City Beautiful Movement

3 Introduction

American cities in the early 20th century were unhealthy, congested, and not functional. The City Beautiful Movement aimed to change this by applying aesthetics and urban planning principles, creating a humane and functional city. The movement gathered planners, experts, volunteers, architects, artists, civic officials, journalists, businessmen, and citizens focusing on individual and ensemble urban reform.

The movement emerged from the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which showed how architecture and urban planning could enhance the city’s beauty. It also drew inspiration from Europe’s historicism, baroque, and neoclassical temples, processions, and open spaces.

The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy of North American architecture and urban planning that flourished during the 1890s and 1900s with the intent of introducing beautification and monumental grandeur in cities. It was a part of the progressive social reform movement in North America under the leadership of the upper-middle class concerned with poor living conditions in all major cities. The movement, which was originally associated mainly with Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Kansas City and Washington, D.C., promoted beauty not only for its own sake, but also to create moral and civic virtue among urban populations. The World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 is often credited with ushering in the City Beautiful movement. Advocates of the philosophy believed that such beautification could promote a harmonious social order that would increase the quality of life, while critics would complain that the movement was overly concerned with aesthetics at the expense of social reform; Jane Jacobs referred to the movement as an “architectural design cult.”

Author who’s writings championed a fresh, community-based approach to city building, especially during the 1960s.  We’ll learn more about her in a later unit.  

 

Objectives

  1. Learn about the City Beautiful Movement, including the important designers in the movement (Burnham and Olmstead)
  2. Understand the importance of the Plan of Chicago

Lectures

 

Key Takeaway:

  • The City Beautiful Movement emerged as a response to the unsightly conditions of American cities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This movement aimed to beautify cities through a combination of classical and baroque influences in urban planning, with the goal of promoting harmony and order in the city.
  • Daniel Hudson Burnham is considered the Father of City Beautiful and was instrumental in the development and propagation of the movement. His landmark Plan of Chicago integrated practical and beautiful aspects of urban planning, including the incorporation of parks and green spaces, to create a unified vision for the city.
  • Frederick Law Olmsted was an American landscape architect, journalist, social critic, and public administrator. He is considered to be the father of landscape architecture in the United States. Olmsted was also a pioneer in the field of urban planning. He believed that parks and green spaces were essential to the health and well-being of cities, and he worked to create parks that were both beautiful and functional. 
  • The City Beautiful Movement left a lasting legacy on American urban planning, inspiring the development of cities around the country that aimed to promote beauty and order in the built environment. However, the movement has also been criticized for its elitist tendencies and for neglecting the needs of marginalized communities.

 

The City Beautiful Movement

The movement focused on creating aesthetically pleasing cities by improving infrastructure, architecture, and public spaces. Spearheaded by influential figures such as Daniel Burnham and Frederick Law Olmsted, the City Beautiful Movement sought to improve the quality of life for citizens by developing a humane and practical city that prioritized beauty and functionality.

The primary goals of the City Beautiful movement were to enhance urban areas and make them more sanitary. Its leaders proposed that public buildings reflect classical architecture, that streets be lined with trees, and that towns provide landscaped public parks with fountains and statuary. They also called for paved and lighted streets, underground wiring, regular garbage collection, and adequate water and sewer systems. These objectives were further popularized in the magazines of civic groups distributed throughout the United States.

The movement gained momentum after its successful display at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which showcased advancements in skyscraper architecture, radial boulevards, and suburban connectivity. With the support of business people and muckraking journalists, the movement advocated for the creation of axes and park systems, as well as the revitalization of train stations and river-borne commerce.

 

Daniel H. Burnham

Black and white picture of Burnham who is a man with brown hair, a large handle bar moustache, and a bow tie.

Daniel H. Burnham, widely seen as the founder of the City Beautiful Movement, was a visionary architect and city planner who turned his passion for designing magnificent structures into a movement that aimed to create a more humane city. He believed in enhancing the quality of urban life by taking inspiration from art and architecture. Burnham’s contributions to the City Beautiful Movement were revolutionary and crucial in changing how cities were built.

Burnham’s impact on city planning was immense. His work on the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago highlighted his vision of creating an individual movement with an artistic touch. By displaying grand Beaux-Arts pavilions and stunning neoclassical structures, he transformed the public perception of what cities could be. The aesthetic appeal caught the attention of many, which provided him a platform to push forward with his ideas that cities should be practical while also being beautiful.

Modal Title

The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a world’s fair held in Chicago, Illinois, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World in 1492. The fair was held from May 1 to October 31, 1893, on 600 acres of Jackson Park, on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The fair’s architecture was a major attraction. The buildings were designed in the Beaux-Arts style, and they were all painted white. This gave the fair the nickname the “White City.” The fair’s most famous building was the Manufactures and Liberal Arts Building, which was the largest building in the world at the time.

The World’s Columbian Exposition was a major success, and it helped to put Chicago on the map as a major city. It also helped to promote American culture and industry around the world.

Here are some of the highlights of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893:

  • The fair’s architecture was a major attraction. The buildings were designed in the Beaux-Arts style, and they were all painted white. This gave the fair the nickname the “White City.”
  • The fair featured a number of new inventions, including the Ferris wheel, the zipper, and the ice cream cone.
  • The fair also featured a number of cultural events, including concerts, plays, and operas.
  • The fair was a major success, and it helped to put Chicago on the map as a major city. It also helped to promote American culture and industry around the world.
  • If you are interested to read more about Burham’s design and development of the fair, The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, is an incredible non-fiction account.  

Looking_West_From_Peristyle,_Court_of_Honor_and_Grand_Basin,_1893.jpg

Apart from being an expert architect, he also advocated for cleaning up the Chicago River and developing outlying parks during his tenure as head of urban planning in Chicago. These parks would provide citizens with a place to recreate while improving their overall well-being.

His commitment to making cities more humane through art has brought significant changes globally in design thinking and societal imagination about both urban aesthetics and practicalities. 

 Finally, Burnham’s approach to urban planning was based on the belief that cities should be designed with a long-term vision in mind. He argued that cities should be planned for the needs of future generations, not just the present. He also believed that cities should be designed to be efficient and beautiful, and that they should be a source of civic pride.

His most famous quote “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized. Make big plans, aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us.”

Plan of Chicago

The Plan of Chicago aimed at enhancing the aesthetic and functional aspects of the city. The plan was a comprehensive approach that addressed multiple issues, including transportation, sanitation, and civic buildings.

To achieve this, the plan proposed the creation of a network of parks and boulevards that would act as a unifying element, connecting different parts of the city. Additionally, it called for the improvement of existing buildings and the construction of monumental structures that would give the city a sense of grandeur.

1909-plan-of-chicago-civic-center-plaza.jpg

Hand drawn map of Chicago with connected streets and boulevard systems.  All streets go towards a central point on the lake.

The six categories, as laid out by Burnham and Bennett in the final chapter of the Plan of Chicago, are as follows:

  • The improvement of the lake front.
  • The creation of a system of highways outside the city.
  • The improvement of railway terminals, and the development of a complete traction system for both freight and passengers.
  • The acquisition of an outer park system, and of parkway circuits.
  • The systematic arrangement of the streets and avenues within the city, in order to facilitate the movement to and from the business district.
  • The development of centers of intellectual life and of civic administration, so related as to give coherence and unity to the city.

The Plan of Chicago was a major step forward in the development of urban planning in the United States. It was the first comprehensive plan for a major American city, and it set a precedent for future planning efforts. The Plan of Chicago also had a major impact on the development of Chicago. Many of the features of the plan, such as the widening of streets, the construction of new parks, and the development of a lakefront promenade, were eventually implemented.

The Plan of Chicago is still relevant today. Many of its principles, such as the importance of efficiency, beauty, and civic pride, are still considered to be essential elements of good urban planning. The Plan of Chicago is a valuable resource for urban planners and policymakers, and it continues to inspire new ideas for the development of cities.

Here are some of the key principles of Daniel Burnham’s comprehensive plans:

  • Efficiency: Cities should be designed to be efficient in terms of transportation, communication, and commerce.
  • Beauty: Cities should be designed to be beautiful, both in terms of their overall layout and in the details of their architecture and public spaces.
  • Civic pride: Cities should be designed to be a source of civic pride for their residents.

The Role of Parks in City Harmonization

Parks played a central role in the City Beautiful Movement. They were seen as a way to provide a respite from the harsh realities of urban life, as well as a place for people to gather and socialize. Parks were also seen as a way to improve the city’s image and attract new residents and businesses.  

These parks are all large, well-designed spaces that feature a variety of amenities, such as gardens, fountains, sculptures, and playgrounds. They are also home to a variety of cultural institutions, such as museums, theaters, and concert halls.

The City Beautiful Movement had a significant impact on the development of American cities. It helped to create a more beautiful and livable urban environment, and it also helped to promote social and economic progress.

Here are some of the specific roles that parks played in the City Beautiful Movement:

  • Recreation: Parks provided a place for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors. They also offered a variety of recreational opportunities, such as playgrounds, sports fields, and swimming pools.
  • Beauty: Parks were seen as a way to beautify the city and make it more attractive to residents and visitors. They also helped to improve the air quality and reduce noise pollution.
  • Civic pride: Parks were seen as a symbol of the city’s progress and prosperity. They also helped to bring people together and promote a sense of community.
  • Social reform: Parks were seen as a way to improve the lives of the poor and working class. They provided a safe and clean place for people to gather, and they also offered a variety of educational and recreational programs.

The City Beautiful Movement had a lasting impact on the development of American cities. Parks continue to play an important role in providing recreation, beauty, and civic pride. They also help to improve the quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Examples

Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, CA

Long green park with paths throughout. Park is green and surrounded by city that looks brown.

 

Atlanta. GA

Black and white print of Druid Hills.  Central to map is a linear park.

Paved path with person jogging.  Bench surrounded by in bloom oakleaf hydrangea.

Above 2 Images: Olmstead Linear Park in Atlanta 

 Central Park, New York City NY

Black and white picture with a large park in the middle surrounded by large city.

While the development of Central Park aimed to bring nature into the city, it should be noted that an entire community (Seneca Village) was displaced.  

 

Frederick Law Olmstead

On the left is a symmetrical aerial map of a park. On the right is a black and white photo of Olmstead who is pictured as a bald man with a long white beard.

Frederick Law Olmsted was a major figure in the City Beautiful movement, a late 19th- and early 20th-century urban planning movement that sought to beautify and improve American cities. Olmsted believed that parks and other green spaces were essential for the health and well-being of city dwellers, and he designed many parks and other public spaces that embodied the City Beautiful ideals.

Olmsted was also a pioneer in the field of urban planning. He believed that parks and other green spaces were essential for the health and well-being of city dwellers. He also believed that parks could help to improve social conditions by providing a place for people of all backgrounds to come together.

In addition to his work as a landscape architect, Olmsted was also a journalist and social critic. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics, including urban planning, social reform, and environmentalism. He was a strong advocate for public parks and other green spaces, and he believed that they could play a vital role in improving the quality of life for all Americans. Olmsted’s designs were based on the principles of naturalistic landscaping, which emphasized the use of native plants and the creation of landscapes that were both aesthetically pleasing and conducive to recreation.

Olmsted’s work has had a lasting impact on the United States. His designs for parks and other green spaces have helped to shape the landscape of cities and towns across the country. His ideas about urban planning and social reform have also had a significant impact on American society. Olmsted is considered to be one of the most important figures in the history of landscape architecture, and his work continues to inspire and influence people around the world.

Here are some of Olmsted’s most important contributions:

  • He designed some of the most famous parks in the United States, including Central Park in New York City, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco.
  • He was a pioneer in the field of urban planning, and his ideas about parks and green spaces helped to shape the development of cities across the country.
  • He was a strong advocate for public parks and other green spaces, and he believed that they could play a vital role in improving the quality of life for all Americans.
  • His work has had a lasting impact on the United States, and his ideas continue to inspire and influence people around the world.

 

Conclusion: City Beautiful Movement

The City Beautiful Movement had a significant impact on the development of American cities. It helped to improve the quality of life for many city dwellers, and it also helped to shape the modern urban landscape. Some of the most famous examples of City Beautiful architecture include the White City at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., and the Civic Center in San Francisco.

Five Facts About City Beautiful Movement:

  • ✅ The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy prominent in North America during the 1890s and 1900s. 
  • ✅ The movement aimed to beautify urban spaces and improve living conditions in cities.
  • ✅ Advocates of the City Beautiful Movement believed that beautiful environments would inspire civic pride and moral uplift. 
  • ✅ Examples of city planning influenced by the City Beautiful Movement include Chicago’s Burnham Plan and Washington, D.C.’s National Mall. 
  • ✅ While the movement had its critics, its legacy can be seen in modern urban design and architecture. 

FAQs about City Beautiful Movement

What is the City Beautiful Movement?

The City Beautiful Movement was a reform philosophy in North American architecture and urban planning that flourished between 1890 and 1920. It is characterized by a desire to beautify cities by adding boulevards, parks, monuments, and grand civic buildings.

How did the City Beautiful Movement affect urban planning?

The City Beautiful Movement had a significant impact on urban planning, with many cities adopting its ideas. It led to the creation of many new public spaces, such as parks and plazas, and the redesign of existing ones. It also influenced the design of public buildings, encouraging architects to create grand, monumental structures that would inspire civic pride and showcase the progress of the city. At the same time, it introduced the idea of the comprehensive plan We’ll discuss comprehensive plans more in the zoning module..  

What were some examples of City Beautiful Movement projects?

Some examples of City Beautiful Movement projects include the creation of Central Park in New York City, the construction of the White City at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and the redesign of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Other cities, such as Cleveland, Ohio, and San Francisco, California, also implemented City Beautiful projects in the early 20th century.

What were the criticisms of the City Beautiful Movement?

One of the main criticisms of the City Beautiful Movement was that it focused too much on aesthetics and not enough on functionality. Some argued that the large, ornate public buildings and expansive parks were impractical and too expensive. Others criticized the Movement for ignoring the needs of working-class neighborhoods and promoting an elitist vision of urban planning.

Did the City Beautiful Movement influence other countries?

Yes, the City Beautiful Movement had an impact on urban planning in other countries as well, including Canada, England, and Australia. Many cities around the world adopted similar ideas about creating grand public spaces and monumental buildings.

What is the legacy of the City Beautiful Movement?

The legacy of the City Beautiful Movement is still visible in many cities today. The grand public buildings and parks that were created during this time continue to inspire civic pride and attract visitors. The Movement also paved the way for other urban planning concepts, such as the Garden City movement We’ll learn more about this in the next lesson of this module and the New Urbanism movement We’ll disucss this further in the Urban Design module, which continue to shape the way we design and plan cities today.

Quick Check

Why was the Chicago Plan designed for the upper/middle-class?

Because well-to-do people would share their wealth with the poor

 

Because well-to-do people would teach poor how to live

 

Because well-to-do people deserved a better city than the poor

 

Because well-to-do people paid more taxes

 

Check Answer

 

 

 

Leave a Comment