communicating urbanism–make no little plans, updated

Surely every self-styled urban visionary, and quotation-centric student of prose, knows the magic words attributed to monumental, “city beautiful” Chicago architect Daniel Burnham: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will not themselves be realized.“

A recent case-in-point came two years ago, when President Obama invoked Burnham in his inspirational speech, urging expansion of high-speed rail in America.

There is nothing wrong with such inspiration based on large visions and  diligence. But, Burnham’s words need updating in order to communicate enhancement of sustainable cities in the digital age.

Here is a start, with five alternative slogans, and why we should use them:

  • Make no long speeches, nor write articles of more than 800 words.

You know the score:  the digital age has amplified the art of efficient consumption.  To sell today’s message of the critical relationship of land use and transportation, jobs close to home and multi-modal forms of transit, punchlists are in, treatises out.

  • Make no statements or share no photos that cannot also be tweeted or communicated by Facebook status message.

Any successful urban adage, such as “@mayorsmith: we need form-based zoning in Anytown”, needs to be, well, what you just read.

  • Make no introduction of a new initiative without a youtube or vimeo video with catchy music and pedestrians.

Introducing a complete streets program or sidewalk dining?  Flip camera in hand, or you lose.

  • Make no statement about small business without allowing for street food and vegetables grown on adjacent parking strips.

It’s not about dining rooms or produce sections of supermarkets anymore.

  • Make no mention of children without poll results revealing no desire to grow up to a family car or a house, but to zipcars and downtown living.

No elaboration needed.

Tongue-in-cheek? Of course, but with a not-so-subtle message. In today’s America, we need even more New Age Burnhamisms in the quest to communicate urbanist messages with a populist voice.

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