Wichitan named Emerging City Champion, plans new project

Alex Pemberton
Alex Pemberton File photo

Alex Pemberton, the man behind several recent projects intended to make Wichita “more livable and lovable,” has been named an Emerging City Champion by the Knight Foundation.

Pemberton, 25, founder of Yellowbrick Street Team, is one of 20 creative urbanists in the country who will receive $5,000 in funding through the fellowship program.

He plans to launch a “Pop-Up Co-Op,” a one-stop shop with materials that community groups could borrow to execute their own “tactical urbanism” projects.

“It’s not a project in itself so much as it’s a force multiplier that enables these other projects to happen,” Pemberton said. “I just hope that it … enables them to see their neighborhoods not just as they are, but as they can be.”

What is tactical urbanism?

Pemberton and his colleagues have demonstrated it in recent months with projects such as “Park(ing) Day,” which converted parking spaces along Douglas Avenue into temporary public places, and “ICT Flash Dine,” a giant community picnic that took place near the Keeper of the Plains sculpture.

It’s not a project in itself so much as it’s a force multiplier that enables other projects to happen.

Alex Pemberton

Pemberton also helped organize a toilet plunger campaign that prompted city planners to install safety posts along a bike lane at First and Washington. Another project retraced the steps of Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra” poem on downtown sidewalks in disappearing paint.

While doing the projects, he said, Pemberton learned that tactical urbanism doesn’t come cheap. Most were financed through grants from the Wichita Community Foundation and other groups.

“We’ve realized that it’s really difficult to do these pop-up interventions … without a lot of political, social and financial capital,” he said. “Even a $1,000 project is often out of reach for a lot of neighborhoods.”

That’s where his Pop-Up Co-Op would come in, he said. A group wanting to organize its own project somewhere in Wichita could borrow chairs, tables, umbrellas, temporary fencing or other items from the co-op at little or no cost and return them afterward for the next group to use.

Members of the Neighborhood Partnering Program, a new initiative of Yellowbrick Street Team, also would help groups navigate budgeting, permitting processes, community engagement and other elements necessary to launch projects.

As part of the Emerging City Champions program, an initiative of 8 80 Cities, Pemberton will attend a four-day workshop in Toronto, where he’ll brainstorm with other fellows and refine the project. He hopes to launch it in Wichita this summer.

Alex Pemberton explains a new Wichita group and its colorful purpose. (Carrie Rengers/The Wichita Eagle/July 26, 2016)

Pemberton said he hopes his experience helps inspire others to think creatively and improve their communities.

“Hopefully it opens the floodgates and gets other people interested in this opportunity,” he said. “In building some recognition for the great things we have going on here in Wichita.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias