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In February 2003, something remarkable happened in Historic St. Charles that created energy and goodwill among people who participated in planning the New Town at St. Charles. The initial design workshop (charrette) for the New Town took place February 19th through the 26th, and throughout the unprecedented week-long series of meetings, neighbors and citizens of St. Charles offered their advice and encouragement to the talented town planning team from Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Company (DPZ). City officials, engineers and folks from Whittaker Homes met to discuss the issues and opportunities that this project provided to make a unique and memorable place to live and work.
The week long charrette began with Andres Duany discussing town planning with a crowd of over four hundred people. The crowd was enthusiastic about the traditional neighborhood planning ideas presented, and there were many spontaneous bursts of lighthearted laughter as Andres compared life in a smaller, classic American town to life in a modern suburb. There seemed to be great support for creating a walkable community, where people can gather together in well-defined community spaces to throw a football, or walk their dog. In all, it was a great kick-off to a creative and rewarding week.
In the days that followed, many of the people from the opening meeting stopped by our charrette space to attend meetings on topics ranging from transportation to storm water management and to discuss their specific concerns and desires with the team. Meetings with the City of St. Charles Planning and Zoning Department, Fire Department, Public Works Department, utility companies, neighbors and friends all added significantly to the design team’s understanding of important site development issues. More than seventy five acres of lakes were needed to contain storm water runoff.
By imposing a structure based on the distance covered in a five minute walk, five neighborhood centers were formed from the site’s four quadrants and center. The team saw the potential of the lakes, and their encyclopedic knowledge of design references opened a world of design possibilities. Andres Duany suggested that every residential street could end with water views and that all commercial centers be placed near a lake or canal, and with that, the designers were off.
The design team was eager to explore different ways that homes and parks can be built near the water. With the lakes pushed out to each quadrant of the site, the center was beginning to be seen as an island with the town center and highest densities centered on the site. The team’s renderer, James Wassell began to sketch the forms the island and surrounding lakes could take, with a very enigmatic circular island catching many people’s imaginations. James also began sketching many of the public spaces and waterfront developments discussed during the design process, providing form to more abstract town planning concepts like the rural to urban transect zones.
By noon Saturday, four distinct town plans had emerged and the first public pin-up & review was held. The design team took turns presenting their ideas to a packed room of interested people. Andres suggested that every good idea presented would find its way into each of the four town plans, and after another night of work, that’s just what happened. Sunday proved to be the day of decision, when one plan would be chosen and the entire team would focus their energies. A vote was held, and surprisingly, one plan was the clear front-runner. The race to complete the presentation drawings was on.
The next few days were a blur of activity as the team worked to complete the initial presentation drawings needed for the final meeting Wednesday evening. The sense of anticipation grew as the number of hours till the deadline decreased until finally, it was showtime.
Andres began the presentation by noting that the project presented an exciting opportunity to clearly demonstrate the rural to urban transect zones, the hallmark of Duany, Plater-Zyberk & Company’s town planning work. Simple black and white plan drawings illustrated the road network, open spaces and lakes evenly distributed throughout the project. Every home would be close to a park or open space, creating a network of walking destinations and centers that differentiated the many small districts within the project. A series of watercolor renderings and street cross sections showed many of the waterfront conditions. In the end, many people came away with enthusiasm for the planning process and the project itself.
In the weeks after the charrette, Whittaker Homes and the DPZ design team have continued to work hard to refine the ideas presented in the final meeting and to begin to detail the homes, lots, lakes and open spaces. Many details have changed, but the concepts developed by everyone who participated during that week in February have remained unchanged. Many people from the community have contacted to us to express interest in moving their businesses, professional offices and homes to the New Town. Clearly there is a great interest in creating a place that offers an alternate to the modern suburban environment. Thanks to everyone that helped make that week in February unforgettable and helped create the New Town at St. Charles.