The following is a guest post by Evan Weinberg, planning and development manager at Downtown Yonge. Evan holds a Master’s of Planning in Urban Development from Ryerson University and a B.A. from the University of British Columbia. Evan is passionate about cities and we’re hoping this will be the first of many guest blog posts written by him about planning issues in Canadian cities.

As Canadian cities continue to evolve, planners are faced with the important task of ensuring that quality of life in urban neighbourhoods is enhanced through new developments. Most Canadian cities require some form of public consultation as a part of the planning process to allow stakeholders an opportunity to participate in shaping their communities. This can often be a negative experience for community members as they are reacting to a development that has already been designed (to some extent).

In contrast to public consultations, charrettes usually occur prior to any site-specific proposal and are designed to bring together businesses, residents, developers, property owners, city departments, and social services to develop a vision for the future of their neighbourhood. As such, charrettes can be highly creative, engaging and a positive part of the planning process.

Successful charrettes require planners to utilize a range of tools and highly collaborative activities such as, but not limited to, neighbourhood walks, group brainstorming, stakeholder interviews, mapping, photography, drawing, building models, and playing games. These activities facilitate communities to make bold and honest recommendations regarding the height of buildings, massing, architecture, historic preservation, zoning, funding models, urban design and the public realm in their neighbourhood.

While some recommendations may be perceived as unrealistic, it’s the planners’ job to review the feedback in comparison to existing zoning bylaws, official plans and other planning documents, determining what is feasible and what is not.The outcome of a charrette is most often the development of planning documents and supportive tools (such as site specific by-laws or zoning changes) that take into account the communities’ vision for future development.

Developers can also benefit from these tools, which provide them with clear guidelines for development prior to substantial design work and public consultations for site-specific developments. This can result in less opposition to their proposals from stakeholders and the city, fewer resubmissions, and a development that embraces the needs of the community as well as their target market. Finally, by going through the charrette process, community stakeholders may feel more confident that future developments will better reflect the aspirations of their changing neighbourhood.By engaging residents, businesses and developers through a comprehensive charrette process, communities across Canada can develop better planning tools that allow their neighbourhoods to retain the qualities that make them unique and livable, while still enjoying the benefits of new development.

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