NCI expands use of charrettes in applied research to fight crime

On Feb. 21-23, 2019, the National Charrette Institute partnered with the City of Lansing, the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction and MSU Extension on a mini-charrette to fight crime.

Image of residents, representatives from neighborhood organizations, City staff, and the NCI design team talking through potential design solutions in the neighborhood during the charrette.
Residents, representatives from neighborhood organizations, City staff, and the NCI design team talk through potential design solutions in the neighborhood during the charrette.

One of the great things about the MSU National Charrette Institute being housed in a university setting is the opportunity to expand how charrettes are used like fighting crime.

On Feb. 21-23, 2019, the institute partnered with the City of Lansing, the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction and MSU Extension on a mini-charrette to do just that.

The Designing Safe Neighborhoods project brought together residents, stakeholders and decision makers over the course of three days to learn about and co-create crime prevention and placemaking strategies for the Pleasant View neighborhood in Southwest Lansing, MI.

Working with the Lansing Police Department for the past few years, Linda Nubani, assistant professor of interior design at the School of Planning, Design and Construction, and an expert in Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED), discovered that although the area has a strong police presence, crime continues to rise.

“If over-policing an area isn’t making a dent in the crime data, something else is going on in this neighborhood,” said Nubani.

“While I suspected that Crime Prevention through Environmental Design could help, I didn’t want to go into the neighborhood and just start designing. I wanted to hear from the residents, the experts of their neighborhood, to discover what can and can’t work. So, I turned to the institute for help with an engagement process.”

Funded with seed money from another MSU group, called the Urban Collaborators, the institute designed a 2.5-day charrette with three feedback loops: A kick-off meeting, stakeholder meetings, an open house and a final meeting.

“We camped out in the neighborhood for three days in a former school and it was the perfect setting,” Holly Madill, director of NCI reflects.

The institute partnered with Linda Nubani; Harmony Gmazel, an MSU Extension Educator with expertise in facilitation and land use; and a design team of graduate students and alumni from SPDC’s Landscape Architecture, Interior Design and Urban & Regional Planning programs, and the MSU School of Criminal Justice.

“The pace was dizzying, of course, but the neighbors were so excited that we were there and the design team did an amazing job, cranking out eight designs in total: an overall plan, a circulation plan, a trail cross section, a park design, adaptive reuse of a vacant school, an intersection with commercial buildings, a redesign of a strip plaza, and a residential streetscape project – all with CPTED and placemaking principles in mind,” said Madill.

At the kick-off meeting, residents participated in a visual preference survey of key CPTED principles like surveillance, access, territoriality and quality environment before designing placemaking features and circulation for the neighborhood.

They also had an opportunity to double check the crime data against their own perspectives of where crime occurs in their neighborhoods.

“We learned that it was really important to validate (or not) the crime research that we had done. One important finding from this process was that residents don’t necessarily correlate the crime ‘hotspots’ from the data with places that they feel as unsafe. We learned that validating data driven research with residents is very important, to them and to us,” said Madill.

The City of Lansing was also really interested in the project, because they regularly experience, as many communities do, the tension between code enforcement/policing and economic development.

“Marrying CPTED and placemaking principles in this way made a lot of sense for us. Its two sides of the same coin. Adding public participation into it made it really meaningful for residents and gave us some great insights and next steps to work towards in this neighborhood,” said Andi Crawford, director of the Department of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement for the City of Lansing.

Talk about “wins” all around. For NCI, this was a great opportunity to partner with SPDC, MSU Extension, Lansing, and residents to test the charrette process not only in the context of applied research, but also around a new topic (crime prevention+placemaking). And it turns out that it works beautifully for both.

It was an excellent service-learning experience for students who had never participated in anything like a charrette, nor have had the opportunity to design on site for stakeholders.

The City received high-quality designs and a vision for the neighborhood to work towards, as well as bonus points with residents for a great engagement process. And residents had the opportunity to voice opinions, see their ideas take shape before their eyes, and were energized with the possibilities.

The next step is applying for grants for implementing some of the ideas unearthed through the charrette; and replicating the process in other neighborhoods and communities.

Learn more about charrettes at NCI Charrette System.

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