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Urban issues

Here you will find articles about land use, zoning, the City Beautiful movement, subdivision design, parks, and transportation, illustrated mostly by cases in Chicago and Springfield and published mainly in Planning, the Chicago Reader, Chicago Enterprise, and Illinois Times. 


I can't remember when I became interested in how cities work. I suppose it dates to the slow death of my home town's downtown (which for eleven years also happened to be my neighborhood) in the 1970s. The perceptive reader will recognize in me the loving son who became a bore about fitness and nutrition after watching a beloved parent die of a heart attack.


In any event, urban issues were to become a professional preoccupation. The first opinion piece published in Illinois Times under my own name was about the promiscuous clearing of downtown commercial buildings for parking lots. My first piece for Illinois Issues magazine, in 1978, was about urban planning, specifically developer exactions being imposed by the Chicago suburb of Naperville. (The piece is of little interest today and is not included in this archives.) Developers of the day raged about how this clumsy manipulation of market forces by government would throttle growth; I take pleasure in pointing out here that in the years since, Naperville grew from 42,000 residents to 148,000.   


An occasional contributor to the early Illinois Times was Ruth Eckdish Knack. She moved to Chicago and took a job as an editor at Planning, the monthly published by the American Planning Association, the professional organization for urban planners. Ruth (now a member of the College of Fellows of  the American Institute of Certified Planners) kindly tossed assignments my way, and I began to acquire an education in urbanism and planning, article by article, my tuition in effect being paid by the APA. I suppose I should have declared that on my 1040s.

Funny how a freelancer, by stint of publishing a well-researched piece in which he or she interviews experts about a topic about which he is otherwise ignorant, gets a reputation as a authority by virtue of his work appearing in a journal considered authoritative. I got used to it, but I never didn't laugh when I saw a piece of mine on this topic on a university reading list. 

Interested readers also should know that I devoted two chapters in my history of mid-Illinois—"A Classic Mixing Zone" and "Town Mania"—to population demographics and migration and urbanization as they affected that part of the state; see Corn Kings & One-Horse Thieves.  

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Broadacre City

Frank Lloyd Wright's dispersed utopia 

Planning December 1999

Chicago Resurrection

The city's late 20th century rebirth explained

Illinois Issues November 1995

Green Streets

Chicago tries to learn to love trees

Reader  January 19, 1990

Catering to Pleas for Parking

Would Ruin Chicago Ave. Character

Ruining the "park" in Oak Park

Wednesday Journal  November 27, 1911

The City as Lab

Revisiting Banfield on the urban poor

Illinois Issues  January 2000  

The Man with the Plan

Burnham explained, again

Illinois Issues  June 2009

The Man with the Plan

The man and his plan reconsidered

Reader  June 18, 1993

Unbuilt Chicago

The perfect dreamed-of city

Inland Architect  May/June 1993

You Can't Grow Corn on Asphalt

Farmers vs. developers in the '70s

Illinois Issues  December 1978

Aurora UberAlles

Downstate's flagging population growth

"Prejudices" Illinois Times  March 31, 1994

Bombed-out Springfield

Cars wage war on buildings in the capital 

Illinois Times  November 12, 1976

This Space Available
Public spaces in Chicago and cities around the world

Reader  January 29, 1993

Miracle or Threat

Run! It’s about TIF!

Illinois Issues  September 2007

Infidels at the Water's Edge

 Develop Chicago's lakefront?

Chicago Enterprise  March 1990

Utopia in Pullman

A rail magnate's worker paradise in Chicago

Adventure Road  Undated

Pumping Out Iowa

Cities don’t make floods but they make them worse

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  July 21, 1993

How the Lakefront Was Won

How rich men fought for the people

Reader November 8, 1991

The Urban Park

Is Springfield ready for Union Square Park? Illinois Times  August 6, 1987

Zone Defense

Spot zoning nibbles away at the capital city

"Prejudices" Illinois Times December 8, 1988

City Beautiful

A 1924 plan for building a new Springfield

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  April 28, 1993

Don’t Look Now

Lost vistas in the capital city

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 4, 1988

Daley's Trolley
Daley's Loop circulator is derailed

Reader  October 18, 1991

The Pleasures of Walking

Getting around in Chicago’s Loop

Chicago Enterprise  October 1989

Washington Park's Life Story

O. C. Simonds’ gift to Springfield

Illinois Times  July 13, 1979

Positive Incentives

Springfield’s lazy, hazy, razing days of summer

"Prejudices" Illinois Times July 24, 1981

Flood of Memories
Reflections on Chicago’s Great Leak of 1992

Reader  April 9, 1993

Shape Shifting

A new assessment of urban sprawl

Illinois Issues  September 2006


The state moves in. There goes the neighborhood

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 22, 1980

Chicago-style Urbanism

Making urban plans, and history

See Illinois (unpublished) 2003

Sis Boom Bah

A step toward a new downtown Springfield

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 12, 1977

White Oaks East

Springfield un-malls the town square

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 26, 1991

Return to Broadacre City
Frank Lloyd Wright reimagines the city

Illinois Issues  April 2000

Why I Live Downtown

A paean to the crowded life

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 5, 1979


Civic ugliness as economic development issue

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 5, 1983

A House in a Day

Will the future of affordable family housing be the 1950s?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times November 23, 2011

Managing the Glob

City-ness comes unbidden to DuPage County

Chicago Enterprise  January 1989

Green Engineering

Soft alternatives to soft-headed flood control

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  July 29, 1993

Getting There in a Hurry

Why Springfield street improvements seldom were

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 13, 1992

A Great Concrete Dagger

Building highways out of habit

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 30, 1979

Cheese on a Plate

A bigger, not better, capitol complex

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 15, 1983

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

Reader  April 19, 1991


Illinois: Country-fied city or city-fied country?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  No date

Pay As You Grow

Who ought to pay for development?

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 26, 1993

A Pretty Stable Part of Town

Making a new downtown of Springfield's old buildings

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 18, 1993

All for One

Filling the gaps between city hall and statehouse

Illinois Issues  July-August 1998

The Object of Enterprise

Springfield's downtown gets out of bed, walks

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  October 29, 1981

The Bulldozers Are Coming!

The frontier impulse unsettles metropolitan Springfield

Illinois Times  June 29, 1979

A Poor Piece of Work

Tidying up the Lincoln home area by paving it

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 10, 1977

The Park Business

Redefining the public park

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 11, 1991

Roller Rinks

Downtown Springfield tries respectability

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 15, 1981

Reinventing Housing

In which the author’s wishes do not come true

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 30, 1980

Springfield, Reimagined

The newest draft city plan is a good one

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times January 4, 2018

Why Did the Children Not Cross the Road?
Kids no longer enjoy the freedom of their city
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  December. 30, 2009

Yielding to Nonsense
The General Assembly makes pedestrians less safe
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 13, 2010

Poor Housing
Will enforcement improve shabby housing on Springfield's east side?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 3, 2011

Branching Out

How might Illinois towns boost population growth?

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 12, 2017

Arcadia at the End of the El Lines

Chicagoland’s parks and green spaces

See Illinois (unpublished)  2008

Annexing Fringe Areas—Is It Worth It?

Attachment theory and dysfunctional cities

Illinois Issues  January 1979

Cheap House on the Prairie

Who pays for Springfield’s low-priced housing?

Illinois Times  February 3, 2011

Lost in Illiniville

Planning the U of I's main campus

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  May 4, 2017

From Slum to Sprawl

Urbanization, Chicago-style

See Illinois  (unpublished)  2008


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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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