Recently a professional friend posted on Facebook about a charrette that his city had hosted recently that was very similar to AIA RUDAT exercises that I have seen recently. Stakeholders and locals get together with professionals from a variety of design disciplines and discuss, review, analyze and prepare a plan in anywhere from three to five days. The result was a "village" type TND mixed use project located on the fringe of a suburban city of approximately 72,000 within a larger metropolitan area of about 1.5 million.
As a professional urban designer, I have seen many of these exercises in the past and have often groaned at their outcome. The best I can describe them as is academic. The worst is unrealistic and completely without basis in a market driven economy. I am currently involved in two projects where I having to undue some of the work done by RUDAT type exercises that proposed unrealistic mixed use and commercial projects in suburban fringe areas.
I must also admit that there is a part of me that dislikes these exercises because they take much needed work away from professionals like myself. If this would have been a development plan that I was hired to design, my efforts to develop the plan likely would have taken weeks or months depending upon the amount of public feedback necessary. Is a plan valid if it can be developed in a few days by a group of people who may or may not be trained and experienced urban designers?
I have taken a look at the plan that was produced as part of the charrette and it bears no relationship to something that is real or developable. It proposes a TND mixed use community in an area that will never have the population to support such as development. It also includes a lot of what I can best describe as "pop-planning" in the manner it is used in this instance such as walkability and sustainability. The area that the development is a rural outskirt of a very suburban, single family detached community.
Members of Cyburbia, I ask you what is your feeling about exercises such as these? Have you used them? What are your experiences? Is this type of planning valid or is it academic and unrealistic?