Charette. Maybe it’s because Torontoist is a wonk on so many levels but he’s been running into this obscure French word a lot lately. A charette, for those of you not in the know, is a fancy term for a brainstorming exercise mostly used by architects and designers to come up with ideas and solutions to problems. The practice apparently originated at L’ecole Beaux Arts in Paris where harried art students, toasted out of their minds on absinthe and the Bohemian atmosphere of fin de siecle Paris, were given design assignments and asked to complete them within a set time. The answers were then taken on a cart (or a charette) to their instructors.
Active18, the citizen’s group trying to defend Queen St. West from development insensitive to community needs is holding one this weekend, sunday 10am-4pm at the Gladstone Hotel. The exercise is being facilitated by former Torontonian Ken Greenberg, who’s currently got his hands full in Boston as its interim planner.
But charettes aren’t just limited to architects and planners. What if political parties got into the act and used charettes as a way to develop policy? Gregory Morrow over at Democraticspace.com considers the charette question. Morrow argues that the NDP finds itself in a paradox:
A party whose origins are clearly tied to a populist and grassroots social movement has come to mimick the organizational structure of Canada’s two major parties — a centralized, bureaucratic and hierarchical structure that is viewed as the most effective means of organizing political action.
He then goes on in great detail as to why a charette process might be a way for the party to come up with effective policy, reinvigorate the grassroots and not slip into irrelevancy. It’s an approach that Torontoist thinks parties other than the NDP could also learn from.