Solve a Community Planning Problem | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

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How to Solve a Community Planning Problem with a Charrette

Solve a Community Planning Problem | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Community relations are an important challenge for any historic preservation advocacy group. After years of delays, arguments, tense public meetings, and polarizing press coverage over an issue, the members of your preservation group might think that some community planning problems are simply beyond solving. Fortunately, there is a tool often used in public planning that can help you solve a community problem through collaboration. This tool is a charrette—an intense period of creative thinking and problem solving.

Charrette: The Ultimate Problem-Solving Tool

A charrette, sometimes called a "design charrette," is the ultimate collaborative problem-solving tool. It is typically held during the last stages of a design project. A charrette involves teams of people focused on a specific problem and working toward a common plan of action. For example, the city of Wausau held a design charrette in 2011 to discuss its East Riverfront District plan.

Charrettes can be as short as a half day. Some are held over multiple days or scheduled annually. The participants in a charrette are project stakeholders such as community members, developers, business owners, city planners, government officials, architects, and engineers.

These participants receive background information about the problem prior to the event. At the charrette, groups of stakeholders usually separate into subgroups to discuss the problem.  These groups present their ideas to the whole group toward the end of the session.

The group or agency that is coordinating the charrette compiles these ideas into reports or professional presentation materials.  These materials are presented to community decision-makers and the project stakeholders. The ideas generated during the charrette provide common ground for future discussions about the problem.

Using Charettes in Historic Preservation

In addition to being a public design tool, a charrette can be policy-focused. For instance, if the Wisconsin preservation community as a whole agreed that a particular state law was undermining preservation activity, a policy charrette could help preservationists and other stakeholders craft legislation to solve the problem. The community might bring in experts from other states in which the problem was solved through good policy.

If your preservation group is faced with a contentious problem or a project that needs town or neighborhood consensus, you might seek a resolution through a charrette. However, a charrette does require a lot of money, planning, coordination, and time. If you think your group would be unable to plan and stage a charrette on your own, consider suggesting a charrette to your city preservation officer, planning department, or other municipal planning official.

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