Quite simply, a Charrette is a quick study by a group of stakeholders in a project work to solve a particular set of issues within the project. Consider it a focus group or think-tank approach to dealing with a problematic condition. A group of planners, developers and designers hunker down around aerial maps and plans with tracing paper, scales and markers strewn haphazardly about. A Charrette will typically last only a few days packed with brainstorming, collaboration and planning.
I have been involved in several Charrettes with the Congress of the New Urbanism. While a charrette can apply to any project involving multiple agencies, the projects I am generally involved with have to do with land use and place-making. What is place-making you may ask. . . Place-making is the conceptualization of a portion of a town or city. The scope will usually include far more land than one developer will adopt. Place-making will inform future developers what form the land should take, how the streets ought to work and what the public realm will look like and how it will work. It also suggests they type of buildings that should be built but does not mandate specifics about individual lots.
The Charrette process sets the public realm as the highest priority of a land use project. Having an attractive neighborhood protects property values, reduces crime rates and increases the satisfaction of the people that live and visit there. Having a greater vision of how a place develops is essential to prevent unruly and disjointed neighborhood growth.