Encyclopedia o f Chicago
Interpretive Digital Essay : The Plan of Chicago
The Plan of Chicago
Chicago in 1909
Planning Before the Plan
Antecedents and Inspirations
The City the Planners Saw
The Plan of Chicago
The Plan Comes Together
Creating the Plan
Reading the Plan
A Living Document
Growth of the Chicago Metropolitan Area
Return to "The City the Planners Saw"

The growth of the built-up area of metropolitan Chicago can be summarized in three phases. Before 1900, streetcars and commuter railroad service conspired to create a fairly compact city together with small clusters of development around outlying railroad stations. Several outlying satellite cities, such as Joliet and Elgin, studded the hinterland. By 1955, the railroad suburbs had proliferated and matured, creating a massive star-shaped metropolitan geometry, while widespread automobile ownership had encouraged the extension of the continuously built-up zone around the urban core. After 1955, construction of the expressway system permitted a vast decentralization of population and activity that filled in many of the interstices between the railroad axes radiating from the central city, producing a more rounded overall geometry. By the end of the twentieth century, there was hardly a farmer's field to be seen within forty miles of the city center in any direction.