The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF)’s latest venture is an educational graphic novel about urban planning and its challenges. While the book—titled No Small Plans—raises questions that aren’t new, it serves as an introduction for its target audience, namely children in grades six to ten.
It’s tough to write a book for young teenagers on issues like urban planning, civic engagement, and the socioeconomic factors that shape our cities today, but No Small Plans, armed with colorful drawings and references to modern day life, brings light to these topics.
As part of its 50th-anniversary celebrations, the CAF published No Small Plans and modeled it after Wacker’s Manual, a 1911 textbook on Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan for Chicago. Wacker’s Manual was required reading for eighth graders in Chicago Public Schools for at least three decades and it aimed to engage children with Burnham’s grand, ‘City Beautiful’ vision for Chicago.
No Small Plans, by Gabrielle Lyon and in partnership with Eyes of the Cat Illustration, has the same goal and will be taught in the city’s public school starting this year. It’s a reimagined Wacker’s Manual, in a 21st-century medium, to help young Chicagoans envision and build a city that they want now, and in the future.
The graphic novel is split into three different time periods: the past (1928), present (2017), and future (2211). Each section follows different groups, all of whom are grappling with different issues such as racial discrimination, gentrification, affordable housing, zoning, and community engagement. It’s set in the Chicago we know today, featuring sites like the Chicago Theatre and the 606.
It’s also a dive into what Chicago’s future could be. In the year 2211, the book depicts Chicago so fractured that virtual reality is the only means of connecting people between different neighborhoods. The lack of “real facing” (i.e. actual human interaction) has led to a disconnect between what residents need and what big-time developers plan for the city.
The book is an attempt to bridge the civic education gap: low-income students, students of color, and those not planning to attend college have fewer opportunities to engage with questions every young city resident should be thinking about, according to Lyon. “When young people have opportunities to consider questions like the ones the characters wrestle with in No Small Plans, it makes a difference,” Lyon said in a press release.
The book’s success on Kickstarter—raising more than double of its $20,000 goal—is an indication that the questions of what makes a city livable and how to foster civic identity are ones that Chicagoans both old and young are interested in. Thirty thousand free copies will be distributed over the next three years.
No Small Plans is available to purchase through CAF’s website.