by Laura Janota
Faculty members D. Bradford Hunt and Jon DeVries were separated by only six floors in the University's Gage Building, but they never met and didn't know they shared a common interest in city of Chicago planning until they were introduced by an alumnus.
Hunt, whose office in the Evelyn T. Stone
College of Professional Studies is on the
second floor, and DeVries, whose Heller
College of Business office at the time was
on eight, would occasionally nod or say
hello in passing.
However, they weren't formally introduced
until Robert Lau, a 2005 graduate of Roosevelt's
MBA in Real Estate program, invited
them to lunch one day in the spring of
2011. "I always felt like Brad (Hunt) and Jon
(DeVries) could hit it off," Lau said. "I just
never stopped to think that getting them
together would lead to such a monumental
That collaboration is a new book titled Planning Chicago, which
Crain's Chicago Business has described as "provocative" and
at least one critic has called an "impossible" feat.
Released in April, it tells the story of modern planning in Chicago,
beginning in 1957 with Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley's
establishment of a Department of City Planning, through
today when, according to Hunt and DeVries, planning has
become a little bit of a footnote that's been folded into the
city's Department of Housing and Economic Development.
Covering all scales of planning, from comprehensive big picture
strategies and designs to very specialized and localized
initiatives, the book looks at what's gone on in places like
the city's central district, its neighborhoods and industrial
zones. While comprehensive, thoughtful planning, largely
sketched out between 1966 and 1974, helped Chicago earn
a ranking in 2012 as a global city, "not all is well in Chicago"
today, the two write in the book's opening chapter.
Hunt, a social science and history professor who today is
dean of Roosevelt's Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional
Studies and vice provost for adult and experiential learning,
and DeVries, director of the University's Marshall Bennett
Institute of Real Estate, argue in the book that Chicago planning reached its zenith in the late
Sixties to early Seventies and has been
in decline ever since.
"Planning in Chicago is in retreat in the
current era…The city that once embraced
Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett's
"1909 Plan of Chicago" no longer plans
confidently," they contend.
The idea for the book came from the
40,000-member American Planning Association
(APA), which each year publishes
a book about the city hosting the annual
APA conference. In 2013, the conference
was held in Chicago. Timothy Mennel,
formerly an editor with APA, was put in
charge of finding an author or authors to write Planning
Chicago. "We needed someone with a background in history,
but we didn't want another book about Daniel Burnham,"
recalled Mennel, who today is an editor with University of
In 2009, Hunt's first book, Blueprint for Disaster: The Unraveling
of Chicago Public Housing, had just come out. Upon reading it,
Mennel decided Hunt would be a good fit. "I remember thinking
'Here's someone who understands Chicago's archives
but who is also a young enough scholar to take a topic like
Chicago planning in a new direction,'" he said.
"It was obvious that Brad Hunt knew housing," Mennel
added. "It occurred to me that he might be able to stretch
what he knew to encompass all that's involved in modern
Lau, one of the first graduates of Roosevelt's master's in
real estate program and an architect with the Metropolitan
Water Reclamation District, also had taken an interest in
Hunt's public housing book. He saw it as a springboard for
an article analyzing successes and failures of the Chicago
Housing Authority's 10-year-old Plan for Transformation and
proposed the idea to Hunt, whom he'd never met.
"He had reached out about my work with housing and I thought he
had a good idea," said Hunt, who collaborated with the Roosevelt
alumnus on the article that Lau presented at the Council on Tall
Buildings and Urban Habitats conference in Dubai in 2010. "I remember
while we were working on the article and even after that
he would come by my office and kept on saying 'You should go
upstairs and meet Jon DeVries.'"
The alumnus, who kept in touch with DeVries after graduating,
also regularly attended Fogelson Forums sponsored by the Marshall
Bennett Institute of Real Estate, where topics of interest to
the region's real estate leaders are explored. "I remember he (Lau)
came to my office a lot of times," said DeVries. "He kept telling me
"You've got to get Brad (Hunt) up here and get him involved in the
Then, at a lunch that Lau arranged for the two in the spring of 2011,
that flash of recognition – or what some might call an epiphany –
struck both men. "I recalled Brad talking about the project and me
thinking 'We are losing contact with a whole generation of planning,'"
said DeVries, who has 40 years of experience in Chicago real estate,
economic development and planning.
A veteran consultant on the city's Central Area, Lake Calumet and
industrial plans, to name just a few, DeVries began ticking off some
of the names of Chicago planners whose views needed documenting.
"He (DeVries) told me 'If you're going to do this kind of book, you
really need to start meeting people. It hadn't dawned on me until
then that there was this kind of resource right here at Roosevelt
and in the same building as me."
(Note: DeVries, the Heller College and its real estate institute moved to the 12th floor of the University's Wabash Building in 2012.)
Soon after their luncheon, the two began a series of 23 separate
interviews, also securing writing commitments from nine planners
who did short, spotlight pieces to help flesh out some of the
book's major themes.
"There's been this amazing transformation in Chicago, from railroads
and stockyards into a global city," said Norman Elkin, a planning
coordinator in Chicago's Department of City Planning from 1957-
61 and the first to share his views. "We've been so successful that
we've lost sight of the importance of stepping back and saying
'Where are we going with all of this?'"
"The book provides that perspective," he said. "It puts the problems
and challenges we face on the table and it stimulates ideas – and
with a new mayor in office, the timing couldn't be better."
A major theme of Planning Chicago is that politics matters: "Chicago's unique governance environment – featuring parochial aldermen,
strong mayors and numerous tax increment finance districts – has
frustrated comprehensive planning," the book suggests.
The authors explore the planning vision of the late Mayor Harold
Washington, a Roosevelt University alumnus who tried to move
in a new direction to provide resources to neighborhoods and not
just the central city.
They examine former Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley's preference
for individual projects over comprehensive planning – a
tactic that gave the mayor ownership over city development. And
they discuss Chicago's unique "aldermanic privilege," giving city
council members tremendous power over development and zoning
in their wards.
"I wasn't very conversant with the political side of the planning
equation, but this book provided a welcome background for much that has transpired," said Larry Okrent, who provided many of the
aerial shots and graphics contained in the book.
"What I like about the authors and the book is their willingness
to have a frank discussion on what is working and not working,"
added Eileen Figel, a former Chicago deputy planning commissioner.
Quoted in the book on the impact of aldermanic privilege, Figel
credits Hunt and DeVries for providing constructive criticism. "It's
not a book that bashes anyone," she said. "It shows us how and why
we have a proud planning legacy and it recognizes that we can't
say that now. We're not living up to our legacy."
Since the book's publication, Hunt and DeVries have been meeting
with civic organizations, community leaders, planners, politicians and
anyone who will listen. "We need to move forward with a well-thought out
future for our city and it's going to take comprehensive planning," said Hunt. "People all over town need to get excited so that planning
can once again become central to our decision-making," added DeVries.
Getting key leaders involved will be crucial, according to Lee Bey,
architectural contributor with WBEZ-Radio and former director of
the Chicago Central Area Committee, who was interviewed and took
photos for the book. "Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, the city council's
planning and development committee members, as well as private
builders and planners must read and understand this book," he said.
The road ahead for the monumental project was covered in depth
this fall by Hunt and DeVries during the University's annual Herb
and Eileen Franks Seminar on Politics.
"There was no single 'Aha!' moment of discovery in our work on this
project, but there was a key moment," confided Hunt. "That was
when Jon (DeVries) became my collaborator and mentor. It made
You can contact Jon Devries at email@example.com and Brad Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Planning Chicago could be coming
soon to college classrooms across the
Chicago metropolitan region.
Ann Keating, a professor of history at North
Central College in Naperville, is eyeing
the book for an interdisciplinary course
she teaches on the city of Chicago. "I think
it does a nice job of putting Chicago's
planning history in a wider, and even global
context," she said.
Rachel Weber, associate professor in urban
planning and policy at the University of
Illinois at Chicago, is considering the book
for a future course on urban planning. "It's
true we have lost our comprehensive
planning focus and that's a good message
to be hammering away at with my students,"
said Weber, who believes the book will
be particularly useful for those who don't
know a lot about Chicago.
Describing the book as "crisp," "fastpaced"
and "truly enjoyable," Joseph Schwieterman, a professor in the School
of Public Service at DePaul University in
Chicago, also intends to use the book. "i
will be recommending this book to my
graduate students," he states in a recent
At Roosevelt University, Sofia Dermisi,
the Pasquinelli professor of real estate,
believes Planning Chicago should be
required reading for an honors class called
Development in Chicago. Michael Bryson,
associate professor of humanities and
director of the University's Sustainability
Studies program, also predicts the book could be a resource in the program's Sprawl, Transportation and Planning class
and/or the Policy, Law and ethics class.
"What I tried to do was get my students to
see the world in a different way," said the
book's co-author D. Bradford Hunt, dean of
the Evelyn T. Stone College of Professional
Studies and associate professor of social
science and history who used excerpts
of Planning Chicago last semester in his
History of Planning class.
"We looked at the rise of the idea that cities
need to be planned and that environments
need to be planned in order to be livable,"
said Hunt, who had a cross-section of
history and sustainability studies students
in the class. "I presented planning as
something that can be done from top down
or bottom up – and this is where i brought
the book in – to get across the point that we
must swing the pendulum back in favor of
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