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Design Charrettes

The National Charrette Institute defines a charrette as “a collaborative design and planning workshop held on-site and inclusive of all affected stakeholders.” [79] Charrettes enable community organizations, public agencies, developers, and other stakeholders to work together towards solving contentious or complex situations. They are frequently applied in the context of land use planning to support revitalization efforts, including brownfield assessment, cleanup, and reuse. Often facilitated by architects and planners, the goal of design charrettes is to come up with a mutually agreed-upon vision for future development that is both effective and sustainable. [80]

How can Design Charrettes contribute to Sustainability?

The use of design charrettes to gather innovative design ideas, promote communication and build support among stakeholders, is an effective approach for incorporating stakeholder engagement and collaboration into the sustainability assessment process. Design charrettes help identify more sustainable alternatives, technical solutions, and barriers to implementation. Projects with implementation plans developed through the charrette process have the advantage of stronger community support, making them more likely to result in positive, lasting outcomes.

Design  Charrettes

What are the main steps in a design charrette?

Design charrettes generally consist of the following three steps: [79, 80]

  • Step 1—identify and inform stakeholders; gather information on the issue at hand; and, perform logistical planning;
  • Step 2—convene the charrette. Depending on the complexity of the issue at hand, a charrette may last for a single afternoon or it may last for several weeks. Design charrettes generally begin with a “hands-on” workshop and visioning process, where participants break into small groups to discuss their goals and vision for the future project or development. The design team then produces initial plans based on the community’s vision and objectives. Next, participants are invited to provide feedback on the preliminary designs, after which the design team develops alternative plans or makes adjustments, accordingly. The options are then debated and new solutions may arise that were not previously considered. By the end of the charrette, the design team has completed both drawings and an implementation plan for the project; and,
  • Step 3—analyze, test, and implement the design plans. Stakeholders may provide additional input during this phase as final changes are made and plans are presented to the public.

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What are the strengths and limits of Design Charrettes in a sustainability context?

Design charrettes facilitate collaborative thinking and design by bringing stakeholders together in an inclusive, productive exercise. There are many ancillary benefits of design charrettes, including lasting partnerships and positive working relationships between the community and local government agencies. Design charrettes also may save time and money by incorporating input from the community early in the process rather than receiving feedback once drawings and plans have already been completed. While charrettes can be extremely effective and rewarding, they can also be challenging and resource-intensive. It is important to note that this tool is most useful in situations where a high level of public awareness and input is needed and welcomed. [81]

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How are Design Charrettes being used to support EPA Decision-making?

Under the new Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program, EPA is providing assistance to twenty-three communities to facilitate community involvement in developing area-wide plans for brownfields assessment, cleanup and subsequent reuse. This pilot program will help further community-based partnership efforts within underserved or economically disadvantaged neighborhoods to confront local environmental and public health challenges related to brownfields. For several projects receiving brownfields grants, design charrettes have been integral to the process of assessment, cleanup, and reuse. In the South Lincoln Redevelopment Project in Denver, Colorado, three separate charrettes provided opportunities to engage the community and key stakeholders and resulted in sustainable community development, integrated design and collaboration. [82]

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Where to Find More Information about Design Charrettes

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Illustrative Approach Applying Design Charrettes

  • Collaborative Problem-Solving Supporting Environmental Justice 

    Source: EPA, Office of Policy [26]
    Sustainability tools: collaborative problem-solving; environmental justice analysis; social impact analysis; design charrettes
    A low income, African American community in Spartanburg, South Carolina used EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem-Solving Model (PDF) (44pp, 1MB) to address a myriad of environmental and health concerns. The community is located near abandoned textile mills and industrial facilities, two Superfund sites, several brownfield sites, and an active chemical facility. In addition, the community faced a 25 percent poverty rate, a lack of adequate health care, public safety problems, substandard housing, transportation problems, and a lack of social services.

    The community took the following actions to confront its health and environmental challenges and stimulate community revitalization:

    • Issue identification, community visioning and strategic goal setting. Design charrettes is a sustainability tool that may assist in identification.
    • Community capacity-building and leadership development;
    • Consensus building and dispute resolution;
    • Multi-stakeholder partnerships and leveraging of resources;
    • Constructive engagement by relevant stakeholders;
    • Sound organization and implementation; and
    • Evaluation, lessons learned, and replication of best practices.

    The CPS process enabled the community to engage all of its stakeholders to identify problems and set priorities, build the capacity to address its needs, take steps to resolve longstanding disputes, establish a leadership structure and develop strategic partnerships. As a result of the collaborative effort, the community has been able to leverage more than $200 million in government and private sector funds to cost-effectively address its environmental threats. Ongoing stakeholder meetings and annual status reports allow the community to continue to evaluate its progress and assess future needs. [26]

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  • South Lincoln Redevelopment Project

    Source: EPA Office of Solid Wasted and Emergency Response, EPA Office of Sustainable Communities, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Department of Transportation [82]
    Sustainability tools: design charrettes; collaborative problem-solving
    EPA’s Brownfields Area-Wide Planning Pilot Program is providing assistance to 23 communities, many in under-served and economically disadvantaged areas, to develop area-wide plans for the reuse of brownfields properties. In 2010, the South Lincoln Redevelopment Project (SoLi) was selected as a Sustainable Communities Brownfield Pilot (PDF) (16 pp, 3MB) project. SoLi consists of the redevelopment of 270 Public Housing units on 17.5 acres in the La Alma/Lincoln Park neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. The SoLi Pilot project has used design charrettes to bring together stakeholders to define project goals; brainstorm redevelopment strategies, funding opportunities and partnerships; and, identify barriers and next steps for strategy implementation.

    The participating agencies have varying approaches to programs, funding mechanisms, organizational structure, and staffing. These differences pose challenges to intra-Agency collaboration. Because of these challenges, collaboration and consensus building have been key elements to this Pilot’s success.

    The SoLi project has implemented three sustainability charrettes on the topics of energy, transportation, and stormwater/ green infrastructure design, to enhance the design and build-out of the project. These charrettes have provided the following “lessons learned:”

    • Define project goals early in the planning process;
    • Identify key players as early as possible to enhance engagement and participation;
    • Make sure that residents participate in the charrette process;
    • Balance the technical depth of the charrette with the participants’ skills and project goals;
    • Ensure that charrette leaders and facilitators are familiar with local issues and stakeholder perspectives; and,
    • Anticipate the major questions that participants are likely to have about the technical aspects of the project.

    The willingness and commitment to work with a continuously evolving process has been pivotal in realizing the potential of these charrettes and recognizing the capabilities and roles of the individual agencies. Additionally, in an effort to find joint solutions, it is important for team members to consider strategies that fall outside of the current policies and procedures of any one Agency.

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