Small Town Preservation: Hoschton, GA Design Charrette
Last year, students from the College of Environment and Design’s (CED) Landscape Architecture, Historic Preservation, and Urban Planning & Design programs worked together with community members and stakeholders in Hoschton, Georgia, to develop concept plans and ideas to address projected population growth maintaining Hoschton’s historic character.
Hoschton is a small town in Jackson County, Georgia along the I-85 corridor. The city is experiencing unprecedented growth, with its current population of 3,000 expected to reach 10,000 within the next five years. Many people are relocating to the area to take advantage of available jobs and enjoy the beauty and slower pace of rural living, yet these new residents also often expect the convenience of bigger-city amenities. Local officials of Hoschton contacted the Center for Community Design and Preservation (CCDP) at the UGA CED to help gather data, brainstorm strategies, and propose design solutions for a range of development areas.
CCDP conducted a design charrette — a multi-day brainstorming session between design experts and local stakeholders — with a team of CED students and staff who applied their creativity and ingenuity to create ideas and plans that captured Hoschton’s full potential and recognize its inherent charm.
The charrette began with a tour around Hoschton led by Mayor Shannon Sell. Following the tour, the charrette team engaged city staff and elected officials in an interactive mapping exercise. Through this exercise, the locals identified community gathering places, eyesores, congested traffic areas, and potential areas for improvement. These interactions were highly valuable for the charrette team to learn about life in Hoschton and helped influence the design process.
Next, the charrette team divided into groups to explore design challenges and potential solutions. The team identified a variety of design problems to organize their design efforts including easing traffic along the main highway through the development of multi-modal paths for walkers, cyclists, and golf carts; developing a 7-acre historic home site into a public amenity; and enhancing downtown with outdoor dining and pocket parks while maintaining the need for visitor parking.
Hand sketches and digital graphics were used in each phase of the charrette to effectively communicate design solutions for five focus areas: Downtown, History, 7-Acre Lot, Parks, and Connectivity.
CCDP staff developed the initial concepts into a presentation shared via YouTube to receive feedback from the Hoschton community. Community members were invited to give feedback via an online survey to share likes, dislikes, and additional information for students to consider during the second half of the charrette.
“One thing we learned during the COVID-19 Pandemic was that a pivot to virtual engagement had the benefit of reaching a wider segment of the general public,” said CCDP Director and charrette facilitator, Jennifer Lewis. “Citizens that normally would not engage in civic planning events – either because their work and childcare schedules wouldn’t allow, or they did not historically feel welcome to participate in open public meetings – now have the capacity, through their smartphone, to view the charrette ideas and give our students direct feedback.”
Students enjoyed the active participation in the project, with one student remarking, “This was a great hands on and unique experience to understand the important connection of planning and design with community input for successful community development.”
When students were asked for feedback about their charrette participation, many of them had very positive experiences. When asked ‘Do you think the charrette made/will make an impact in the community?’ one individual responded, “Yes, I think they really needed people to invest time and resources into helping them get started on a community change and have someone take the lead on envisioning what a change could look like.”
In addition to the enjoyable experience, students stated that they were able to learn more about the community engagement and design process. Another student praised the way the charrette helped them learn how to balance nostalgia with progress, and another student shared that considering various community perspectives brings challenges but also helps create inclusive and sustainable designs.
Using case studies, feedback from community members, and site observations, the final design recommendations focus on improving transportation alternatives, increasing in-town amenities, preserving green space, and valuing the town’s history. The proposed concepts embrace the historic character of Hoschton while accommodating projected growth and development. The charrette team aimed to provide comprehensive steps in achieving development that preserves the thriving small town’s cultural identity and landscape, all while offering generous returns in economic development, health promotion, and authenticity of the town.
“We will be able to apply what we have learned from Hoschton to help other communities struggling with the challenges of growth in once-rural areas,” said Jennifer Lewis. In fact, she has had calls from two communities recently who are facing the same kind of development pressure, meaning more design charrettes and CED student involvement to come. Students interested in participating in community design charrettes should follow CCDP on social media and look for announcements on student listservs.
More information on CED’s design charrettes is available on the colleges website here: www.ced.uga.edu/pso/charrettes