The visibility of stagnant and trenchant attitudes in the “progressive era” mean that reference to it in 2018 almost requires the use of those scare quotes. There really was a lot of progress happening in some areas, however, and this conservatism was in large part a reaction to genuine radicalism being pushed into mainstream consciousness for the first time. Suffragism and Socialism were both on the rise, and while they were yet to bear fruit, this is the time when the foundations were being laid.
In the stuffy world of government planning, things were also shifting direction, albeit in the stuffier ways bureaucracies generally move. Incomprehensible 19th century issues like bimetallism were falling by the wayside, food and medicine were being regulated, national parks and monuments were being created and – our topic today! – city planning was no longer a radical fantasy, but a recognized field of expertise.
Much of this was down to Daniel Burnham, architect of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago and father of the City Beautiful Movement. He had already submitted plans for a redesigned San Francisco in 1905, and the destruction of the city by earthquake and fire would surely be reason to put those plans into action. He hadn’t reckoned with the dominance of private capital, however, which moved to rebuild their premises as soon as the embers were cold, and all that can be seen of his plans now are a few elegant buildings.
Back in Chicago, on the other hand, the foundations laid down by the World’s Columbian Exposition meant that he would have more influence over the future of the city. His “The Plan of Chicago” laid out comprehensive plans for the controlled growth of the city, and while only parts of these plans were implemented, they set a standard for city planning worldwide.
More reading / listening / viewing