Carrie Rengers

What is Yellowbrick Street Team up to?

You can see the stares in Old Town, Delano and the Douglas Design District.

People stop on the sidewalks or turn and glance over their shoulders as they walk by utility covers to check out various images and sayings about Wichita that have been placed around the city.

There’s a colorful Keeper of the Plains, an airplane with an #ilovewichita hashtag, painted parts of the Wichita flag and a #wichitawesome hashtag.

Alex Pemberton, a commercial broker with NAI Martens, says they’re “just something fun to remind people (that) people are out here trying to make the city better.”

Pemberton attended James Chung’s Focus Forward lecture last fall and heard him discuss the perception of a lack of civic pride in Wichita.

“What can I do to change this?” Pemberton says he thought.

He decided to start Yellowbrick Street Team to combat the issue.

“It is a tactical urbanism collective,” Pemberton says.

He acknowledges that’s a bit clunky but says that “there’s no better way to describe it, unfortunately.”

It’s a concept that he says has been around for a while and is well known in architectural and planning circles.

“We look at underutilized components of the urban fabric and try to reimagine them.”

Pemberton says the biggest goal is to show that the city as it exists is not necessarily the city as it must be in the future.

It’s to encourage people to find problem pockets of the city and change them.

He says it’s about promoting what he calls liveability and loveability for the city through public art and other avenues.

“This is kind of a passion of mine.”

Pemberton started the group about a month ago.

“We are everybody from bankers to baristas, artists to attorneys,” he says.

Pemberton says he has several projects in the works, which he doesn’t want to share yet.

Several members of the group gathered this weekend to create various icons and sayings of the city through chalk paint stencils and reverse graffiti, which is powering washing around a stencil to create an image.

MakeICT used its laser cutter to make the stencils.

Along with generating some pride, though, is Yellowbrick creating vandalism?

“Ahh, technically, it could be interpreted that way,” Pemberton says. “We did paint on some city property.”

He says the group tested the paint to be sure it could be easily removed.

“It can blow right off with a power washer.”

He says a hard rain might even do it.

Pemberton says Yellowbrick didn’t seek approval because the artwork was meant to be a surprise and a conversation starter.

The city has an ordinance regarding defacing or damaging public or private property through graffiti.

“Whether it’s technically legal or not, we’re doing something that maybe improves the city a little bit,” Pemberton says.

It sounds like the city could be amenable to what the group is doing.

“I love seeing the pride in the Wichita community,” says Ken Evans, the city’s strategic communications director.

Evans says he hasn’t studied the Yellowbrick action enough to comment on what may or may not happen as a result, but he says he appreciates the thought behind it.

“I totally understand and agree with the … intent.”

Pemberton says Yellowbrick wants to work with the city on future projects.

There’s probably an opportunity for that, says Evans, who wears a Wichita flag button every day.

That’s the kind of civic pride Pemberton says he wants to capitalize on.

“We’ve got a lot of civic pride really building in the community, and we wanted to celebrate that.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers

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