Charrette Use in the Planning Process

A charrette (often spelled charette and often called design charrette) is an urban planning technique for consulting with stakeholders and involving them in the physical design or planning of the community. Charrettes are typically intense, possibly multi-day, events involving municipal officials, developers, and local residents. A charrette promotes joint ownership of solutions to problems and attempts to diffuse traditional confrontation between residents, developers, and local government officials.

Design Charrette

A design charrette is an intense collaborative effort used to create a detailed design or plan for a specific issue or geographic area. While there is flexibility as to how to conduct a charrette, it is generally an involved process where the main activity takes place over several days, and the entire charrette planning process can be months in duration.

It is best used to address a specific problem or situation. The results are used as part of, or to complement, an overall community planning process. For example, a charrette might be used to develop a park or to reach consensus on a park design. Another use might be to reach consensus on a downtown façade theme.

To conduct a charrette, the community needs to involve one or more professionals from one of the following disciplines:

  • Planner
  • Architect
  • Facilitator
  • Others, as applicable.

In addition, the community’s citizens, stakeholders, and local planning department staff are also involved. Often low-cost, or free, assistance to do a charrette may be available from the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects [1]. Assistance and more detail can also be obtained from the National Charrette Institute [2].

Illustration from National Charrette Institute Web site illustrating the process used during the second phase.

Second Phase of Charrette

Normally a charrette has three phases. First is a one- to nine-month planning process of research, education, and charrette preparation. Second is a one- to four- (or more) day charrette, which is the central transformative event in the entire process. The third phase is the implementation of the designs and/or plans generated by the charrette.

According to the National Charrette Institute (NCI), the following key strategies are essential to a successful NCI Dynamic Planning Process and NCI charrette:

  • Work collaboratively. All interested parties must be involved from the beginning.
  • Design cross-functionally. A multi-disciplinary team method results in decisions that are realistic every step of the way.
  • Compress work sessions so that the second phase compresses the planning process into one to four days.
  • Communicate in short feedback loops. A lot of effort is directed to having very short turnaround to report back to citizens and stakeholders involved in the process.
  • Study the details and the whole. Lasting agreement is based on a fully informed dialogue, which can only be accomplished by looking at the details and the big picture concurrently.
  • Produce a feasible plan.
  • Use design to achieve a shared vision and create holistic solutions. Design is a powerful tool for establishing a shared vision. Drawings illustrate the complexity of the problem and can be used to resolve conflict by proposing previously unexplored solutions that represent win/win outcomes.
  • Include a multiple-day charrette. The National Charrette Institute recommends the second phase part of a charrette should be a minimum of four days — and longer for more difficult problems.
  • Hold the charrette on or near the site. This is so those involved have quick access to the project site, and it is easy for those most impacted to be able to participate.

For more detailed information, visit the National Charrette Institute Web page: [3].

Kurt H. Schindler, AICP, Regional Land Use Educator
Michigan State University Extension