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Charrette to help design future for city’s core

March 26, 2011

By PAUL SIMS
sdnnews@bellsouth.net

In days gone by, architecture professors would go about in a cart – known in French as a charrette – to gather designs from their students.
The students would climb on to the charrette to make last-second revisions.
Mississippi Main Street Association – a key player in an upcoming event in Starkville – laid out this explanation of a charrette in a statement and likened it to what will take place in the community in the coming days.
The MMSA has conducted about 20 charrettes in the state and with one set for Starkville next week, all of the cities in the Golden Triangle – including Columbus and West Point – will have completed the process, organization officials said in a statement.
Charrettes have “created new business and jobs, stimulated private and public reinvestment, as well as landscape and streetscape development, and helped to ignite newfound pride and enthusiasm in the community,” said MMSA Executive Director Bob Wilson.
The Starkville charrette will take place Tuesday through Friday.
The community will play a role in this process, organizers said.
“The team of professionals that will conduct all the input meetings both private and public (are) very skilled and experienced in building consensus and really trying to get citizens and those involved to think outside the box as well as voice any current ideas or concerns or vision they might have in seeing Starkville move forward,” said Jennifer Gregory, Starkville Main Street manager. “This will be specifically evident in the town hall public input sessions where opinions and ideas that are expressed will most definitely be used to lead the team toward their recommendations for the final vision plan.”
Because part of the effort will involve talking to so many stakeholders and leaders in Starkville, “we we feel like the final vision plan will be one that is well representative of the goals and ideas of a large group of our community,” Gregory said.
Private sessions will include meetings on such areas as tourism, city beautification and business. “The purpose of those meetings being closed is so that a concise group of people can get together with the team and talk details,” she said. “The conversation will hopefully be very productive since these meetings will be for a short time period only.”
Those not invited to the private sessions will have the “opportunity and are encouraged to attend the public input session to voice any concerns or ideas that they might have to the charrette team. They should know that those concerns and ideas will be heard and will be considered,” Gregory said.
She said the community will “get out of the charrette as much as we put into it, so it’s imperative that members of the community participate in the public input session Tuesday and attend the final vision plan session Thursday.”
Both sessions will be at 6 p.m. at the Greensboro Center.
“We hope this process will create consensus throughout the community in a solid vision for growth and moving forward in Starkville,” Gregory said.
The primary geographic focus of the charrette will the community’s central business district, which includes the Cotton District, Central Station, Cotton Crossing, College Park, the traditional downtown area and parts of Highway 182, she said. The area basically runs from Henderson Ward Stewart School on Highway 182 east to Mississippi State University, then from First United Methodist Church on Lampkin Street east down Russell street to MSU, Gregory said.
Special consideration will be given to the rehabilitation and revitalization of Highway 182 because of the $25,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant supporting the effort, she said.
Also included in the charrette scope will be focus on marketing and branding in the city in general as well as design and landscaping.
Michelle Jones, the local Main Street Association’s president, says: “There are so many great organizations that do so many great things in Starkville. The charrette process is just an opportunity for us to create a common vision so we’re all moving toward that vision in our individual projects. That’s why it is so important that we have great public participation because this vision needs to include all the people of Starkville and not just some.”
She says the private sessions “will be more focused,” adding the “process is meant to be transparent so that all people feel like they are involved.”
When the charrette team gives its final presentation, it will include a number of practical things the community can do and will break them down into action steps spaced out over time, Jones said.
“The great thing about the recommendations, it will prevent us from doing things piecemeal,” she said. “It allows us all to be working toward what we all want and it lets us all know what we all want. It’s a very useful tool for us all getting the Starkville that we want.”
Mayor Parker Wiseman said the the big-picture view of the charrette is “to have a general direction or road map to follow that is built from the grassroots up.” Plus, the program should result in “tangible goals that the community at large has a great ownership in,” the mayor said.

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