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posted: 2/10/2010 12:01 AM

Judson exhibit focused on Burnham

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  • Daniel Burnham

    Daniel Burnham
    Courtesy Chicago History Museum


The thousands of suburbanites who have read Erik Larson's best-seller "Devil in the White City" might not associate Elgin with famed urban planner Daniel Burnham, but a special exhibit seeks to change that.

"Deep Roots - Green Future: City Planning in Elgin," on display at Judson University's Benjamin P. Brown Library now through March 31, describes how Daniel Burnham transformed the image of the American city.

The traveling exhibit, funded through a Gail Borden Library Grant, has already made stops at the city's library and Elgin Community College. It heads to the Centre of Elgin in mid-June.

Burnham led both the design and construction of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, known famously as the "White City."

He is also the author of the "Plan of Chicago" - a document that laid out modern, efficient and sustainable plans for the city. The Judson exhibit is part of the yearlong celebration of that 1909 document, widely considered to be one of the world's most complete regional plans.

Burnham's plan, according to the Centennial Web site, reached as far as Kenosha, Wis., to the north, DeKalb to the west, and Michigan City, Ind., to the south.

The University of Chicago is spearheading the anniversary festivities, which include exhibits, design contests, documentaries, lectures and future projects.

According to the University, Burnham's plan featured six components - improving the lakefront, developing a highway system, improving freight and passenger railway systems, acquiring an "outer park" system, arranging streets practically and efficiently, and creating a civic center that would be home to both cultural institutions and government.

Burnham and his associates, including partner Edward Bennett, promoted the Plan widely to business leaders, government officials and community members alike. Results included North Michigan Avenue, Wacker Drive and Chicago's lakefront parks and regional forest preserves.

It didn't stop with Chicago, either.

Many principles of Burnham's Chicago Plan were used after Burnham went into semiretirement and Bennett took over drafting up plans for cities, including Elgin's master plan in 1917.

Along with Judson, ECC and the city of Elgin, hundreds of other professional associations, civic and community organizations are taking part in celebrations, not only highlighting Burnham's past, but using his ideas to shape the future. Judson is one of 20 area colleges serving as a partner.

Along with celebrating the past, the Centennial has identified six principles for the future, to be paired with the original Burnham plan's focuses. They include tying transportation to good land use, connecting people to opportunities, developing transportation and caring for the region's water and ecosystem.

In tune with that plan, the Judson exhibit also details Elgin's latest plan for sustainability.

The free exhibit is open during normal library hours, 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday; and 6 to 11 p.m. Sunday.

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