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Chicagoland urban issues

As I explain elsewhere on this site, I made my living mostly writing for a handful of national magazines. One of these was Planning, the glossy monthly published by the American Planning Association from their national offices in Chicago. Those assignments left me alert to local developments in zoning, transit, urban renewal and other forms of redevelopment, infrastructure, traffic engineering, and the like. Some of the resulting pieces were not about urban planning per se, but urbanism figured centrally in all of them.

As I also explain somewhere, I was never much enamored of the city’s Chicago-ness,  I nevertheless relished its big-city-ness. Chicago is a very American city whose political culture encouraged the leaving of  the building of the city to profit-seeking developers.  Chicago did tackle the much trickier challenge of designing the city in the 1908 Plan of Chicago, but that effort failed in its larger ambitions and nothing so grand was ever attempted again.


The spirit of the 1980 plan burned briefly again in the Chicago of the 1990s. Mayor Richard M. Daley traveled, unlike his father, and came back to Chicago with half-digested plans to turn Chicago into Paris. Chicago began a series of initiatives to restore the Chicago River to the life of the city, to redevelop massive tracts of abandoned or under-used industrial land near the city center, to restore its magnificent park system, to turn its rackety el system into another Metro.

Some of these ideas were good—the Loop circulator—but most (the Block 37 superstation, the Olympics bid, Millennium Park) were misconceived or impracticable. Chicago had the advantage of  being able to learn from the experience, good and bad, of other cities that had undertaken such projects, but it was an advantage that too often was wasted. Daley fils wasted billions, and while he turned the city center into a tourist’s delight he failed to achieve basic improvements for the people who lived there. It gave me lots to write about, anyway.

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The Man with the Plan

Burnham explained, again

Illinois Issues  June 2009

Exterior Decoration
Books about public sculpture in Chicago

Reader  August 12, 1988

Green Streets

Chicago tries to learn to love trees

Reader  January 19, 1990

Daley's Trolley
Why the Loop circulator derailed

Reader  October 18, 1991

How Mass Transit Can Serve the Masses

Chicago thinks new thoughts about running the CTA

Chicago Enterprise  January 1992

Infidels at the Water's Edge

 How—gasp!—development might save Chicago's lakefront

Chicago Enterprise  March 1990

Unbuilt Chicago

The perfect dreamed-of city

Inland Architect  May/June 1993

How Chicago's Gentry Shaped the City

“How culture made itself manifest” in Chicago

Chicago Enterprise  April 1992

Brick By Brick

Lake Michigan mugs the well-off, who complain

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  March 19, 1987

Managing the Glob

City-ness comes unbidden to DuPage County

Chicago Enterprise  January 1989

What Can We Do With Block 37?
Undeveloping Loop real estate: A case study 

Reader  April 19, 1991

Beyond Parochialism in Economic Planning

It's every town for itself in this fight

“Politics & Policy”  Chicago Enterprise  June 1991

The Rise and Fall of Michigan Avenue

Too much of a good thing on Chicago's Miracle Mile

Reader  September 27, 1991

Chicago-style Urbanism

Making urban plans, and history

See Illinois (unpublished) 2003

The Man with the Plan

A lengthy reconsideration of the man and his plan

Reader  June 18, 1993

Utopia in Pullman

A rail magnate's worker paradise in Chicago

Adventure Road  Undated

How the Lakefront Was Won

Why private enterprise fought for public access 

Reader November 8, 1991

The Pleasures of Walking

Getting around in Chicago’s Loop

Chicago Enterprise  October 1989

From Slum to Sprawl

Urbanization, Chicago-style

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008

Footloose Commuters

Chicago sidewalks as transit system

See Illinois (unpublished)  2007


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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