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Hundreds of residents of Brunswick, Maine participated in a four-day charrette designed to lay the groundwork for the community’s new comprehensive plan. Three of the key players in this event describe just what happened.
The strategy was to kick off the charrette with a free “town supper.” This unique approach became fun; each day the volunteers seemed to think up another creative twist to the publicity campaign. Flyers were printed in the form of invitations and sent to over 500 people. The invitations touted the main course “Brunswick Stew” and teased with the promise of a “peep show” where the audience could “rank the Brunswick beauties.” …
The charrette was planned to take place over several days during the day and into the evening to accommodate a diverse range of schedules. Office employees could only come in the evening, farmers came in the afternoon. A class of high school students spent one whole day with us. The core team kept going so that people could participate whenever convenient.
People enjoyed their participation and talked up the day’s events; new people came the next day.
The drawn-out schedule proved to be an advantage because we were able to generate curiosity about the event and to capitalize on the momentum. People enjoyed their participation and talked up the day’s events; new people came the next day. Supplementing the word of mouth network, we had excellent newspaper coverage. The Portland Press Herald decided to cover the event daily, and the Brunswick paper followed suit. Local coverage began in earnest with front page photos of vocational students preparing ten gallon pots of Brunswick Stew.
The charrette began at 6:00 pm on Wednesday, September 19. Over 300 people attended the dinner and “peep show.” Both newspaper and television covered the event. One reporter actually escorted the oldest living resident to the dinner so she could write a story from her perspective.
As slides were shown the audience laughed at pictures of cows drinking from bathtubs in the pasture and booed at images of strip development. Neighbors recognized each other in slides of gatherings on the town mall. The talk started. “Which one did you like best?” asked one resident to another. “Which one was worst?” People thought the show was “interesting,” “fun,” “a good evening out,” and the stew “the best I’ve ever had — and free!” I left the meeting hall feeling we had succeeded even if no one showed up for the next three days.
After the “peep” show, Joel and I (along with Richard Remsen who had worked on a traditionally planned village for Rockport, Maine) gave short illustrated talks comparing village scale development and rural scenes with contemporary car-sensitive planning. In these brief presentations we were able to set the stage for treating a new plan as a positive opportunity by showing examples of how well written codes and guidelines could produce or protect the types of environments most people admired. …
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