In the year 2211, Chicago faces widespread urban apathy and neighborhoods so fractured that virtual reality serves as a connector between residents of different areas. The lack of in-person meetings—called “real facing”—has led to disconnects between what residents need and what developers build.
While a work of fiction, the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s new graphic novel, No Small Plans, paints a portrait of uncertainty: Vacant land on the Southwest Side is being transformed into a hotel to attract tourists when the locals needed a grocery store, and five students are tasked with determining whether to revitalize or raze the crumbling Uptown Theater, a place they have never visited.
Created in honor of CAF’s 50th anniversary, No Small Plans is a reimagined Wacker’s Manual, the middle-schooler’s version of Daniel Burnham’s 1909 Plan of Chicago—in this case, told in three parts: as it was (1928), is (2017), and could be (2211).
Each chapter of the book follows a group of young Chicagoans, all of whom are fascinated by the city’s diverse neighborhoods and built environment. One chapter, for example, features a paperboy for the Chicago Defender in historic Bronzeville, and another follows contemporary punk rockers as they walk the 606 and discuss the gentrification of Humboldt Park.
Four artists—Kayce Bayer, Chris Lin, Devin Mawdsley, and Deon Reed—worked closely with CAF for the past year to produce the graphic novel. “Some of the themes are universal; the city is a cacophony of people and practical complications,” says Gabrielle Lyon, vice president of education and experience at CAF, who hopes to raise enough money to distribute free copies in every public middle and high school in Chicago. “We’re asking questions about how decisions get made and who makes them.”
No Small Plans, which will be available on July 1 at architecture.org/nosmallplans, is filled with exuberant linework and florid colors, and characters flit between light and shadow, as if they were part of the city itself. One challenge, though, was depicting both the city’s grit and its shine. “We tried to capture the dual character of the city, the juxtaposition between downtown and the neighborhoods,” says Mawdsley, who did the linework. Bayer echoes that sentiment: “It’s telling the story of the place—the real place—inspired by the poetic language of the original [plan] but portraying the city in all its good and bad.”
The group is now raising money in a Kickstarter to provide the book free of charge to students and teachers in Chicago.