Participants in the London Plan charette

+ Charrettes enable citizens, planners, and others to collaborate on a vision for development.

I’m convinced that cities need to think differently about how stakeholders participate in planning for city development, so that their aspirations are better reflected in the resulting plans.

As cities become increasingly complex places, it’s becoming more important for citizens to join professionals in ‘talking city’ and planning for their future. Why? Because for plans to succeed they need to have collective buy-in and to reflect the multiplicity of stakeholder views. 

However, plan making is often a legal process and complying with it can stifle innovation in engaging people and developing ideas. So how, in an age of fluid social constructs, increased mobility, instant messaging and rapid change, do we truly engage people in the plans that will shape their future? 

One tool that can help cities access different voices in an inclusive and participatory way is the charrette. Whilst historically the tool of choice for architects, I believe this can be re-focused and used to plan cities. A charrette is an intensive, often multi-day planning session where citizens, planners, and others collaborate to develop a vision for future development. 

It is a flexible tool, which can bring people together to talk about the future of places which are important to them, build consensus from a range of perspectives and empower people to develop proposals. The outcome is plans for places and spaces that people are invested in, will support the delivery of and also want to live, work and play in.

For example, we used charrette to develop a Strategic Plan for Seychelles. Through three multi-day charrettes, held over the course of a year, we developed an integrated plan, which brought together government officials, elected representatives and non-governmental organisations. At each charrette we developed a piece of the Plan, including: its vision; spatial options to accommodate growth; and the Plan’s policies and implementation actions. This approach enabled the Seychellois to develop and agree ideas at each stage of the process and ensured a ‘plan for Seychelles by the Seychellois’. 

In collaboration with New London Architecture, we also used charrette to think about the issues and potential solutions the forthcoming London Plan should address. This was an intensive one day event, which over 70 professionals from across the built environment sectors attended. The day stimulated lively and constructive debate from which a number of reoccurring and cross-cutting themes emerged. These included considering London’s wider hinterland in developing the Plan and the need to review when and where the Green Belt can be released.   

As the examples show, charrettes can be adapted and used throughout the different plan making stages. I’ve seen first-hand how they can streamline the process and help reach consensus more quickly than traditional methods. So why shouldn’t they be used more widely?