Special Reports

'Charrette' is next step for downtown Wichita development planning

Fireworks explode over downtown Wichita to conclude the 2009 Wichita River Festival.
Fireworks explode over downtown Wichita to conclude the 2009 Wichita River Festival. The Wichita Eagle

A charrette is coming to town.

No, that's not a dessert. Just a fancy way of describing the next step in Wichita's development of its revitalization master plan for downtown.

Specifically, a workshop and information-gathering session will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

For those of you who really want to know, the word "charrette" comes from French for "cart" or "chariot."

Seems as though 19th-century architectural students in Paris would work furiously on design presentations to the point of refining details at the last minute while they rode in the wagons — charrettes — that hauled their projects to their professors.

A century or two later and you have urban planners considering a charrette to be an "intense period of design activity."

It's hard to say how intense Saturday's workshop will be, but the consultants hired by the city to direct the revitalization plan hope it will be productive.

Wichitans with a variety of backgrounds — business owners, homeowners, those who live downtown and those who don't — are invited to take part.

"We're asking them to jointly frame a vision for us," said David Dixon, the project director for the Boston-based consulting firm Goody Clancy.

He said he always does a charrette about a third of the way through a project so those who participate will be as informed as possible.

Last month, more than 300 people attended a session when consultants presented findings about Wichita's downtown needs for housing, hotels, office space and retail.

Saturday, after the consultants present a review of their findings, those attending will be split up into five groups with each group discussing a different topic:

* New transportation and how it can attract development

* Strategies for attracting private investment

* Urban design for downtown, such as plazas and parks

* How to keep downtown clean, safer and greener

* Downtown's natural strengths for attracting people, such as restaurants, shopping and entertainment

Those groups will then take about 10 minutes each to tell the whole group about their ideas.

Later, participants will be split into about eight groups, which will begin applying the information. They'll be given color-coded blocks so they can put together their ideas of an attractive and functional downtown.

"People will be able to indicate where they're thinking of renovating existing buildings, where their focus of walkability will be, where should parks and plazas be and so on," Dixon said.

So a group doesn't go off in a pie-in-the-sky direction, Dixon said groups will only be given enough blocks for what the market will support.

Consultants will also ask questions as they wander through the groups.

"We won't push people into visions that aren't theirs," Dixon said, "but we will ask questions to make sure they're really making judgments that are useful for Wichita. It's about making choices."

Dixon said the consultants will gather the groups' ideas, study them and report back in 30 to 45 days.

Goody Clancy won't return with a final plan — that's still months away.

But the charrette will end the information-gathering phase of the work, Dixon said. Since beginning its work for the city last fall, Goody Clancy has also conducted more than 200 interviews with Wichitans.

"People will still be able to respond," Dixon said. "But from there, we'll have a dialogue about very specific ideas.

"It'll be about turning that vision into a plan for the next 10 years."

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If you goDowntown Wichita Charrette

What: Downtown Wichita Charrette is an urban design process that is part of master planning for downtown Wichita.

Where: Wichita Art Museum, 1400 W. Museum Blvd.

When: Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Open house from 4 to 5 p.m.

How much: Free

For more information, go to www.downtownwichita.org or call 316-264-6005.