Rallying the Faithful, Managing the Press
The planners wished to maintain secrecy when it seemed advantageous to do so, but also to get ample and positive news coverage when that was useful. Their inability to control either the timing or the content of coverage proved irritating to these businessmen, who were used to giving orders and having them followed. A week before Burnham was to describe the Plan to the Commercial Club membership, club secretary John Scott wrote to Tribune publisher and club member Joseph Medill McCormick. Scott requested that "the Closed Meeting on the 25th instant be given no publicity," pressuring McCormick by adding that "the members bespeak your courtesy in the matter." McCormick said that as a member he was honor bound to treat the meeting as confidential, but, he advised Plan of Chicago General Committee chairman Charles Norton, "You know by this time that it is impossible to keep news out of all the papers and therefore out of any one of them." At McCormick's suggestion, Norton prepared a disingenuous announcement stating that nothing of great importance would happen at the meeting, and he brokered an agreement among the editors of leading papers that none would cover it and so no paper would scoop the others. Just in case, when the planners met on January 23 to make final preparations for the January 25 presentation to the membership, they authorized Burnham to hire security men to ensure that no one would photograph the drawings on display.
The very fact that the Commercial Club attracted so much attention and believed it needed to take these precautions shows how powerful the press thought the club's members were. The planners, in turn, felt that the media's support was vital to their work. Members of the Plan committees went out of their way to acknowledge and encourage positive coverage. They sent a note to Chicago Daily Chronicle editor H. W. Seymour in the spring of 1907, for instance, expressing their "personal appreciation of your clear and readable [i.e., favorable] Editorial in this morning's Chronicle on the question of the North and South Connecting Boulevard." Later the same year, General Committee treasurer Walter Wilson shared a similarly laudatory editorial from the Chicago American with Norton, urging him to write to American editor Andrew Lawrence. "Ever since the bankers and 'certain portions of the administration' got [Lawrence] in line on the financial situation," Wilson explained, "we have been complimenting him to beat the band by daily telephones and letters, and I think it has done him a lot of good and opened his eyes as to what his paper might accomplish along the proper lines."
A Case in Point: Michigan Boulevard
Launching the Plan
In May Burnham made arrangements with Commercial Club member and Art Institute of Chicago president Charles L. Hutchinson for an exhibition of the Guerin and Janin drawings in the Art Institute's first-floor northeast gallery. Burnham and Bennett supervised the details, from special lighting to the placement of vases and other props. The Publication Committee made sure the business community was given top priority in seeing the display. It issued three thousand free tickets to members of the Chicago Association of Commerce for a private viewing between July 5 and July 8. The committee distributed close to ten thousand more tickets to several additional clubs and associations. After leaving the Art Institute, the drawings traveled to other cities in America and Europe, including Philadelphia, Boston, London, and Düsseldorf. When there proved to be more requests to host this exhibition than the General Committee could accommodate, it offered to send sets of lantern slides.
The Publication Committee put Chamberlain in charge of distribution of the Plan of Chicago. He began with members of the members of the Commercial Club and Plan subscribers, who received them for free. He also sent more than four hundred copies to aldermen and other city and county officials, park commissioners, Chicago members of the Illinois General Assembly, other state office holders, United States congressmen, local and federal judges, the Sanitary District board, Chicago libraries and clubs, numerous magazines and newspapers, and President Taft and his cabinet. Some of the remaining copies were apparently sold for $25 each. This price was for all practical purposes out of the reach of most Chicagoans. The Commercial Club presented the ceremonial first copy, hand-bound in leather and with marbled paper insets, to Daniel Burnham.
The Chicago Plan Commission
The planners understood that if the Plan was to be implemented, they needed to have the support of Chicagoans who would vote on the referendums to authorize the bonds required to fund major improvements. Not trusting elected officials to take the initiative in selling the public on the Plan, the Commercial Club moved aggressively on three related fronts. The first was to obtain the city's formal approval of the Plan of Chicago as Chicago's official planning document. The second was to make sure that there was an organization actively pushing political leaders to put the Plan into action. The third was to convince the community as a whole of the value of the Plan. The effort to achieve these goals constituted one of the pioneering exercises in large-scale public relations.
On Saturday evening, January 8, 1910, the Commercial Club hosted the Chicago Plan Commission at a dinner at the Congress Hotel. Club president Theodore Robinson served as toastmaster, and Charles Norton returned from Washington to speak on "The Broader Aspects of City Planning." In his address, Norton was unapologetic about the Plan's ambitions. What everyone had to realize, he explained, was that the real question was not whether it was too big, but whether it was big enough. "And when we reach that viewpoint," he continued, "we shall discover how great was the vision and the genius of Burnham." In his remarks that evening, Wacker recapitulated the Plan's history, calling it "the best book on city planning ever published." He assured his wealthy listeners that the increased prosperity produced by the Plan's implementation would benefit poorer citizens more than would devoting funds to housing or public services. When it was his turn to speak, Alderman Bernard W. Snow—chairman of the city council's Committee on Finance and an advocate of making local government more efficient—agreed with Wacker's contention that while the Plan of Chicago would cost millions to implement, this would be a good investment. Snow noted, however, that the Plan was not to be regarded "as anything more than a well-thought-out suggestion" that might be modified. But it was essential to get to work; otherwise the Plan "will sleep the sleep of the forgotten in the dust-covered tomb of the years."
Snow's remarks signaled that the real promotional effort had only begun. Wacker understood this, and he drove the Commercial Club and the Chicago Plan Commission hard to ensure that recommendations became realities. At the club's annual banquet in April, he announced that it had raised $20,000 to educate the public by means of lectures, widely circulated editions of the Plan's contents, and other measures. Two weeks later the Chicago Plan Commission decided that it would use this money to "cover the town" with a publicity campaign of lantern slide talks delivered in multiple languages wherever an audience could be gathered, whether in churches, schools, theaters, assembly halls, or private residences. The commission's aim, as the Chicago Tribune put it, was "to arouse interest in the efforts of the commission to make Chicago the 'most beautiful city in the world,'" and to "imbue every man, woman, and child with the spirit of cooperation." The paper soon gave Wacker space in its pages to argue for the value of the Plan directly.
Walter L. Moody, Commercial Ambassador Extraordinaire
Moody begins What of the City? with the admission that he himself is neither architect nor engineer. His profession involves the "scientific promotion" of city planning, which he calls "in all its practical essentials . . . a work of promotion—salesmanship." And what does city planning require, above all? "Money," Moody explains, using small capitals for emphasis, continuing, "Without money no tangible results are possible." What did a city get in exchange for this investment? In four words, "civilization," "convenience," "health," and "beauty." To Moody, the foe of city planning in America was not active opposition but poor salesmanship. The key to success was to get the average citizen to pay serious attention to the issues and then "stir him to action when convinced." Moody believed that elected officials lacked sufficient focus to accomplish this, and so a group like the Chicago Plan Commission was required. While he expressed admiration for Burnham and Wacker as promoters, Moody understood better than they did that in a polyglot urban democracy, unlike Napoleon III's Paris, no plan could go forward simply by decree or just because the Commercial Club wanted it. The Plan of Chicago needed to be sold to Chicago at large by people like him, whom he characterized as salesmen not only of "civilization" but also of "harmony."
Under Moody's direction, the commission embarked on a multidimensional promotional campaign. Moody, Wacker, and commission staff member Eugene Taylor became a de facto three-man lecture bureau. In the seven years after Moody was hired, they were indefatigable, presenting by Moody's calculation some five hundred talks to more than 150,000 listeners. They advertised their appearances with circulars and honed their standard spiel, winnowing the vast collection of lantern slides at their disposal to about two hundred images they used repeatedly. At the same time, Moody spread the gospel of planning through a number of publications. Of these, two were most important. Chicago's Greatest Issue: An Official Plan appeared in May 1911. This 93-page booklet was an inexpensively produced condensation of the Plan of Chicago. In Chicago's Greatest Issue, Moody ingeniously approached the Plan from the viewpoint not of the planners and their wealthy associates but of ordinary citizens, whom he called the "owners of the great corporation of Chicago." He led them step-by-step toward an understanding of why the Plan of Chicago was vital to their interests. He distributed Chicago's Greatest Issue for free to property holders and those who paid more than $25 a month in rent—that is, the Chicagoans whose support Moody thought most important in upcoming bond referendums.
Kudos and Critiques
Moody also deployed the most up-to-date medium of the time. Under his supervision, the Chicago Plan Commission produced a two-reel promotional film, titled A Tale of One City, which was shown in more than sixty theaters throughout the city. The premiere screening, in Moody's words, "packed the house to capacity" with an audience that "was as representative as a grand opera occasion." But Moody focused most of all on the print media. Magazines published dozens of articles on the Plan and the Chicago Plan Commission, almost all of them favorable. Some were written by Chicago Plan Commission and Commercial Club members, including Charles Hutchinson, Charles Dawes, and John Shedd. Former Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, who had appointed Burnham to a committee advising the university on its physical plan, commented in the Century, "We here see in action democratic enlightened collectivism coming in to repair the damage caused by exaggerated democratic individualism."
Try as they might, Wacker and Moody could not guarantee that all the responses would be positive. Well before Moody was hired, numerous individuals, including some wealthy Chicagoans, raised one of the most persistent criticisms of the Plan: for all its environmentalist slant, it pays scant attention to housing or the day-to-day lives of working people. George E. Hooker of the City Club, writing in the Survey shortly after the Plan of Chicago was released, charged that in addition to failing to address housing, the Plan did not deal effectively with transportation in the heart of the city.
One of the most detailed attacks on the Plan came in a series of articles in the Public, the Chicago-based periodical that called itself the "National Journal of Fundamental Democracy" and "A Weekly Narrative of History in the Making." Long suspicious of the motives of supposedly civic-minded businessmen, the Public stated in the first article, "The working masses of Chicago . . . have little use for the Commercial Club or any of its recommendations." The Public said that it would nevertheless try to evaluate the Plan of Chicago with an open mind. Be that as it may, in its next article on the subject, the magazine accused the planners of being anything but disinterested or munificent, since they would profit from the changes they proposed while Chicago's citizens footed the bills. The Plan in fact did not deal with issues that affected most people below the privileged class, the Public contended. In its March 7, 1913 issue, the magazine praised George Hooker's description of the Chicago Plan Commission as a group of boosters, not experts, who were all too willing to put corrupt aldermen like John Coughlin and Mike Kenna on key policy committees. It asserted that Chicago needed and deserved to have true experts do the planning. The members of the Commercial Club were, in a word, unqualified. "Probably no other large city in the world is so badly bedeviled as Chicago by grossly selfish interests masquerading as public benefactors," the Public claimed.
Requiem for a Planner
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