By: Adam Rego Johnson, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The following blog post is a summary of the research that won the Midwest Political Science Association’s Best Paper by an Undergraduate Student Award (presented at the 2021 MPSA Annual Conference).

The charrette is a participatory design tool for urban planners in which community members and experts deliberate over 4–7 days in design feedback loops, culminating in an actionable design plan. This in-depth proactive collaboration is in stark contrast to the typical public participation process, in which public hearings are often overrun by unrepresentative neighborhood opposition. Aiming towards a consensus between planners and residents, the charrette could be understood as a deliberative democratic forum that should result in greater community satisfaction with both the process and final design. However, while the charrette has had substantial use in the field it has not been the subject of much research that could back up this view. To test how democratic the charrette is, I conduct a content analysis comparing the public hearing comments regarding a charrette and non-charrette development proposal on the same property with similar designs. The proposals’ matching characteristics isolate the effect of the charrette. Results show the charrette proposal saw a greater proportion of approving comments than the non-charrette proposal, especially when comparing speakers who did and did not participate in the charrette. Most comments for both proposals were still in opposition, however, even as the charrette proposal garnered high approval at the charrette itself. This calls into question the quality of the charrette’s deliberation as well as the relationship between the charrette and the public hearing.


Pictured above: Adam Rego Johnson (left) receives the Best Paper by an Undergraduate Student Award (for research presented at the 2021 MPSA Annual Conference) from MPSA President Rick Wilson during the Awards Ceremony at the 2022 MPSA Annual Conference in Chicago.