Teens Help Bring 1911 Planning Manual into the 21st Century

In honor of its 50th anniversary, the Chicago Architecture Foundation is reinventing the 1911 Wacker's Manual of the Plan of Chicago as a graphic novel intended to inspire young people to become engaged as stewards of Chicago.

The original manual was intended to "make the child feel that in him rests the responsibility of assisting Chicago to attain her future greatness." The reboot, known as No Small Plans, follows the adventures of young people in Chicago's past, present, and future as they wrestle with why design matters and what it will take to design the city they know they deserve.

Much of 2015 was spent developing a detailed design brief about "what is most worth knowing and experiencing" when it comes to urban planning and civic engagement. The resulting brief included input from more than 30 members of CAF's Teen Academy and representatives from as many civic, community, youth education, and philanthropic organizations from across the city.

A panel from the winning entry for the Wacker Manual Commission. Photo courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Teen-Driven Art Commission Enriches Chicago

In January 2016 with support from the APA, Microsoft, and the Tawani Foundation, CAF announced a $25,000 commission seeking entries from Midwestern graphic artists. The story was picked up by WBEZ radio's Morning Shift and CAF received a terrific response: 28 compelling applications from talented, diverse artists.

CAF's Teen Academy, along with the Wacker Advisory Committee (Shawn Healy, McCormick Foundation; Ben Leitschuh, American Planning Association; Nathan Mason, Department of Cultural Affairs and Events; Jeff McCarter, Free Spirit Media; Martin Moe, Chicago Public Schools; Shelley Stern-Grach, Microsoft; Angel Ysaguierre, Illinois Humanities) juried the entries, narrowed down the pool to 5 and selected the winning team: four incredibly skilled, creative artist-educators: Devin Mawdsley, Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin, and Deon Reed.

A word cloud made from recommendations of nearly 500 Chicago teens about what a "good neighborhood" needs. Photo courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

Simultaneously CAF is developing a teacher guide to support the use of No Small Plans across the curriculum for grades 7-12. We are particularly focused on supporting Illinois civic engagement requirements and enabling teachers to get outside their classrooms with students to observe and engage in neighborhoods where they live and learn. We hosted 30 teachers in a workshop that included some of our new materials.

We also launched a new partnership with Chicago's Department of Family Support Services this summer to deliver "Meet Your City" — daylong urban planning and civic engagement workshops and bus tours for 600 high school students in the One Summer Chicago Infrastructure Program.

Groups of students from across Chicago's South and West sides discussed with us what makes a good neighborhood, designed neighborhoods from scratch, and visited five historic Chicago neighborhoods. These students' ideas about what makes a "good" neighborhood might surprise you!

One of the Wacker Manual design charettes held at the Chicago Architecture Foundation in November 2015. APA's Ben Leitschuh is in the second row, fourth from left, next to the author. Photo courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

No Small Plans: Graphic Revolution Ignites

It's an exciting time in the evolution of this project: each day a new page of the graphic novel comes into being, steeped in the visions described by young people who created the brief with us; meanwhile, hundreds of teens have been participating in "Meet Your City."

CAF — like others involved in K-12 planning education are convinced more than ever that young people — must be given opportunities to learn about and explore how their neighborhoods are planned if they are going to be active citizens who design — and steward — the cities they want, need, and deserve.

Inspired by the original Wacker's Manual we are committed to making No Small Plans available to every Chicago middle student we can beginning in 2017 — and for years to come. We will begin to use the novel with a pilot group of teachers this fall.

In April of next year we will do our first print run of No Small Plans and copies of the graphic novel will be in hand. Supporting educator materials will be online and, if all goes well, by next Spring we'll be working daily with young people from around Chicago to help them "meet" their city — and think in new ways about the intersections of urban planning and civic engagement.

Top image: One Summer Chicago teens design neighborhoods with the Chicago Architecture Foundation's "Meet Your City Program." Photo courtesy Chicago Architecture Foundation.

About the Author
Gabrielle Lyon, PhD, is vice president of education and experience at the Chicago Architecture Foundation.

August 10, 2016

By Gabrielle Lyon