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Friday, January 6, 2006

Not in your Funk and Wagnall's

The planning bureaucrats of Portland -- who mostly plan cushy retirements for California developers -- have a new buzzword. It's "charrette." This is what used to be called a workshop or meeting. But as they have been taught in Urban Planning 101, the planning jokesters want to make sure to keep opponents of their projects offguard. Using unfamiliar terms is just part of their strategy. "Oh, didn't you get the memo? That's already been decided. You must have missed the meeting. I know, you have a job and a life."

As with any new word, this one becomes clearer if you use it in a sentence. Here you go: "Honey, it's a week into the New Year and we haven't been lied to by a city official yet; we'd better go down to the PDC charrette on moving Saturday Market for the condo tower."

I can't find the etymology of this word anywhere on the internet. It must have something to do with the verb "to char," because heaven knows, Portland's planning weasels sure will burn your posterior if you believe them.

Comments (41)

The term appears firmly rooted in planningspeak. This website provides some entymological insight:


"In the mid-1980's, in a nod to the creative activity of architecture students, community planners adopted the name to describe a process of dynamic, interactive community planning. A charrette assembles an interdisciplinary team -- typically consisting of citizens, elected officials, planners, architects, landscape architects, transportation engineers, parks and recreation planners, developers, business owners and other stakeholders -- to create an implementable plan.

One key to the charrette process is time compression. For four to seven days, participants work together through a series of feedback loops in brainstorming sessions, sketching workshops and other exercises. Meetings take place both day and night, with participants coming together as a group at set times or breaking off into small working groups. Behind the scenes, the core design team works continuously. The entire community, however, does not need to take several days off to participate. Most stakeholders attend scheduled meetings.

* * * *

"'Charrette,' from a French word meaning 'cart,' harks back to 19th century France. At the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, proctors wheeled through school grounds to collect architecture students' final drawings."

Once upon a time we worked to correct Problems,
whereas today we work to address Issues.

Its more warm and fuzzy, don't ya think?

You see, nobody's feelings get hurt.

Didn't they teach you that at the workshop?

Funny that you should mention PSM Jack. Seems that there have been several MIX-UPS with regards to dates, times and places of meetings lately, specifically yesterday!

Does that mean that people in Portland are going to get burned?

Quote - 'Charrette,' from a French word meaning 'cart,' harks back to 19th century France. At the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, proctors wheeled through school grounds to collect architecture students' final drawings."
Or maybe burned in a cart?

Just kidding.....

The best is seeing it in action. I challenge anyone to go on Jan. 19 and disagree with whatever orthodoxy has been decided pre-meeting and enforced by the paid consultants and their bureaucratic puppets. See what happens.

It's really funny how Portland is all about the process-talk, but actually has weaker process than some of our federal and state agencies. At least when you actually get a meeting with the latter two (which I will concede, is less and less often due to rollbacks) your comments become part of an administrative record and have potential legal effect. But at the local level, it's all about the smile and nod and "that's nice, please respect the diversity of the other opinions [defined as everyone the applicant brought in who agrees 100% with them], sir." Of course, we wouldn't have to worry so much about the effect of showing up at every meeting if we could just get the local public-money development mafia (and don't kid yourself, it IS a mafia, organized criminals and dirty money are involved) under control.

Seriously, I dare you to go to the Jan. 19 "charette"...and get the "facilitated" smile and nod treatment from the smug commissars. I guess they expect us to be grateful for their passive-aggressive political intimidation.

Make me puke. Charette. OF COURSE it has a French derivation.

I propose that any city employee who uses the word Charette be immediately bitch slapped.

And if any employee is in the vicinity of another employee who uses the word Charette, and does not immediately bitch slap the offending employee, then that employee too should be bitch slapped.

And all the employees of the planning department should be bitch slapped on a daily basis, just out of basic decency.

That's what I love about your posts, Jack. Badgering about non-issues while, at the same time, managing not to really say...anything.

I'm not sure what you're implying about PSM (since you didn't really say anything) but FYI - PSM can't pay for itself. Why should we let a prime spot of real estate go to waste while PSM will probably do just fine someplace else?

To SidDal-
What do you mean the PSM can't pay for itself? I pay my PSM fees which are used to pay our employees, rents, and other market expenses.

We have been paying rent on the various parking lots, storage, and office facilities that we use for the last 32 years. Any idea to the contrary is BS, and usually motivated by someone who wants to use the space we rent to build something to make themselves a profit while using public funding.

We have over 400 member/vendors at Portland Saturday (Sunday too) Market. All pay Portland business tax. This represents between 400-600 wage earners who often spend money at the other downtown businesses, as well as supporting the Oregon economy.

If Portland Saturday (Sunday too) Market had not been situated in Old Town these last 32 years, the area would not be considered 'prime real estate', but would still be 'Skid Row'. I have seen great changes for the better in the area over the years.

Yes, we could possibly do just as well or perhaps even better in the future if we were to relocate. But should we be forced to just so someone (without a great track record) can use public funding to build yet more condos and create ~40 businesses that might employ 250 people?

managing not to really say...anything.

Let me put it to you in words you can understand: The current brand of Portland "planning" and Portland "urban renewal" are a terrible detriment to this city. They are destroying the entire character of the place. They are soulless. They are out of control.

Got it?

Why should we let a prime spot of real estate go to waste

Another infernal condo tower and a pretentious pinky-in-the-air wine and cheese market are the biggest wastes of that space you could offer.

"Bring out yer dead... Bring out yer dead..."

Put that in your charrette!

Make me puke. Charette. OF COURSE it has a French derivation...And all the employees of the planning department should be bitch slapped on a daily basis, just out of basic decency.

Hmmm...I don't know that "bitch slapping" is a French tradition, or has any French derivation at all. Sounds sort of, uh, Germanic to me...daily beatings of employees to get them to follow a particular party line.

Might I suggest a less totalitarian approach to planning staff who may --just may-- be willing to break from the party orthodoxy, if you give them half a chance?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

1577 HOLINSHED Chron. I. 26/2 And those charetmen by exercise and custome were so cunning.


Thanks for the suggestion, but no, I think bitch slapping is the minimim called for in this situation.

And if there ARE planning staff are willing to break from the party orthodoxy, well, they should be bitch slapped for going along with it for so long.

Honestly, bitch slapping is a very effective disciplinary and management tool and should be used liberally.

I'll be readers here can suggest a long list of public officials, elected and otherwise, who should be publically bitch slapped.

I'll start: Eric Sten.


Why shouldn't PSM occupy a prime piece of real estate? Why does it bother you so much? You said that we would "do just fine somewhere else". So,,,by your admission , we are doing fine. You said earlier that" we can't pay for ourselves". Gee, I'm confused Sid. Could it be that you just don't want US to be there? For some reason we are not worthy enough? We have more to offer the general public and people of Portland than another pinky in the air group of businesses that cater pretty much only to the rich. FYI - we are self sustaining and have been for years!!! We exist for the enjoyment of ALL people, not a select few.

Charette. It seems clear to me that this term shares its roots with the term, "Charade".

"I'll be readers here can suggest a long list of public officials, elected and otherwise, who should be publically bitch slapped.

I'll start: Eric Sten.



- Don Mazziotti
- Zari Santner
- Every commissoner who voted for the acquisition of the Public Storage property in the South Waterfront district.
- Any public figure who signed on to support the aerial tram [rimshot]. Mike Lindberg most of all, as he should have known better.

Well, I looked it up in Oxford English Dictionary, and it refers only to a two-wheeled cart with two shafts, as versus a chariot, which is a four-wheeled vehicle with one shaft.

So... Upon this, I suspect that being invited to a charette means you'll be taken for a ride with double the chance you'll get shafted.

Right on AntiSprockets and Jay. Process is a charade and Mafia is involved; I would venture to say beyond the local level, although it has got to be as bad as it gets in Portland. What is charring me lately is the "creatives'" business plan, focusing on Portland's uniqueness as seen by 20 somethings. Sounds a whole lot like the comeon when I moved here 20 something years ago thinking Portland really WAS a leader in land use planning. A canned recycled mantra. The media need to hear the message: let's get real.

Dufay's comment about our planners; "follow a particular party line", reminds me of the ole days beginning over 30 years ago, where one could go down to planning with an issue and get an answer based on what the zoning code actually says about the issue, and you could even get info on what other zoning, building codes might affect your concerns- NO PARTY LINE! Now when I go down to Metro or Portland, all I get is the "party line". That is not what our architecture and planning schools use to teach us-party lines. But I know that has changed in our schools. But if a planner wants to expouse a "party line" they should do it on their own time, and maybe write a book with their own time and expense and research. I think ( I hope) that Mayor Potter sees this about our governmental bureaus. At least he says he sees some of this.

"Charrette" does mean a cart and can be a slang word for car. (And, yes, "charrette des condamnes" was the tumbrel that led people off to the guillotine). However, in a current colloquial sense, it's related to being a workaholic- "faire charrette" means to hustle to get a project done, letting all else (like a life?) fall by the wayside. Probably from "charrettee"- meaning a "cartload" (as in a cartload of, well you fill in the blank...) I can only cringe at how the people attending these must be pronouncing the word.

The Corps of Engineers has used charettes for some of its larger major construction projects for years. I remember them at least as far back as the early '90s, having participated in a few of them in my Air Force days.

The PDC immitating the Corps...maybe for them that's progress.

Dufay's comment about our planners; "follow a particular party line", reminds me of the ole days beginning over 30 years ago, where one could go down to planning with an issue and get an answer based on what the zoning code actually says about the issue...

Developers, staff, and neighborhoods should be able to rely on the City Code as the "party line." Nowadays, though, I'm afraid that "exceptions", "waivers", and "adjustments" have become the rule, rather than the that everything's a "battle." The mantra becomes "make it happen," as in "how did we lose Columbia Sportswear"...which we shouldn't have, but how far DO we stretch the rules and processes?

Cite City Code and you risk being labeled obstructionist pissant bureaucrat. Run roughshod over the rules, and you're either a "make it happen" dynamo (Think Don Mazziotti? Neil Goldschmidt?)...or a tool of developers/METRO/Council/NIMBY neighbors... or maybe the devil.

(Council recently passed new personnel rules REQUIRING employees to report suspected unethical or illegal behavior. They didn't include a process to do so. To quote Kurt Vonnegut:, "and so it goes."

I was at a neighborhood meeting a couple of days ago where the City rep said we'd HAD our public process on the issue. That the public didn't accept then --or now-- the outcome was no longer relevent...process becomes the end product regardless of outcome. Whatever.


Then perhaps the Corps of Engineers picked up the term while studying the levee system in New Orleans.

Buh-lump-bumb-bumb. (Drummer strikes cymbal).

In Goodoldsville, the outcome has either been pre-determined, or is determined when a favor is called in. God forbid anyone should expect it to be the logical outcome of legal process. Every once in a while, the O will do an editorial lamenting Portland's "obsession" with process. Oh, well: good olds will be good olds.

"Charrette" as some of you know has been used by architectural and planning schools for many decades here in the US,having started in France in the 1800 hundreds. Corp of Engineers were probably not the initial adopters of the "Charrette" process.

Dufays comment about the City passing new personnel rules requiring employees to report suspected unethical behavior; couldn't this apply to the Matt Brown case? The Oregonian reported that some city employees knew that when Matt began his own consulting co. while consulting for Homer Williams and Mark Edelen a few months back (primary developers in North Macadam), he was still working for the City and the PDC on North Macadam issues. Even though Matt is a great guy, isn't this a conflict of interest?

Even though Matt is a great guy

Why do we have to maintain the pretense that "Matt is a great guy" when he commits a fraud against the city? Do you have some expectation of a future favor from him? Stop being so naive and polite.

I guess it's not a crime to be looked down upon when a nice polite respectable white guy and public funds are involved. How pollyanna.

Why do we have to maintain the pretense that "Matt is a great guy"..

Matt assumed my duties of Local Improvement District administrator, when Commissioners Hales and Sten proposed taking those duties out of the Auditor's Office. Then Auditor Barbara Clark opposed the change as turning over too much power to PDOT, as she'd also supported my efforts at reforming the system. Auditor Blackmer, who replaced her, had a different point of view.

I say this as preface to the fact that I got to know Matt, worked with him, and have a pretty mixed set of subjective feelings about the whole thing. What I want to say though, is that its hard to read these things at face value. For all we know, Matt got the boot as the fall guy for the Tram cost over-runs, and is trying to rebuild a career. He always struck me as an honorable guy, to be honest. Bureaucrats do what they're told to do. And in our wacky form of government, when bosses can be left hanging out there, with not much of a safety net.

The City COULD --and should-- help its bureaucrats by providing a meaningful process for raising ethical issues. More importantly, though, we need stronger rules that keep bureaucrats from profiting from the contacts and decisions they make, if and when they move into the private sector.

some city employees knew that when Matt began his own consulting co. while consulting for Homer Williams and Mark Edelen a few months back (primary developers in North Macadam), he was still working for the City and the PDC on North Macadam issues.

I think that's the most serious problem I have with that situation. It's reminiscent of the old Traci Smith moonlighting mess at the PDC. The city needs some rules about that, but I doubt the firemen would be too happy with them.

Antisprocket: Sorry, I met to put "nice guy" with quotation marks, to paraphrase the Oregonian article. He is a nice guy to talk to, but his recent actions will be judged by us now. This is an important topic, and one that was brought to PDC's attention several years ago, and definitely this past year. I question if PDC and the City is getting the ethics message (and others), but with the comments coming in you would think they would.

Frank, I think that we don't really need any more rules, we need enforcement, we need a media that exposes these actions, plus we need city/metro/county employees that respects ethics> In this case, I think Matt, Homer, Mark knew of their ethics dilemma, why would they go out of their way telling Dylan Rivera of the Oregonian that (paraphrased) "oh, Matt won't be working in Portland and North Macadam immediately, we'll be using him in LA and Vegas first". That comment was unsolicited. They were worried about the "ethical issue" and their are state and city statutes that address this. Plus, like I said, where are the other city, PDC employees on this?

So all of you who are getting militant about PSM (silly anti-french comments aside): what do you suggest doing about Old Town? Because if you have not noticed, Old Town is far from "prime real estate" (as claimed above). Old Town is dying. There are empty storefronts throughout. Retailers are leaving. Chinatown is emptying out.

What do you suggest?

I think Matt, Homer, Mark knew of their ethics dilemma

I think they know it doesn't look good...whether it breaks any existing rules is another matter. Anyway, Matt was promoted into his position by then PDOT head Vic Rhodes...who's ALSO working on the tram now that he's retired from the City. And so it goes.

Back when I had my own issues with Homer, and what the City was doing for him with the streetcar, I also had to look around...every sitting Council member at the time had taken campaign contributions from him. Who do you go to, as a bureaucrat? Where's the protection for whistle-blowing?

Oh sure, there's always the Oregonian...

Chinatown, and the Asian community has clearly moved east to 82nd, and west to Beaverton. Left behind, I suspect, will be a symbolic, Disneyfied, shell of what once was. So too will be the fate of PSM, it's lookling like: So all of you who are getting militant about PSM (silly anti-french comments aside): what do you suggest doing?

I think we need to support the market folks, however it plays out, and however they direct, in a new home or standing their ground.

From what I can gather from this morning's O article on the Measure 37 case going to the Supreme Court, it looks like the American Planning Association is Friend of the Court against, citing that Oregon is a national planning model,and so on ad nasuem. If the APA could see what it looks like on the ground: a circle drawn around an urban area in which every land scam and revolving door in Oregon history still operates, I think it would be ashamed of itself. National organizations can easily loose credibility when they start endorsing action without really investigating the facts.

IT seems to me that bureaucrats, reporters,law assoicates etc. all do what they're told to do. Even when they have serious questions as professionals. And that, I think, is one of the most important parts of what is wrong with this country: people won't take personal responsibility when they can "go with the flow" and get paid. My sister saw the recent film about the Enron scandal which she says emphasizes this attitude as a key problem. Whistleblowing wouldn't be so difficult if everyone felt a sense of social responsibility.

Well said Cynthia.

What the APA fails to grasp is the widespread failure our "model" represents.

The traffic congestion crisis,
developable land shortage crisis,
affordable housing crisis,
crumbling infrastructure (such as sewers) crisis, lack of jails crisis,
lack of industry and jobs expansion crisis
Growing Urban Renewal skimming of basic services dollars crisis,
And many long term commitments on costly boondoggles are all a product of our "model".

Cynthia: I read one of the M37 briefs concerning APA's response. It is sad when an organization, local or national takes on a position without full knowledge of the issues, or taking the time to represent it's membership fairly. A local example is when the American Institute of Architects (Portland) testified orally and in writing about North Macadam in hearings a few years ago. I went to the Urban Design Committee meeting after they first testified, representing our CTLH neighborhood that includes NM. First, AIA had never contacted CTLH on our concerns. Secondly, their committee had never approached its larger membership on the NM issues. When I went to the " U D committee meeting" only one person represented the committee. Another member came later. I reviewed CTLH's concerns w/ NM, the concern with AIA taking positions while "representing" 500 members without any feedback from their membership, etc. No response. The one committee member continued writing AIA's opinions and giving oral testimony.
Mayor Katz and council ate it up and justified councils actions that architects and planners endorsed the Plan. Just politics.

Lee, do you know whether M37 briefs are accessible online?

I wish we would just quit trying to play on the national stage (Yesterday the O editorialized about how the "big look" at land use planning could be a national demonstration project). We're like a kid playing dress up instead of doing her homework. It's ironic because defining problems/assessing present conditions is the first step in a rational comprehensive planning process. And, as far as I can tell, we've kind of avoided it.
I also wish the O would stop taking sides in pending cases; in his book on his ORegon murder trial, Gerry Spence was incredulous that the O did that. But that's the O for you. As for Judge MM James' "brilliant" opinion tossing M37, I believe she was used by insiders to produce that. I knew I had heard her name before; she was the lawyer who ran Judge Ed Fadeley off the Oregon Supreme court on harassment charges so questionable that the victim left the country-my guess is to avoid pressure to prosecute. She is so naive and ambitious that she is available to be used by the good olds to promote the agenda of the day. A judgeship is the reward. There are others on the bench like that; it seems to be the way it works. Regarding land use planning-some of the anti M37 forces are profoundly naive as well, not seeing that if crafting laws within Constitutional paramaters had been a priority, we might not be so divided as a people. The cool groovy in crowd around here is blind to its own contribution to our problems, imho, blaming a vast right wing contrarian conspiracy or some such thing. It's funny because a lot of people who get so labelled are thinking Democrats.

"It's funny because a lot of people who get so labelled are thinking Democrats."

As Lee is.

Cynthia and others: Yes, you can read M37 briefs on line. I got the download from Oppenheimer @ the O who forwarded the e-mail

Try oia, if you don't succeed, let me know. And thanks for your supporting posts



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Christopher Buckley - Boomsday
Ryan Holiday - The Obstacle is the Way
Ruth Sepetys - Between Shades of Gray
Richard Adams - Watership Down
Claire Vaye Watkins - Gold Fame Citrus
Markus Zusak - I am the Messenger
Anthony Doerr - All the Light We Cannot See
James Joyce - Dubliners
Cheryl Strayed - Torch
William Golding - Lord of the Flies
Saul Bellow - Mister Sammler's Planet
Phil Stanford - White House Call Girl
John Kaplan & Jon R. Waltz - The Trial of Jack Ruby
Kent Haruf - Eventide
David Halberstam - Summer of '49
Norman Mailer - The Naked and the Dead
Maria Dermoȗt - The Ten Thousand Things
William Faulkner - As I Lay Dying
Markus Zusak - The Book Thief
Christopher Buckley - Thank You for Smoking
William Shakespeare - Othello
Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything
Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things
Sara Varon - Bake Sale
Stephen King - 11/22/63
Paul Goldstein - Errors and Omissions
Mark Twain - A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Steve Martin - Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life
Beverly Cleary - A Girl from Yamhill, a Memoir
Kent Haruf - Plainsong
Hope Larson - A Wrinkle in Time, the Graphic Novel
Rudyard Kipling - Kim
Peter Ames Carlin - Bruce
Fran Cannon Slayton - When the Whistle Blows
Neil Young - Waging Heavy Peace
Mark Bego - Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (2012 ed.)
Jenny Lawson - Let's Pretend This Never Happened
J.D. Salinger - Franny and Zooey
Charles Dickens - A Christmas Carol
Timothy Egan - The Big Burn
Deborah Eisenberg - Transactions in a Foreign Currency
Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Slaughterhouse Five
Kathryn Lance - Pandora's Genes
Cheryl Strayed - Wild
Fyodor Dostoyevsky - The Brothers Karamazov
Jack London - The House of Pride, and Other Tales of Hawaii
Jack Walker - The Extraordinary Rendition of Vincent Dellamaria
Colum McCann - Let the Great World Spin
Niccolò Machiavelli - The Prince
Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird
Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus - The Nanny Diaries
Brian Selznick - The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sharon Creech - Walk Two Moons
Keith Richards - Life
F. Sionil Jose - Dusk
Natalie Babbitt - Tuck Everlasting
Justin Halpern - S#*t My Dad Says
Mark Herrmann - The Curmudgeon's Guide to Practicing Law
Barry Glassner - The Gospel of Food
Phil Stanford - The Peyton-Allan Files
Jesse Katz - The Opposite Field
Evelyn Waugh - Brideshead Revisited
J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
David Sedaris - Holidays on Ice
Donald Miller - A Million Miles in a Thousand Years
Mitch Albom - Have a Little Faith
C.S. Lewis - The Magician's Nephew
F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 113
At this date last year: 155
Total run in 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269

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