Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Urban Studies

First Advisor

Joel Rast

Committee Members

Margo Anderson, Marc Levine, Joe Rodriguez


Change, Chicago, Housing, Institutionalization, Plan commission


City planning in the United States has undergone continuous evolution; the profession has struggled to produce solutions that match the caliber of its ambitions while keeping up with the ever-changing city. Furthermore, at times special interests have co-opted city planning, utilizing and constraining the profession to meet those interests – often focused on increasing property values while neglecting other social needs, not least of which is the provision of adequate housing. This dissertation aims to contribute to a better understanding of how the definition and scope of city planning changes to include or exclude social issues by examining the relationship between city planning and housing in Chicago from 1909 to 1941 through the lens of the Chicago Plan Commission.

This research argues that the motivation to change alone – particularly from peripheral movements like that of housing – is not sufficient; in the absence of the need or opportunity to change, the status quo is likely to persist. When the luxury of maintaining the status quo is removed, the likelihood of change increases significantly. We also see that who and what are involved in the initial development of city planning has long-term consequences. What the scope of city planning includes is largely dependent upon those initial players – in the case of Chicago, the city’s elite business interests. This research argues that those actors were able to establish city planning along narrow lines, limited to their understanding and perspective on what city planning could and should be, lines that were deeply reinforced and difficult if not impossible to shift.

This research also argues that, when the opportunity for change emerges, who is present and prepared to make demands on city planning is important, as they can successfully influence its shape and scope – for early planning in Chicago, this came in the form of the Metropolitan Housing Council. Finally, this dissertation asserts that there is value in more closely examining change and stasis via the lens of the city plan commission, a constant entity in city planning whose role and function can serve as an indicator of the state of city planning.