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  Benicia Charrette No Charade
Anthony Corso | Stratford Court

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First Street in Benicia.
Photo www.visitbenicia.org


“Action without Vision is a Nightmare.” Japanese Proverb

An article in the April 2009 Sandpiper gave cause for hope. It proclaims…”The Charrette is coming.” It goes on to report that the recently initiated Form Based Code Program was to engage in, “a process of intense and possibly multi-day meetings to encourage a high level of community involvement--one encouraging a multiplicity of ideas for revitalizing downtown.” In addition, architectural design students would assist in formulating the charret meetings, as well as collecting and analyzing previous studies. Their work, assisted by professionals, was to culminate in the design of a series of “opportunity maps”-graphically portraying Del Mar’s characteristics and strengths. This rush of participation and activity would convene public officials, property owners, community residents and students; it would be directed towards the formulation a Vision of a Revitalized Downtown Del Mar.

For whatever reason, this grand scheme of involvement, discussion and “visioning” did not occur. The situation is unfortunate since “visioning” is thought to be a critical step in creating a Form Based Code. As recently noted by authorities on the subject, “There must be a desired outcome (a vision) in order to create a code that prescribes it.” In simple terms, it’s like setting upon a journey without a road map- or to quote the above Japanese Proverb “action without vision is a nightmare.”

The revitalization of Downtown Del Mar will prove to be a complex and difficult task-- one requiring the involvement and resources offered by numerous people and organizations. Therefore, the challenge is to engage concerned individuals in an open exchange of information and ideas—a process of collaborative problem solving, one which hopefully dampens conflict and confrontation and leads to the generation of an adopted, creative vision.

Difficult? Yes, but there are other California cities that are leading the way. Benicia, a similar size city in Northern California, championed public participation as central to its development of a Vision Statement and Form Based Code. Numerous interviews, discussion group sessions, and charret design workshops were held, over a period of months, generating community cooperation and widespread participation. A Visioning Workshop held in August 2006 reportedly produced many commonalities in perception and understanding among participants and provided a soundly endorsed future vision for Benicia. This in turn generated numerous implementation strategies including the development of a precise plan in critical areas, the application of a Form Based Code, programs of historic preservation, obtaining grants from governmental and non-governmental organizations and an expanded capital improvement program.
Their Vision continues to unfold!


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