References to ancient Athens served to promote Chicago’s future as a flourishing, culturally forward, modern city.
In particular, in a 1896 speech about his plans for the city, master planner and architect Daniel Burnham appealed to the example of Athens in the glorious age of Pericles. In his view, it was Periclean Athens’ openness to immigrants that fueled its commercial activity, exceptional prosperity and achievement of unrivaled cultural splendor and standing as a sort of global city of the ancient world.
He describes Athens as a city “built by young, optimistic immigrants” and insists Chicagoans are “brave adventurers” who come “from around the country and the world” and who are “poised to create a splendid and prosperous city.”
The speech is part of the collection, “Without Bounds or Limits: An Online Exhibition of the Plan of Chicago,” maintained by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Read Burnham’s speech to the South Park Commission in October of 1896 here,
Current scholarship on ancient Athens confirms Burnham’s view of the Periclean city, at least in part. Athens was open to foreign workers and investors as residents (called “metics”), accepting them as particpants in the economic, religious, military, social and cultural spheres of life. But Athens offered no routine route by which metics (or their children born in Athens) might seek and attain formal citizenship.
Read more about the Burnham Plan of Chicago here.