New Graphic Novel Aims to Engage Teens With Planning

Young people! They are the foundation of our future.

How can we attract and empower them to understand the civic process and become engaged in shaping their communities in ways that will make our world better? How can we reach out to a diverse generation that is coming of age and show them that planning is interesting and tangible?

As a planner, I've wondered about these questions for a long time and I'm glad to be able to participate in a new project that provides an innovative approach: a graphic novel about planning — for teens.

The graphic novel, Washington, By and By, will be published later this summer by the Youth in Planning Task Force of APA's Washington Chapter. It will then be marketed to teachers and educational institutions for free use, starting this fall. We aim to have it included in civic courses that will be taught in our state at the high school level with an aim to encourage other youth-oriented organizations to use it as well.

Housing is a focus of the novel, mainly because housing is something that everyone knows and has experience with — whether urban, rural, or elsewhere. Housing also relates to all kinds of planning topics: transportation, community character, mixed use development, affordability, gentrification, economics, land use choices, environment, equity, preservation, growth patterns, and more. An important subtext of the novel conveys key aspects of how the public planning process works.

While some of the novel's themes relate specifically to Washington's growth management framework, most parts of the process would apply in any state. Understanding the public planning process — along with the issues at hand — is fundamental for anyone to be effectively engaged.

The full-color, 48-page story follows the adventures of diverse teens from around the state who meet at a summer program on community planning held in Olympia, Washington's state's capital. The four main characters — Cricket, Ben, Jen, and Daniel — are forced to confront the intersections of power, development, displacement, and preservation in their lives and the lives of the people around them.

Opening pages of Washington, By and By. Cricket, one of the main characters, is heading west towards summer camp in Olympia. She's just found out that her home, near Lake Chelan, is being sold.

Opening pages of Washington, By and By. Cricket, one of the main characters, is heading west towards summer camp in Olympia. She's just found out that her home, near Lake Chelan, is being sold.

Deeply researched, the graphic novel encourages readers to examine some critical questions about growth management: How does planning happen? Why does it matter? What is the role and responsibility of youth in shaping where they live — now and in the future? The book will be supported with additional online resources.

The graphic novel approach, especially with its appeal to young people, is a tool that other planning chapters and community organizations should consider creating or adapting for their own use; this is a great resource to help show that planning is not some mysterious thing that grown-ups either shout about at public meetings or otherwise stay away from.

Washington, By and By will help most readers make sense of community planning — not as a set of statistics and maps, but as a well-illustrated story to which people can relate and see where they fit in. The graphic novel approach to planning might be useful for people of all ages, including those for whom English is not their first language.

This initiative has been made possible by the energy and vision of key APA members and support from the chapter's leadership and its Youth in Planning Task Force. Their efforts led the chapter to commission Washington, By and By for development by Gabrielle Lyon, Devin Mawdsely, and Kayce Bayer.

Lyon's creative team recently completed development of a graphic novel for the Chicago Architecture Center, No Small Plans, which received critical praise and helped inspire Washington's own initiative.

I'm excited to see how this project unfolds. I see it as being good not only for our state, but also for our diverse young people. I hope it helps to inspire many other communities and planning organizations to achieve greater outreach and more thoughtful engagement.

Top image: The graphic novel Washington, By and By, from APA's Washington Chapter, features Cricket, Ben, Jen, and Daniel, young people who find out why community planning matters and how they can get involved.

About the Author
Shane Hope, AICP, is the development services director for Edmonds, Washington, and the former vice-president of APA's Washington Chapter.

June 7, 2019

By Shane Hope, AICP