Barney Circle and Hill East Charrette, Washington, D.C.

The American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) sponsored its fourth annual Community Assistance Program community planning charrette in a National Planning Conference host city.

On Saturday morning, the charrette team traveled to a Washington, D.C., neighborhood east of Capitol Hill on lower Pennsylvania Avenue near the Potomac Avenue Metro Station. They worked in the Watkins Elementary School located in the heart of the neighborhood.

The team was charged with assisting the community in developing goals and recommendations for revitalization. In bringing together more than 35 planners from across the U.S. and Canada, the community was able to draw on a range of skills and experiences to tackle some of the redevelopment challenges that they are currently facing. Central to the community's redevelopment issues are place-making and connectivity, economic development and housing.

The Barney Circle and Hill East neighborhood have assets that will assist their redevelopment efforts, including a Metro station, infill opportunities, increased housing demand, and neighborhood character. Despite these assets, however, the community has not achieved its vision for livability. In an effort to build a healthier, more vibrant community, the residents want retail and other economic development opportunities, a pedestrian-friendly environment that is connected with other destinations, more housing choices, and increased safety.

The charrette kicked off with an overview of the neighborhood within the planning context. Following the overview, the team was split into break out groups to begin "charretting." The three breakout groups included: place-making, housing, and economic development. After preliminarily discussing the specific issues, each group went on a walking tour of the neighborhood. Each tour was led by residents of the Barney Circle and East Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Upon completion of the tours, the teams returned to "charretting."

During the breakout discussions, individual groups talked about some of the following issues. The economic development group discussed the reality and challenges associated with creating the following types of retail in the neighborhood: "Trader Joe" type of store, a sit-down restaurant, and a coffee shop. While the team working on housing focused on goals related to maintaining housing affordability and updating low-income environments, the place-making team talked about bicycle access on Pennsylvania Avenue and a neighborhood destination at the Metro station.

During the afternoon, the groups came together briefly to discuss overlap and implementation of their various ideas. Following this discussion, the planners and residents rejoined their breakout groups to continue developing goals to help the community achieve their vision for livability.

At the end of the day, two groups compiled their work and made a presentation to community members. Results from the charrette, including a report and drawings, will be given back to the community to use as they begin working on redevelopment and a new plan for the community.

Providing a forum for neighborhood representatives to voice their concerns and make suggestions was recognized as the first step to a successful planning and redevelopment process. Not only were the residents pleased with the event's results, but the planners found charrette rewarding, too. One of the charrette team members, Don Downing, AICP, said that the charrette was a great experience, as it brought together planners from across the country with local residents to work on important, pressing issues.

The conference charrettes were developed to give planners the opportunity to engage in pro bono planning by contributing their time and effort to communities that are facing planning challenges. The charrette is also an opportunity for planners to leave a legacy for the local host city.

At last year's charrette in Denver, planners helped the Denver Children's Hospital evaluate different redevelopment plans for 20-acre site. The first community planning charrette was held in the conference hotel at the 2001 conference in New Orleans.

Acting on the AICP Code of Ethics, which states that planners "...must strive to contribute time and effort to groups lacking in adequate planning resources" and "to contribute time and to voluntary professional activities, AICP is planning to continue sponsoring community planning activities at future APA conferences.


Final report from the charrette