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Interactive Community Planning:
Urban Community Assistance Team (R/UDAT)

The Urban Community Assistance Team is the name we give to the R/UDAT (Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team) family of tools. The key feature is an invited interdisciplinary team of professionals who address problems at various scales, ranging from city and regional issues down to neighborhoods. The Team together with local supporters then prepares recommendations and development schemes. The Urban Community Assistance Team (or UCAT) is touted as an urban management technique where all interest groups are invited to participate.

We have coined UCAT as the preferred name since it better expresses the spirit of the approach and avoids confusion with Otto Koenigsberger’s use of the term. The title encompasses its urban focus, its notion of providing professional assistance, and its use of group or team work. Since 1992 in England this approach has been labeled by some as ‘Action Planning’ and promoted by various groups including the Prince of Wales Institute of Architecture, although there the term ‘Task Force’ has also been used. In its 1-day form it is sometimes called a ‘charrette’ drawing on the intensity of the event and its design origins at the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Other labels abound and there is little consistency in use. Terms include Design Assistance Team, Community/Urban Design Assistance Team, Design Day, Future Workshops, Planning Weekend, and Urban Design Action Team, among others. (Beaudoux 1994)

The UCAT originates from the R/UDAT– Regional/Urban Design Assistance Team – events pioneered by the American Institute of Architects since 1967. Hence its ‘design’ orientation and its prevalent use by architects and physical planners. Since 1967 over 110 events have been carried out by the AIA in the US, and it has been eagerly adopted in England where dozens of events have been held. Recent uses have been in Eastern Europe and the approach is spreading in popularity. Because of its professional origins, firms can easily adopt UCAT as a part of their services. UCAT is a voluntary activity, but is being considered as part of the statutory planning process in England. Its application in developing countries has been limited. It is included here because the approach itself incorporates useful techniques which are potentially of use in developing countries.

The planning event is generally carried out over a planning weekend, or over a several week period – labeled as a Task Force. A 4 to 5 day period is typical.

The process incorporates four phases. (Wates 1996)

  • The initial ‘getting started’ phase, which can take up to 3 months. Here a steering committed is formed which solicits interest from local groups and prepares a budget and starts fund-raising activities
  • The ‘preparation’ phase, which is approximately 6 months, but varies from event to event. Here momentum and enthusiasm for the event is builtup, team members are identified, extensive information is gathered and the broad picture of problems is identified. The professional team typically includes between eight to twelve people.
  • The ‘event’ itself, which is recommended to be over a weekend, usually 4-5 days total.
  • The ‘follow-up’ phase, which includes the ongoing activities stemming from the event.

The event itself has four main stages

  • The ‘Problems or Issues’ stage, where key problems and opportunities are identified.
  • The ‘Solutions or Options’ stage, where options are brainstormed .
  • The ‘Synthesis’ stage, where teams analyze and determine strategy, and where a report is prepared.
  • The ‘Production’ stage, where the recommendations are presented to the community at a public meeting. This stage is seen as particularly important since it gives an opportunity for the outside and professional team to explain in detail their suggestions.

Not much information on the actual conduct of the workshops is noted in the various handbooks which makes the process more difficult to appropriate by the untrained. Workshops settings are suggested, and small group work teams are encouraged. The techniques consist of general guidelines, for example, use flip-charts and markers to document ideas, making sure everyone’s ideas are included, and so on. The domination of the process by professionals assumes, perhaps, that technique is less important to outline, although too often professionals are exactly the ones lacking in skills when working with community groups.

Materials needed are modest in smaller sessions and consist of flip charts, markers, pins, tape and so forth. In larger events the list runs to almost 60 items and includes computers, and overhead projectors. For the larger events space becomes an issue and relatively sophisticated facilities are recommended. This is indicative of the First World context of the approach but it is presumed that more modest settings would not compromise the approach.

Outcomes are targeted at three levels: an immediate set of proposals for action, a short-term agenda for the local steering committee to continue, and a long-term program of activities. Proposals tend to emphasize physical planning, oriented around development plans, with less emphasis on social, economic and institutional recommendations. This is not surprising considering the architectural origins of the approach. But it also recognizes the importance of a physical frame around which to focus actions, similar to the ‘Planning for Real’ approach. Others indicate that the most viable outcomes of UCAT are its coalition building functions and the development of cooperation among the various interest groups. (Lampkin 1981) In all cases the published report is a key output and much effort is directed toward this end. Print runs of up to 1 000 in multi-color with extensive photographs are not uncommon.

Residents are only one group participating in UCAT events, and outside and local professionals, business leaders, local authorities, volunteer agencies, and neighborhood groups seem to dominate. The professional biased team seems to assume three types of roles: as educators, as dispensers of solutions, and as mediators.

Cost of running events are usually high, and funding is a big concern. Handbooks caution against underfunded events and suggest shortening the event when funds are scarce. Local authorities contribute heavily to funding which often ensures their dominance.

For further information:
R/UDAT Handbook. AIA Regional Urban Design Committee, 1985. Check in libraries. A newer version may be available from American Institute of Architects, Washington,D.C.

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