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Australian Rural Planning
A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 31, June 1997
Small Town Charrette Workshop
The issue of providing a vision for the future for small country towns is a vexed one. With a number of them facing declining population and closure of major employment generating industries, there is a need for them to look to the future in a positive way. Of course this is easier said than done.
One way that is being used is to conduct a Charrette - a short intensive design and planning workshop. In a weekend of visiting the town in question the Charette team can generate ideas and drawings that give a vision of the possible future for the town. These have been successfully conducted in the USA for a number of years. One of the leading exponents are Dr Jim Segedy and Brad Johnson of the Community Partnership based in Muncie Indiana. Dr Segedy is based at Ball State University and uses the Charrette process as part of the University Curriculum.
One important feature of the Charrette process is the use of good quality graphics to present the various designs and policy advice. It is therefore important to have team members who can draw quick and accurate designs and landscapes.
In September 1996, a Charrette was held at Rochester in Victoria which was run by Dr Segedy and Mr Johnson. In May of this year they came back with students from the Planning, Landscape Architecture, and Architecture Schools of Ball State University. They have conducted four Charrettes - one each in NSW, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia. They were brought out by Trevor Budge of TBA Planners from Bendigo, Victoria.
One of the Charrettes was held in Gunnedah in North Western NSW. It was part of the Council's Corporate Planning Review. The Charrette is more that just the weekend workshop. There is a good deal of work that occurs prior to the weekend. This includes the formation of a Steering Committee to ensure that there is support for the Charrette by a wide cross section of the community including the Council (elected representatives and staff), Chamber of Commerce, residents and so on. The Steering Committee coordinated the Charrette, worked out the preliminary list of issues and established the work and meeting schedule. The steering Committee was also responsible for publicising the Charrette and giving the people the most opportunity to attend. The Steering Committee was coordinated by Council's Manager of Planning and Development, Michael Silver.
There was also a lot of work done by the team before they arrived at Gunnedah. They had to familiarise themselves with the local issues. This was done by reading the various reports and viewing maps of the town that have been prepared by and for the Council.
The Charrette started with a meeting between the Charrette Team (Dr Segedy, Brad Johnson the Students as well as Trevor Budge and myself) and the Steering Committee on the Friday evening. The purpose of this was to appraise the team of the local issues and to give an overview of the town and its economy. This was done by the Council's Planning and Development Manager, Michael Silver.
The Charrette started on the Saturday morning with a tour of the town led by the Council officers. This allowed the team to gain an appreciation of the town and the areas to be looked at by the Charrette. It included the town entrances, industrial areas, the local lookout and main street.
The Team then returned to the building used as the base for the Charrette and did a brainstorm of the issues that were perceived from the inspection and the meeting with the steering committee on the Friday night. The team then broke into groups to interview the local residents and business people as well as those who would work on the various projects to be identified.
The technique utilised to interview the community was to sit at tables with one or two team members and the community members are asked to write down their Liabilities, Assets, Needs and Dreams (LAND). This is a variation on the often used SWOT Analysis. The objective is to take the community through a structured process to identify the issues that need to be addressed.
The morning ends with a meeting of the team to review the issues and identify any others that came out of the interviews and to allocate the projects to the groups. The rest of the day was devoted to working out some possible solutions to the issues. There was always a member of the Council Staff on hand to answer specific questions and to call in others if it was needed.
It is not surprising that the issues identified included the town entrances, urban design issues in the main street and economic, tourism and industrial revitalisation as well as environmental improvement. It is important to have some solutions that can be implemented quickly and inexpensively as well as some projects that can be larger and long term.
The next day (Sunday) started early with the team finalising the projects and drawings. Each group made a presentation of the designs and project concepts to a select group of the steering committee to ensure that the solutions were acceptable.
Then it was time to finalise the drawings and projects for the presentation later in the day. This was the culmination of the workshop and was attended by approximately 40 to 50 people. Its purpose was to share with the community what they shared with the team. The presentation was focussed on the graphic representation of the concepts as well as design solutions to the town entrances and main street.
The Small Town Charrette Workshop was beneficial to help to find a solution for the future of Gunnedah. More importantly, it was done by the community telling the Charrette team what the problems are with the town and how they believe it can be improved. The experience of the team and their ability to look at the issues from an objective "outsiders" viewpoint allowed for quick design solutions to be made to what seems to the towns people as a complex and complicated issue.
The last part of the Charrette is now to be completed - the report on the process and its outcomes.
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