Boyne City uses design charrette to help reimagine a public facility

Design charrettes are an excellent way to engage community members in a design challenge, even one involving a single community structure.

Design charrettes are gaining popularity in as an effective and engaging way to involve community members in planning. The term “charrette” refers to a multi-day planning event that assembles property owners, businesses, residents, and community leaders to create feasible and desirable design solutions.

Within the past year, for example, this technique was used in Alpena to design a new public plaza, Suttons Bay Township to jumpstart form-based zoning development, and the Lansing area to develop a vision for the Michigan Avenue/Grand River Avenue.

In addition to being a tool for exploring options for a whole township, corridor or downtown area, a charrette can help gather input and ideas for a single public structure – that’s the case for a project in Boyne City, Mich. last December to reimage a popular picnic pavilion in a key public park.

The effort began when the city’s very successful farmers market expanded to year-round format and needed to find a permanent home for its relatively new winter market. Farmers market committee members proceeded to gain feedback from community residents and market vendors about characteristics of a winter facility. As part of that conversation, the possibility of updating and winterizing the 1960s-style pavilion for the market arose. The problem was that the pavilion was widely used for festivals, community events and family picnics, so any solution needed to meet the needs of many stakeholders, not just the farmers market.

That’s where the charrette came in.

With a grant from the Michigan State Housing Development Authority, the city hired a design firm to conduct a multi-day design charrette – the goal being to gather input from a wide range of community stakeholders and come up with three design alternatives.

Boyne City adopted a three-day process. During the charrette’s first day, designers met with stakeholder groups – farmers market vendors, user group representatives, downtown business owners, city staff and leaders, and interested local residents. As might be expected, every group expressed a broad range of needs and ideas, although trends emerged. The following day, the designers set up shop in a city hall meeting room to synthesize input and begin the design process. During that time anyone could stop by to talk to the designers and observe their progress. After a weekend off, the design team returned to Boyne City and presented the designs during a community open house (with snacks donated by farmers market vendors, of course).

The resulting designs included an option with modest changes to the existing structure, an expanded alternative in the same location as the existing pavilion and a final option to explore relocation to another area of the park. The designs were well-received by community members, with many commenting that they enjoyed the input process and short timeline between when they offered input and when they saw the results.

Boyne City leaders have more work to do before the renovated pavilion becomes a reality. The charrette help the city quickly develop a vision for the pavilion – one that many residents had a say in - now the task is to finalize plans and seek funding for the effort.

For more information about charrettes and other ways to engage local residents, visit the Michigan State University Extension Land Use Education web page.

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