99–278.
(37.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 213–222; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 1–10, 23–25, 64–78; Daniel H. Burnham and Edward H. Bennett, Plan of Chicago, ed. Charles Moore (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1993), “impossible” on 32; Hines, Burnham of Chicago, 319–325. On who actually wrote Plan of Chicago, see Smith’s useful discussion on 103–110; following the work of architectural historian Kristen Schaffer, Smith argues that Charles Moore, the Plan’s editor, whom Burnham first met during the McMillan Commission effort, crafted the prose from Burnham’s extensive notes.
(38.) Burnham, Plan of Chicago, quotations on 66, 74, 80, and 99; Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 213–222; Fairfield, The Mysteries of the Great City, 119–124.
(39.) Hines, Burnham of Chicago, 314–317, “Beauty” on 316; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 31–33, “charming” on 32; Burnham, Plan of Chicago, “labor market” on 32; “burden” on 53;
(40.) Burnham, Plan of Chicago, “citizenship” on 123; “efficient” on 1; “Make no little plans” is often attributed to Burnham, but there is no definitive source; see Smith, Plan of Chicago, 98.
(41.) Burnham, Plan of Chicago, “frequent” and “narrow” on 32; “influx” on 1; “Lake front” on 50; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 11–37, 99–103; Burnham’s musing on the lake quoted on 33; Fairfield, The Mysteries of the Great City, 119–124.
(42.) Smith, Plan of Chicago, 34–53; and Burnham quoted on 52.
(43.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 99–278; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 71–84; and Hines, Burnham of Chicago, 312–331.
(44.) Smith, Plan of Chicago, 80–117; “serenely civilized place” is Smith’s elegant phrase on 91; Burnham, Plan of Chicago, “unified” on 100; “dominion” on 30.
(45.) Smith, Plan of Chicago, 116–125, 132–133; and Thomas J. Schlereth, “Burnham’s Plan and Moody’s Manual: City Planning as Progressive Reform,” Journal of the American Planning Association 47 (January 1981), 70–82.
(46.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 99–278; David B. Brownlee, Building the City Beautiful: The Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1989).
(47.) Baker, “Public Sites Versus Public Sights,” 1187–1205, Olmsted on 1194; and Architectural Record on 1199.
(48.) Baker, “Public Sites Versus Public Sights,” 1199–1209; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 118–121.
(49.) Mattson, Creating a Democratic Public, 14–30; “soothe” on 17; “spirit” on 18; “proprietary” on 19; “open-air” on 21; Robinson, Modern Civic Art, “visibly” on 91; Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, “striving” on 113; John D. Fairfield, The Public and Its Possibilities: Triumphs and Tragedies in the American City (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2010), 149–151; Smith, Plan of Chicago, 126–129.
(50.) Suellen M. Hoy, “‘Municipal Housekeeping’: The Role of Women in Improving Urban Sanitation Practices, 1880–1917,” in Martin V. Melosi, ed., Pollution and Reform in American Cities, 1870–1930 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), 173–198; “promote” on 174; Crane on 187; Harold L. Platt, “Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited: Class, Politics, and Public Health in Chicago, 1890–1930,” Environmental History 5 (April 2000), 194–222.
(51.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 192–194; Gregory Alexander Donofrio, “Feeding the City,” Gastronomica: The Journal of Food and Culture 7 (Fall 2007), 30–41; Hoy, “‘Municipal Housekeeping’”; and Platt, “Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited.”
(52.) Susan Marie Wirka, “The City Social Movement: Progressive Women Reformers and Early Social Planning,” in Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver, eds., Planning the Twentieth Century City (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 55–75; Robinson, Modern Civic Art, “details” on 257–258; Burnham, Plan of Chicago, “degraded” on 109; Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 229–232; and Robinson quoted on 230.
(53.) Wirka, “The City Social Movement,”; Maureen A. Flanagan, “The City Profitable, the City Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s,” Journal of Urban History 22 (January 1996), 163–190; “common” and “broad are from Chicago Women’s City Club member Anne E. Nicholes, quoted on 172 and 175; and Platt, “Jane Addams and the Ward Boss Revisited.”
(54.) Wirka, “The City Social Movement,” “pictured” on 69; Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 227–245; and Fairfield, Mysteries of the Great City, 119–157.
(55.) Wirka, “The City Social Movement”; Simkhovitch quoted on 72–73.
(56.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 240–259, “sunlight” on 242; “social” on 253; and Fairfield, Mysteries of the Great City, 119–157.
(57.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 255–259; Adam Rome, “’Political Hermaphrodites’: Gender and Environmental Reform in Progressive America,” Environmental Reform 11 (July 2006): 440–463; “effeminate” on 431.
(58.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 246–259; Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., quoted on 256; Pittsburgh plan on 257–258; John D. Fairfield, “A Populism for the Cities: Henry George, John Dewey, and the City Planning Movement,” Urban Design Studies 8 (2002) 19–27; for a later elaboration of this potential, see Lewis Mumford, The Culture of Cities (New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1938) and Ben A. Minteer, The Landscape of Reform: Civic Pragmatism and Environmental Thought in America (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006).
(59.) Peterson, The Birth of City Planning, 29–73; Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture, 209–217; Hoy, “Municipal Housekeeping”; Ellen H. Richards, Sanitation in Daily Life (Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1910), vii–viii; and Robert Clarke, Ellen Swallow: The Woman Who Founded Ecology (Chicago: Follett Publishing Co., 1973)
(60.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement, 285–290; Wirka, “The City Social Movement”; and Rome, “’Political Hermaphrodites.’”
(61.) Reps, The Making of Urban America; Mel Scott, American City Planning Since 1890 (Chicago: American Planning Association, 1969).
(62.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement in Kansas City (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1964).
(63.) Wilson, The City Beautiful Movement.
(64.) Jon A. Peterson, “The City Beautiful Movement: Forgotten Origins and Lost Meanings,” Journal of Urban History 2 (August 1976), 415–434.
(65.) Jon A. Peterson, The Birth of City Planning in the United States 1840–1917 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003).
(66.) Michelle H. Bogart, Public Sculpture and the Civic Ideal in New York City, 1890–1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989).
(67.) Suellen M. Hoy, “‘Municipal Housekeeping’: The Role of Women in Improving Urban Sanitation Practices, 1880–1917,” in Martin V. Melosi, ed., Pollution and Reform in American Cities, 1870–1930 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), 173–198.
(68.) Flanagan, “The City Profitable, the City Livable.”
(69.) Wirka, “The City Social Movement.”
(70.) Boyer, Urban Masses and Moral Order.
(71.) Schultz, Constructing Urban Culture.
(72.) M. Christine Boyer, Dreaming the Rational City: The Myth of American City Planning (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1983).
(73.) Fairfield, Mysteries of the Great City.
(74.) Smith, Plan of Chicago.
(75.) Hines, Burnham of Chicago.
(76.) Manieri-Elia, “Toward an ‘Imperial City’”; and Peter Hall, Cities of Tomorrow; An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design Since 1880 (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).