The charrette is the ticket for those problematic development sites

For tricky, undeveloped sites, the charrette can likely produce the best results with broad community support, a feasible project plan and a shortened timeline to project implementation.

Are there undeveloped (or underdeveloped) lots, tracts or blocks in the heart of your community? Have community leaders circulated RFPs for development ideas to no avail? Are the conditions of the site complicated by the nature surrounding land uses, odd transportation thoroughfares, or surrounding building characteristics? Has the community ever tried conducting a charrette for the site?

A charrette is a multi-day, collaborative planning event that harnesses the talents and energies of all affected parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change. It is a visual, design-driven process in which ideas are represented graphically in sketches, renderings and plans that are refined towards preferred design alternatives for the project site or community at large.

During a charrette, the public, design professionals, local officials and developers are regularly engaged with one another to share ideas, test feasibility and refine project plans. Of the various methods of public involvement, the charrette tends to produce the best results with broad community support, a feasible project plan and a shortened timeline to project implementation. It is particularly well-suited for producing a design concept that is supported by the public, developers and the local unit of government.

Recently, the City of Alpena utilized a charrette for producing a widely-supported plan for a downtown public plaza (see MSUE News article “Design Charrette Helps Alpena Move Ahead with Plaza Project”).

The charrette itself is just one phase of a collaborative process that also includes pre-charrette preparation, research and education and post-charrette implementation. Charrette preparation can take months planning the logistics of the event, organizing project partners, engaging stakeholders and researching the study area. Pre-charrette work might also include broad community education on the planning project at hand and/or best practices such as Placemaking or Smart Growth.

The charrette itself is a multi-day event in which members of the community work with design professionals to move from development of alternative concepts, preparation and refinement of those concepts, production of preferred design alternatives, and presentation of the preferred designs to the broader community, developers and elected officials. The charrette also includes key stakeholder reviews of the design alternatives in order to test the feasibility and acceptance of the concepts. The goal of the post-charrette, plan implementation phase is to finalize the charrette products that will guide the project through adoption and development. Specific tasks include plan revisions, further public communications, legislative body approval/adoption and project implementation.

The charrette is uniquely suited for placemaking and can achieve an outcome that other public involvement techniques cannot because it includes a process in which building form enters the public involvement process. The consecutive, multi-day aspect of a charrette also creates a compressed timeframe in which complex problems are met with the creative energies of the entire community.

For complex problems, the involvement of the public, designers, engineers and economists all at once typically provides the “magic” needed to solve the problem at hand through good design. The charrette also allows communities to achieve consensus that can be the basis for immediate project implementation. In effect, the charrette products serve as a plan of action on a project for a developer to quickly implement.

In short, the charrette has several strengths:

  • Explores all aspects of project concurrently
  • Reduces rework
  • Shortens project timeline
  • Involves the public in a collaborative process
  • Generates support
  • Produces a feasible plan

For those undeveloped sites void of Place that are plaguing your community, consider the charrette.

Michigan State University Extension is available to help your community design an effective public engagement framework and can even help facilitate the public engagement process. For more information, visit our Land Use Education Services webpage.

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