Charrettes can help you transform your community
By Lauren CarlsonOver the past 10 years I’ve seen so much great innovation in the public engagement processes that planners use to help communities build consensus on their futures. One of my favorite tools, because of the unique process and individualized outcome, is the charrette as created by the National Charrette Institute (NCI), now housed at Michigan State University.NCI certifies charrette professionals at two levels. The facilitator level provides the core skills for planning and running a workshop, with full collaboration. The advanced, management class equips project managers with the tools and techniques to manage a fast-paced, multiple-day event. I’ve completed and am certified in both.A charrette is a great tool for visioning. It helps organize a community’s thoughts and goals in a short period of time, in intensive workshops with a variety of community stakeholders. You get an immediate product from professionals that are on site, creating designs, policies and programs. At the end of the charrette, you get a summary of the data and within a couple of weeks it’s put into a product that you can use right away.Earlier this year the Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) in Chicago chose CWA to facilitate a three-day charrette to help the city of Gary, IN analyze systems to improve water infrastructure management and affordability. In intensive workshops, we assisted national experts, CNT staff, city staff, the mayor’s office and utilities managers by fostering collaboration on common goals and planning effectively to achieve them.The Gary project sought policy and programming outcomes, and the results were used to create an action plan for future activities. From infrastructure to design, charrettes also are an effective and fun way to help people actually agree on what their community should look like from design sessions that result in actual pictures of desired streets, neighborhoods and buildings.Here at Carlisle|Wortman we lead community engagement processes for existing clients and we are also hired by communities where we don’t do any other planning work, for individual projects and plans. We understand how important it is to listen and are trained to be the neutral facilitator who makes sure all voices are heard.How often have you heard people at public comment say, “I’m not comfortable as a public speaker, but ….”? As facilitators we strive to make people so comfortable that they want to keep talking. (Sometimes even using our skills to stop filibusterers and draw out non-participants.) And we know that what is said at the beginning and end is often less important than what is said in the middle.Our staff is experienced in many community engagement environments and arenas. Before I worked for CWA I got to see Dick Carlisle and Paul Montagno host an open house as part of the engagement process for the master plan for Bay City. I was blown away at their methods for this open house. They set up eight stations that dealt with overarching topics for the community that would be integrated into the master plan. Instead of just passively having information at the stations, they used Bay City’s planning commissioners to engage and gatherer the data they needed from the residents. The process used community leaders to relate to the residents and created a welcoming, peer-to-peer environment where opinions were valued and visions were captured.A five-day charrette can transform a community and inspire its residents. A shorter three-day charrette and charrette-style workshops can also be used for a more focused process to vision and engage your community for a master plan, in planning for brownfields, parks, downtowns or in any other discrete district that would benefit from consensus building, planning, and action.We want to know… what can an effective public engagement process do for your community and how can CWA help?Ed: Contact Lauren at 734-662-2200 or firstname.lastname@example.org to see how our services can work for you.