Recent developments in South Africa in the field of planning, the domain of plans, and the world of planners, would suggest that planning and plans are viewed in a positive light, the local planning profession is in good shape, and these instruments and actors can play a meaningful role in the development and transformation of the country. In this article, these assumptions were explored through the lens of the attributes and convictions that gave birth to and drove the early ‘town planning movement’ in the industrial cities of North America and Western Europe. A key theme in this analysis was the role played in the early town planning movement by compassion, passion and care for progressive change, and the conviction that it was possible to do so through the application of reason, technical ability and ingenuity. Based on this analysis, the argument was put forward that, while planning, plans and planners in South Africa could potentially play a crucial part in the crafting of a different country, a number of crucial changes would need to be made. The challenges associated with effecting these changes were subsequently explored, and the article concluded with a proposal for doing so by tapping into the metaphors as deployed, and the drive and passion as displayed by those in the early town planning movement.