MPC celebrates "big" plans that come in all shapes and sizes - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC celebrates "big" plans that come in all shapes and sizes

All photos by Tricia Scully

Arnold Randall of the Forest Preserves of Cook County (our Burnham Award winner) stands with the Bronzeville Bikes crew, one of our 2014 Placemaking challenge winners, at our Sept. 22 awards event.

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably will themselves not be realized." When Daniel Burnham wrote those words, he may have had large, sweeping plans in mind, but at the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) we’ve learned over our 80-year history that “big” plans come in all shapes and sizes, which is why we were so excited to honor plans both grand and tactical at “Magic to Stir Men’s Blood: A Celebration of Planning,” on Monday, Sept. 22.

MPC President MarySue Barrett congraulates Arnold Randall, general superintendent of the Forest Preserves of Cook County.

“Planning is powerful in all its forms and at every scale,” said MPC President MarySue Barrett during her remarks at the event. “That idea has been at the heart of the Metropolitan Planning Council's work for eight decades. Tonight we celebrate the leaders in our region who recognize the power of planning and take the initiative to do something that makes the Chicago region a better place to live and work.”

Emceed by the Chicago Tribune’s Mary Schmich [paywall], the event celebrated the winner of the Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning, named in honor of Daniel H. Burnham, creator of the 1909 Plan of Chicago; and the four winners of our 2014 Placemaking challenge, Old Place New Tricks. While both the Burnham Award and the Placemaking challenge celebrate planning, their approaches are very different.

Since 1988, MPC has recognized visionary plans that achieve demonstrable results through the annual Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning, named in honor of Daniel H. Burnham, creator of the “1909 Plan of Chicago.” Winning plans address at least one of four categories: creating more livable communities, addressing human capital, improving regional mobility and making government more efficient.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle accepts the 2014 Burnham Award for Excellence in Planning.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle accepted the 2014 Burnham Award on behalf of the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Next Century Conservation Plan. The plan has led the Forest Preserves to launch job training initiatives, make significant accessibility improvements to their six nature centers and implement a summer season Pace bus service to Brookfield Zoo and surrounding open space—all of which led MPC’s Burnham Award Selection Committee, chaired by MPC Board Member Linda Goodman, to award the Next Century Conservation Plan

On the other end of the spectrum, MPC’s 2014 Placemaking challenge, “Old Place New Tricks,” encouraged community groups across the Chicago region to temporarily transform an underused neighborhood space for one weekend in August. MPC kicked off the challenge by offering a free “Placemaking 101” training in July. Sixteen of the organizations and individuals who attended the training chose to activate an underused public place in their neighborhoods the weekend of Aug. 15 to 17, with activities ranging from peace celebrations to potlucks, all designed to bring neighbors together to mingle, relax and enjoy their communities.

I Grow Chicago was one of our 2014 Placemaking challenge recipients.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois generously sponsored “Old Place New Tricks,” and provided three $1,000 prizes to help three of the four winners continue to create shared places that promote health and well-being in their communities:

  • BUILD, Inc., in the West Side neighborhood of Austin, organized “Hoops in the Hood,” repurposing a space where gang activity is prevalent. While basketball was the main attraction, music, food, face painting, dancing and drawing kept all 160 participants engaged. 
  • In Englewood, I Grow Chicago reclaimed a site formerly used to store weapons and hosted a community dinner. The group also hosts a summer camp and yoga classes on the site.
  • In Bronzeville, the South East Chicago Commission organized Bronzeville Bikes Spoketacular in a vacant lot near the 51st Street Green Line station. The event provided educational resources on biking and promoted local businesses. 

Our final winner, the Rogers Park Business Alliance’s “Sandia, Loteria!” installation, received a $1,000 “Groupon Love Local” award. The Alliance activated a long-vacant lot with food and games of Loteria, similar to Bingo. 

Grassroots provided each “Old Place New Tricks” participant with a crowdfunding platform during the challenge. Groupon’s Chicago team also participated in the challenge, activating a space close to their Near North offices. 

EveryBlock and Comcast created a web site,, and provided promotional support to help MPC and the challenge participants publicize their activities.

Click the image for a larger PDF version.

At the event, MPC also released the findings of our research examining the impact that Chicago’s People Spots have on local business. People Spots are part of the City of Chicago’s Make Way for People program, where space traditionally meant for cars is converted into places for people. People Spots transform parking spaces into tiny parklets and have proven to positively impact the area surrounding them. Our research found that 80 percent of businesses reported that People Spots brought more foot traffic, increased sales and prompted businesses to “up their game” by investing more in the exterior appearance of their location. Click here to see the full report.

Spending an evening celebrating all of these efforts, from the ambitious, regional vision in the Forest Preserves’ Next Century Conservation Plan, to the small, but very mighty, local efforts to transform communities, highlighted the age-old adage that it takes a village to raise—well, a community—but if we nurture and care for these places and not limit ourselves to think only of what a space has been, but what it could become, we can begin to create change for the better and spark the vibrancy that we love about our region’s places.


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