The Power of Little Plans

By Alex Pemberton

Let me share a story, friends.

In 1980 at the Boston Great Cities Conference, urban theorist Jane Jacobs appeared on a panel alongside pioneering real estate developer James Rouse to discuss whether cities should develop through a focus on big plans and inspiring visions, or small steps and incremental change.

Rouse, one of the largest developers in the country at the time and the godfather of the enclosed shopping mall, spoke first. He opened with a familiar quote from architect Daniel Burnham, "Make no little plans, for they have no magic to stir men's blood." He went on to extol the virtues of big plans - convention centers, sports stadiums, and massive infrastructure projects.

Jacobs followed, beginning by saying, "Funny, big plans never stirred women's blood. Women have always been willing to consider little plans."

In the lingo of today, it was a mic-drop moment.

Now, I'm the first to admit I know little about women, but I do know a thing or two about the power of little plans. I see every day how the little plans of a few average people have tremendous impact on Wichita.

It's the $6,000 or so worth of paint and vision that Janelle King organizes into Avenue Art Days, beautifying the Douglas Design District and giving businesses, artists, and Wichitans dozens of points of pride.

It's the Riverside Community Garden taking an abandoned lot and turning it into a place where neighbors can get together and share a common bond.

It's Chris Callen creating a space for early-stage startups to work, sharing their struggles and successes.

It's Kevin Falting starting a speaking event to provide Wichitans a platform to tell their stories and share their passions. In fact, Wichitalks is what inspired me to organize the Yellowbrick Street Team, which is all about taking little plans to create lasting change.

The news broke today that Yellowbrick is among three finalists from Wichita with a shot at the Knight Foundation's Knight Cities Challenge. Fellow finalists Thea Pajunen and Armando Minjarez are just two more Wichitans turning grand ideas into reality by making little plans. Our little plans may not get a feature in the big media outlets, but damnit they should.

Because while a hundred-million dollar mega-project can make us proud, it's the little plans that have the power to inspire anyone toward action. Think of the power of a city full of average people with big ideas and little plans! Where one person takes their passion and applies it to improving their small section of the city, in turn showing neighbors and friends that they have the ability to do the same.

Maybe it is big plans that stir men's blood

But it's little plans that inspire us all.