Sunday, November 13, 2005

What Makes a Charrette?

"Charrette" is a word we hear more and more.

But what is a charrette and why would we be concerned about them? The National Charrette Institute is a non-profit institute that gives insight into how the charrette can be used to make community change. It involves the community in the transformation process.

The National Charrette Institute describes charrettes as follows:

The French word, "Charrette" means "cart" and is often used to describe the final, intense work effort expended by art and architecture students to meet a project deadline. This use of the term is said to originate from the École des Beaux Arts in Paris during the 19th century, where proctors circulated a cart, or “charrette”, to collect final drawings while students frantically put finishing touches on their work.

What is an "NCI Charrette"?

The NCI Charrette combines this creative, intense work session with public workshops and open houses. The NCI Charrette is a collaborative planning process that harnesses the talents and energies of all interested parties to create and support a feasible plan that represents transformative community change.
  • At least four consecutive days
  • An open process that includes all interested parties
  • A collaborative process involving all disciplines in a series of short feedback loops
  • A process that produces a feasible plan
  • A generalist, holistic approach

An "NCI Charrette" is not:
  • A one-day workshop
  • A multi-day marathon meeting involving everyone all the time
  • A plan authored by a select few that will affect many
  • A “visioning session” that stops short of implementation
The NCI web site gives much more information about charrettes and is an excellent source of information. (Also note that New College professor Dr. David Brain is a member of the board of directors of NCI)

Sarasota has seen the charrette process several times: the Sarasota County 2050 Plan and the City Downtown Master Plan. The process used for input into the Cultural District Master Plan was not a charrette. Here, public input was taken and the designers came back a few months later with a plan.

Recently the Burn's Square Property Owners have conducted a process they have called a charrette. Based on the criteria and descriptions given by the National Charrette Institute, it appears that this process would not properly be called a charrette.

The City Downtown Master Plan process concluded with a vision for the downtown. As noted in the NCI commentary about change, the third phase is a critical phase - implementation. When Andres Duany was involved here he indicated that the zoning code needed to be put in place quickly or the result would be something quite different than envisioned. The NCI says:

After the Charrette, it is important to quickly review the work, make any necessary adjustments and get back to the public for a last look. The longer this period lasts, the greater the risk of failure. To the greatest extent possible, critical stakeholders should be kept in the loop by being involved in the testing for market, financial, physical, and political feasibility. Within no more than 45 days following the Charrette, a final public review is held, sometimes on two consecutive evenings with a design teamwork session in between. This can help to catch those who missed the Charrette. The two meetings also allow people who felt left out of the Charrette the opportunity to see their concerns addressed before the final plan is adopted.

As we all know Sarasota did not follow this advice and the result was many changes and delay before implementing the downtown code. Special interest groups won at the expense of the community good.

In a couple weeks, New College will be conducting a charrette for their campus master plan. This had been scheduled to start the weekend that Wilma visited our state and was postponed. New College has already gathered input from both the New College community and the public. During the next phase (starting the last week in November) the design team will spend 4-5 days at the New College campus and will work on a draft of the master plan. These sessions will be interactive with the college community and the public. The end product will be a plan that everyone has had a hand in developing. This “collaboration” with many stakeholders produces a high level of support and ultimately an excellent chance of putting the design in place.

So far all indications are positive that the New College charrette will develop an excellent plan for the future of their campus. We may even get to see a charrette that works as envisioned.


Burns Square Property Owners Assoc. said...

The process conducted by the Burns Square Property Owners over the weekend November 4th thru 7th was precisely a charrette per the NCI web-site you referenced.

Susan Chapman said...

To Burns Square Property Owners Association, Inc.: I attended the charette and asked if the public would receive the report. The planner conducting the charrette indicated that the report would be made to the Property Owners Association, not the public. Is a final public review planned? If so, when? Residents of my neighborhood want to attend.

Burns Square Property Owners Assoc. said...

I suggest all those interesting in the Burns Square Property Owners Association, Inc. to please contact us directly at Thank you.