Design charrettes are, in theory, a valuable component of the urban planning process that help communities take a little bit of ownership over the changes coming to their streets. At their best, charrettes bring together everyone who cares about a complex design problem — residents, business owners, city planners, engineers, decision makers — to collaborate and compromise, ending with a solution everyone values.
In practice, that is often not the case. City planners announce a charrette, but don’t do enough outreach. Only a few community members show up. Those who do attend get a jargon-laced presentation from engineers. Community feedback is taken, but not incorporated into the final design.
Participatory design is an important piece of equitable urban planning. A well-executed charrette can help facilitate that goal. A poorly executed charrette can further the stereotype that city agencies only pay lip service to community concerns. With that in mind, I talked to several experts about the common mistakes they see in charrettes and ideas for running better sessions.