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No Small Plans

December 11, 2022 by Judi Pickell
Citizen Planner, Policy/Legislative

With support from APA, a citywide civic education initiative by the Chicago Architecture Foundation helps teens and young adults understand what makes a good neighborhood. Central to this “Meet Your City” project is a graphic novel, No Small Plans, which will be distributed to 30,000 Chicago teens through CAF’s partnerships with Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Public Library.

The project helps young adults understand the important role of planning in the development of their neighborhoods and encourages them to participate. Although Chicago is the setting of No Small Plans, it can be used effectively as a starting point for conversations about planning anywhere.

Inspired by the classic 1911 textbook, Wacker’s Manual, which taught Chicago’s youth about Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of ChicagoNo Small Plans follows the adventures of several young adults in Chicago’s past, present, and future as they grapple with changes affecting their neighborhoods.

The 140-page book was created with input from urban planners, architects, community members, and educators from more than 30 organizations. The illustrated storyline presents complex subject matter in a format accessible to students in grades six through 10.

As part of the “Meet Your City” initiative, CAF hosted professional development training for educators shortly after release of the book. Over the course of two days, a diverse group met to brainstorm the most effective methods to teach No Small Plans in the classroom. The training included team-building activities, close-reading analyses of story themes, and discussion of potential pedagogical challenges, considering each educator’s unique local perspective and how it could reinforce the novel’s themes. The CAF applied the lessons learned during these sessions to the No Small Plans Reader Toolkit.

No Small Plans Reader Toolkit

The No Small Plans Reader Toolkit is an educator resource that explores the graphic novel’s themes, characters, and settings. It offers chapter guides and critical thinking cues, opportunities for deep reading, and contextual data sources that link readers to the real-life community organizations that inspired the book.

CAF Engagement Principles

The Chicago Architecture Foundation has established a set of recommended engagement principles for any activity that involves youth and notions of place making. These principles underlie the instructional goals for No Small Plans.

  • Be clear about expectations.
  • Emphasize inclusiveness and comfort.
  • Consider times and places that are convenient for young people.
  • Plan for youth in timelines as well as budgets.
  • Facilitate meaningful work during the activity.
  • Emphasize the importance of real experiences and real decisions.
  • Actively report progress.
  • Enable ways for youth to follow the project and stay connected.

The CAF gives a copy of No Small Plans to a Chicago teen for every copy sold. It is available at CAF and at shop.architecture.com.

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