Illinois Chapter Leads Tornado Recovery Plan Charrette
By Grace Bazylewski and Craig Harlan Hullinger, AICP
The Village of North Utica, Illinois was hit by a tornado on April 20, 2004, that killed nine people and destroyed the north end of the historic village. The Village Hall, Township Hall, Ambulance Building, and 56 other homes and structures were destroyed.
The village, FEMA, and other governments and citizens produced the Utica United Recovery Plan, a document that called for the expenditure of about $20 million dollars to restore the town and to construct a number of improvements to the community. Some of the major improvements called for were the rerouting of a state highway through the downtown, the removal of the downtown from a floodplain, the enhancement of the historic Illinois and Michigan Canal, improvements to the local economy and tourism, and the reconstruction and beautification of the historic town.
The Pro Bono Committee of the American Planning Association's Illinois Chapter led a planning charrette to assist the citizens in developing the plan. The committee has helped numerous communities over the last eight years on a variety of issues and planning programs. A "charrette" is a design session held over a short time period and designed to produce quick results. Assisted by the Illinois Association of Landscape Architects, the Pro Bono Committee led a five-hour charrette on September 25, 2004.
The charrette was a success.
About 110 people attended the event that began at the fire station directly across from the area destroyed by the tornado. Mayor Fred Esmond introduced the participants, who gave a short introduction to the town, the disaster, and the recovery plan. Smaller groups were created for walking tours of the town, then those groups were broken down into 10-person teams charged with researching and expanding the recovery plan findings and recommendations.
The findings of each group were presented to the larger group at the end of the session. These findings will be incorporated into the downtown improvement plan, tourism plan, and economic development strategy currently under development by the North Central Illinois Council of Governments. Grants have been or will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Illinois Emergency Management Agency, Economic Develoment Administration, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Charette also served as the initial public participation portion of the planning program. Work of the teams included downtown improvement plan physical improvements, facade improvement recommendations, economic development strategy, tourism development marketing work, park improvements, etc. Interesting recommendations included the proposed development of the Illini Native American Village, riverfront parks, a marina, the development of a quarry into a lake, and numerous other positive ideas and proposals for the community.
Long term success and implementation of the projects identified in the charrette depend on the local participants. Local government and individuals must now sort out proposals and decide which ones to implement. Local leaders will have to take ownership of the plan, and develop a consensus to successfully implement it.