Based largely on the approach and practical applications of John Thompson and Partners (JTP) of which Campion is a partner, this book focuses on charrettes. Fortunately, the word charrette does not figure in the title, as some find its unfamiliarity a hindrance rather than a help in co-opting local people to co-design.
The book consists of six chapters with most of the book taken up by 20 case studies in chapter 5, 12 of them facilitated by JTP. Chapter 1 entitled It’s not enough to vote, and chapter 3 The importance of collaboration, are confined to a double page spread. Chapter 2 gives a history of collaborative planning. It attributes the origin of the multi-day charrette process to Caudill Rowlett Scot in 1948, followed in 1967 by the American Institute of Architects (AIA)’s response to urban riots with Regional/Urban Design Assistance teams (R/UDAT s). Used in two American case studies in Santa Fe and Nashville, the merits of R/UDAT s are seen in professionalising local authorities and influencing urban policies. Sherry Arnstein’s Ladder of Citizen Participation published in 1969 is considered the cornerstone of theory about public participation, but Campion replaced it with his own version at the end of the book. AIA’s promotion of R/UDAT charrettes gave credibility to urban design. It led to international take-up in improving the built environment as well as social provision and self-governance. Moreover, the speed and efficiency of charrettes attracted developers’ appreciation. Transatlantic conferences linked charrettes with the UK community architecture movement and John Thompson facilitated the first charrette in the UK in 1989. Others like the Prince’s Foundation further developed the collaborative planning process and New Urbanism adopted it as a key tool.
Chapter 4, entitled What is collaborative planning and placemaking, is core information for those adopting the charrette process. It lists the benefits and uses of charrettes, and describes the process in three phases:
- preparation – steering group, communication strategies, stakeholder hierarchy, pre-event launch, publicity, surveys, animating the community, involving young people, contacting the hard-to-reach, information collation
- event – programmes with examples of two and five-day charrettes, team greeting of participants, exhibition, dialogue workshops, tours and walkabouts, hands-on planning sessions, way forward workshop, team working, reporting back presentation, and
- outputs – development proposals, sustaining local involvement, town teams, community development trusts, community land trusts, design codes, evaluation of outcomes.
Looking at these components, it could be argued that many are common practice for normal planning processes.
Chapter 5 with the examples is introduced by an overview table, classifying them by country, date, types of client, scale, urban or rural setting, and vision focus. What is lacking is budget information, although the funding mechanism is quoted as the key determinant elsewhere. When charrettes are sponsored by local authorities and more rarely by developers, the surprisingly large team of professionals get remunerated. Charrettes organised by the community cannot afford such budgets and professionals may work pro-bono or on an expenses only basis. All community participants are expected to give their time and knowledge for free.
The only example initiated by a genuine local community in Barnes lasted one day and many of the listed tasks were carried out for free by the local community which was relatively homogeneous, well-off and had appropriate skills. Looking at the schedules, the majority of the time is taken up by the professionals sketching drawings based on information and wishes expressed by the community at initial sessions. It is not clear whether the feedback sessions are run as interactive events.
When participants are shown the project in a language familiar to designers such as plans, drawings, perspectives (called vignettes in the book) and more rarely 3D models, without prior notice, they may not be in a position to absorb this information. Chapter 6 sums up the lessons from the cases in 20 points. They state that the charrette process achieved consensus and appreciation by the participants.