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What is a Charrette?

A charrette is an intensive planning session where citizens, designers and others collaborate on a vision for development. It provides a forum for ideas and offers the unique advantage of giving immediate feedback to the designers. More importantly, it allows everyone who participates to be a mutual author of the plan.

The charrette is located near the project site. The team of design experts and consultants sets up a full working office, complete with drafting equipment, supplies, computers, copy machines, fax machines, and telephones. Formal and informal meetings are held throughout the event and updates to the plan are presented periodically.

Through brainstorming and design activity, many goals are accomplished during the charrette. First, everyone who has a stake in the project develops a vested interest in the ultimate vision. Second, the design team works together to produce a set of finished documents that address all aspects of design. Third, since the input of all the players is gathered at one event, it is possible to avoid the prolonged discussions that typically delay conventional planning projects. Finally, the finished result is produced more efficiently and cost-effectively because the process is collaborative.

Charrettes are organized to encourage the participation of all. That includes everyone who is interested in the making of a development: the developer, business interests, government officials, interested residents, and activists.

Ultimately, the purpose of the charrette is to give all the participants enough information to make good decisions during the planning process.

A Historical Note -- Origins of the Word "Charrette"

The term "charrette" is derived from the French word for "little cart." In Paris during the 19th century, professors at the Ecole de Beaux Arts circulated with little carts to collect final drawings from their students. Students would jump on the "charrette" to put finishing touches on their presentation minutes before the deadline.