The Yellowbrick Street Team, a grassroots movement that drew attention to urban-living issues, announced earlier this week it was going on “indefinite hiatus.”
A blog post on the group’s website posted Wednesday indicates the disbanding of the group is the result of increasingly testy relations with the City of Wichita, including threats of fines and arrests.
The group is known for actions such as staging flash mob dining events and planting toilet plungers along First Street near Washington.
Earlier this week Alex Pemberton, who founded the group, announced his resignation from the group. Soon after, the group decided to put all pending projects on hold.
A spokesman for the city did not comment on the specific allegations Yellowbrick makes, saying it has worked with members of the group “on a few public safety projects, and in fact have incorporated some of their feedback into projects.”
“City officials appreciate citizens and civic groups who are passionate about improvements to the community,” the city’s statement read.
What was the Yellowbrick Street Team?
The group called itself a “tactical urbanism collective.”
In layman’s terms, it was a group of Wichitans passionate about design who executed guerilla, one-off projects to draw attention to urban-living issues.
The group, which started as a handful of young Wichitans in 2016, grew to a collective of about 200 volunteers.
Yellowbrick Street Team won accolades – and plenty of local media coverage – for its non-traditional projects: it was named a finalist for the Knight Cities Challenge in early 2017 for its Pop-Up Co-Op proposal.
According to its blog, one of Yellowbrick’s founding tenets was “the notion that the traditional planning and permitting process is inherently undemocratic.”
As such, Yellowbrick advocated for changes to Wichita’s permitting system, proposing a “civic innovation permit” in 2016.
The concept would have simplified (and created) a permitting process for unique events for which no process currently exists.
Though Yellowbrick wanted this permitting concept to be implemented by early 2017, no concrete progress was made on the issue.
The group’s tendency to disregard established permitting processes caused it to butt heads with some at the city, the group alleges.
Earlier this year, Yellowbrick planted a set of plungers on 1st Street at Washington – intended to draw attention to the lack of protection bikers have in their designated lane. That effort drew national attention to Wichita.
Then a few weeks later, it put on a flashmob dining event in March, wherein it attracted 250 people to eat dinner at the Keeper of the Plains.
“Had we played by the city’s rules, we would have spent over $1,000 on permit fees, unnecessary portable restrooms, and off-duty officers to twiddle their thumbs for four hours – not to mention, we would’ve had to reveal the location weeks ahead of the event, which would ruin the “flash” dine aspect central to the event’s character,” Yellowbrick wrote in a blog post.
After that, Yellowbrick members were threatened with fines and arrests, the group alleges in its blog post.
“Though by any measure incredible successes, the Flash Dine and Plungers taught us that in Wichita, egos trump outcomes,” the group wrote. “City bureaucrats threatened to fine and arrest us. They told us we would never get a permit again, regardless of whether we follow the rules. They pressured our employers to silence us, to limit our ability to act.”
Though Yellowbrick continued to attract attention for projects such as Under the Bridge – which drew people to the neglected Douglas underpass for three consecutive Final Fridays last summer – its members were stretched thin.
Beyond the one-off events it produced, it realized it was “so limited in our ability to act and advocate that we were unable to do more than the event itself,” according to the blog post.
Pemberton, in a Facebook post, said he had sunk $7,500 into the project. It was taking up so much of his personal time that he was neglecting personal relationships, reading and doing laundry on a regular schedule, he wrote.
Pemberton would not further discuss the situation.