Community Engagement, Diversity & Inclusion in Placemaking

(contributed by Charles Campion, former IAP2 Core Values Award winner)

Communities have a collective intelligence that brings social, economic and environmental value to designing cities and neighbourhoods. Just as the act of voting is a right, it is inherently democratic to bring people genuinely to the heart of planning and placemaking.

At this year’s American Institute of Architects “AIA ’19 Conference”, Alison Luas from Boston Architecture firm Payette will moderate a session with architects Patricia Saldaña Natke, President and Design Principal at Chicago based UrbanWorks Ltd and Charles Campion, Partner at JTP, London. Natke and Campion are both striving to leverage the process of co-design in the built environment to meet the challenges of equity, diversity and inclusion to increase opportunities for all individuals.

During the International Architects Presidents’ Forum in 2018 key questions posed included

  • What are the challenges communities are facing in efforts to become more equitable and inclusive?
  • What is the role of architects in addressing these?
  • How do architects and architectural associations engage communities to become more equitable and inclusive?

The AIA ‘19 Conference in Las Vegas seeks to expand the discussion on these questions through sharing the expertise of Natke and Campion in employing innovative charrette-based strategies for community engagement. These strategies can increase the breadth and diversity of participation in the design process and equitable outcomes for the built environment.

Community and the engagement of often overlooked stakeholders is the lens through which Natke has looked at design throughout her career. The approach is based on her own experience of growing up in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighbourhood, a vibrant and diverse urban community that has been in the design shadow of the city’s famed Loop just five miles away.

In Paranapiacaba, Brazil, near Sao Paolo, Natke’s firm, UrbanWorks Ltd, collaborated with a multi-disciplinary team of six designers to create and execute a multi day inclusive design Charrette for Partners of the Americas, Illinois Chapter, Architecture and Urbanism Committee.

St Clements Hospital Charrette, London (JTP)The town of 1,200 residents was built in 1895 by a British railroad company to transport coffee from the country’s densely forested mountain regions to the sea. Steam driven funiculars were operated by workers who lived in the town, which was originally planned in a Victorian English style typical of the period. Now protected by Brazil as an historic district, it lies within the ecologically sensitive UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Atlantic Forest Southeast Reserves.

During the Charrette the American-led team shared walks through the city, meals, and even dance stretching exercises with their hosts. As Natke says, “We were guests in their city and we wanted to ensure we interpreted their needs while balancing their varying concerns.”

Natke’s presentation at the 2019 AIA Conference in Las Vegas, will include additional case studies, showing solutions in Chicago, Michigan, and North Carolina, through which Natke will demonstrate how to produce successful results that benefit all stakeholders through varying processes and conditions.

Campion is a veteran of working with communities and stakeholders on a wide range of placemaking projects, throughout the UK and internationally. After 25 years’ experience in the field of community participation, he has written “20/20 Visions: Collaborative Planning and Placemaking” (RIBA Publishing 2018). This book describes the history and process of design Charrettes (including AIA R/UDATs (Regional Urban Design Assistance Teams) and illustrates their success and flexibility through twenty international case studies. Campion says, “I’ve written 20/20 Visions to raise awareness of the Charrette process and, by promoting its widespread use, to change the way things are done to bring communities genuinely to the heart of planning and placemaking.”

[Image: St Clements Hospital Charrette, London (JTP)]

“From a professional perspective,” Campion says, “Charrettes provide an efficient working process that enables multi-disciplinary design teams to set up a studio on or near the site and focus solely on the project at hand, covering a great deal of ground over a few days. Contact with the community brings local knowledge and creativity into the process and helps develop plans and solutions that gain support.”

A key element of Charrettes is that the community becomes involved in an iterative design process, which allows time and space for at least three feedback loops, so that a design is proposed, reviewed, changed, and re-presented for further review. This process has been shown to be critical in building community consensus and backing.

The Charrette team needs to have three key attributes:

  1. The ability to engage and inspire stakeholders;
  2. The ability to successfully manage the logistics, mechanics and team-work through a Charrette process; and
  3. The skills of visioning, masterplanning and effective graphic communication.

Developing these attributes must become a key focus of colleges and universities that train future practitioners and “20/20 Visions” has been written to help inform that process.

Influential urbanist Richard Florida theorises that to deliver great places with resilient economies and equitable communities, governance should be “local and intentional”, that is directed towards an appropriate shared goal or vision. Charrettes provide the methodology to engage communities to that end and satisfy the human instinct for collaboration and involvement. Campion concludes, “Practitioners and decision makers must be ready to gear up and take on the challenge of engaging with communities and the public should be ready to take their rightful place alongside professionals and politicians to co-design and deliver equitable and resilient communities.”

For more information about Payette visit

For more information about UrbanWorks visit

For more information about JTP visit

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