10 October 2013

Why does the Michigan Avenue/Grand River Avenue project need an 8-day charrette?

The most important factors to consider when deciding on the length of a charrette are: a) the complexity of local politics, b) time available for the project, c) the available project budget, and d) the project size. The Michigan/Grand River Avenue project calls for the design of three large study areas along a 21-mile corridor containing multiple jurisdictions. The size and number of jurisdictions and organizations that need to be involved contribute to the project’s complexity complex situation. Eight days were required to accommodate two geographically separate public kick-off meetings, open houses, and 14 technical meetings.

A long charrette of 7 or more days can best accommodate all five charrette phases including three reviews that act as stakeholder feedback loops. This schedule also has enough time and flexibility to respond to new and unexpected issues. Diligence in the Research, Engagement, and Charrette Preparation phase will alert the charrette team to political issues, but charrettes have a way of intensifying a situation. Issues can and should surface early on in the charrette so that the team can respond through ad hoc meetings and new design explorations. When issues emerge, it is far better to be on-site for five or six more days so they can be resolved in a timely manner, rather than leaving town for a month. Having been stirred up, the politics can become intractable during such a time gap. For these reasons, the seven-day model is well suited to projects with complex political and design challenges.

Projects that have simpler politics and fewer design challenges are candidates for shorter charrettes.These projects must still go through the five charrette phases and three feedback loops essential to The Charrette System™.  For shorter charrettes, this is accomplished by completing the first two phases before the charrette. In this model, a public kick-off meeting is held four to six weeks prior to the charrette, which authorizes the team members to return to their offices and create design alternatives for presentation at the beginning of the event. This variation can be effective in saving costs, primarily in terms of space rentals and equipment and any additional staff costs for the charrette. However, it is a safe choice for only the simplest of planning projects and is definitely not recommended for volatile political environments. There is a danger in starting a charrette with design alternatives based on the results of the public kick-off meeting that some people may not have attended.