October 5, 2005
The Mississippi Governor's Commission
on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal aims for no less than
an "economic renaissance for coastal Mississippi,"
said its chairman Jim Barksdale, a former president and CEO
of Netscape. To help create a physical plan, state officials
invited New Urbanist Andres Duany, FAIA, to lead a charrette
last month in Biloxi, one of Hurricane Rita's hard-hit targets.
Joining him were 100 members of the Congress for the New Urbanism
(CNU), including transportation planners, environmentalists,
code writers, sociologists, and representatives of such large
AE firms as SOM, HOK, HDR, and UDA. General teams will deal
with regional issues, and 11 specialized teams will fan out
to the three-county area's 11 municipalities, Duany said in
an interview prior to the charrette.
The immediate goal will be to "get
our codes and land-use planning online," said Leland
Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority.
Speed voiced the hope that local residents would leave the
charrettes "informed, optimistic, and clear about their
rebuilding possibilities and directions." He said he
also wanted to "offer tools for creating the kind of
coast we want 20 years from now."
The CNU will proffer a kit of architectural
parts, Duany said, including designs for temporary cottages
and permanent mobile homes (with contractors offering to build
models), a selection of locally compatible house plans from
catalogs of working drawings, models of pedestrian-oriented
strip developments, and sketches for new casinos that would
allow "participation in street life." Design, he
added, won't be imposed but "given the incentive of pre-permitting."
Duany hopes landowners who choose not to rebuild will be allowed
to merge their properties and sell to highrise condominium
developers. He envisions "great waterfront avenues."
Urban Design Associates, meanwhile is helping Mississippi
Habitat for Humanity design sturdier houses in keeping with
the coast's climate and culture.
A report to be published three weeks
after the charrette will comprise a major portion of the commission's
report to the governor, which is due by the end of the year.
While local groups pondered reconstruction
strategies, here's what several designers had to say:
Belinda Stewart, AIA, Belinda Stewart
Architects, Eupora, Mississippi: What concerns me is
the word "new" in New Urbanism. I think it needs
to be more of a vernacular urbanism. The charette leaders
really have to know our vernacular, define it for themselves,
and know how we should use it to inform what we put back.
The magic happens when you bring the vernacular and the zeitgeist
together. We don't need Seasides all over the coast. We need
towns that look like the towns that were there.
Terrance Brown, FAIA, ASCG Incorporated,
Albuquerque, New Mexico; chair, AIA Disaster Assistance program:
There's going to be a lot of push for communities to rebuild
exactly as was, which would be a mistake. With two hurricanes
coming back-to-back, we're in a whole new weather realm, and
the first question that should be asked is, should rebuilding
occur along coastal areas. Federal money will have to go into
breakwaters, but there's a limit to what we can protect. To
build and rebuild in low-lying areas puts people in danger
and affects us all through insurance rates. I hope communities
that do rebuild do it smarter, make egress plans, and implement
standard building codes.
Robert Tannen, New Orleans artist,
consultant in urban and regional planning to DMJM-Harris:
After Hurricane Camille nearly leveled this area in `69, Metasystems
Corporation of Cambridge, Massachusetts, for whom I was the
point man on the ground, recommended not allowing low-lying
areas to be rebuilt. We favored placing new development north
of the beaches along Interstate 10 and that low-lying areas
be reserved for public parks and the like. Owners of beachfront
properties weren't interested in selling at discounted prices
to public entities. We also recommended a unified building
code for a narrow inundation area, using Camille as a benchmark--150-mile-per-hour
wind speeds and 25-foot tidal surges. What was implemented
was a more modest code used in Florida. The thought was that
the cost of our code would be too onerous.
Overall, our recommendations were implemented only where
dictated by cost or federal requirements.
Ray Manning, AIA, Manning Architects,
New Orleans (temporarily in Baton Rouge): In the Gulf
people tend to not want to adhere to codes. Most of the residential
construction wasn't built to current building codes. Developers
and builders are going to have to be mandated to build quite
differently than for suburban or tract developments.
Hindsight being 20/20, coastal erosion is what needs to be
focused on. That's the thread common to Louisiana, Mississippi,
and Alabama. The barrier islands that were shock absorbers
for tidal surges have been totally eroded. How do you create
buffers against tidal surges?
I think rebuilding will be largely driven by multi-national
AE corporations that already have contractual relationships
with FEMA, such as Flour Daniels, Halliburton, the Shaw Group,
Frances Halsband, FAIA, whose firm
Kliment/Halsband, New York, designed the Dan M. Russell, Jr.
United States Courthouse in Gulfport, (2003): After
a disaster, the sense of loss encourages conservatism, wanting
to just get back what is lost. People who've lived in a place
generation after generation won't want a visionary 21st century
town, and governments are least able to move in visionary
I don't think that we build communities in America. We build
pieces of communities in a messy way. I have yet to see New
Urbanist charettes lead to anything. Our democratic processes
are so slow and inefficient, there'll be five years of discussions
Michael Barranco, AIA, Barranco Architecture,
Jackson, Mississippi, who convinced state officials to invite
Duany to organize the planning charette: The Mississippi
Gulf Coast is no longer; it's like Pick-up Sticks. You drive
down Coastal Highway 90 and you see beautiful wooden steps
leading to nothing. When I toured the area with a church group,
people were about their business. They weren't complaining.
They're really resilient. I believe the majority will be back.
The charette process won't be outsiders coming in and telling
the locals what to do. It will introduce principles that can
make our places better.
To bring some structures up to stricter codes won't be affordable.
Maybe we build less expensively but design schools to be hurricane
shelters. There are issues like that and how we capture the
very unique aspects that were the Gulf Coast.
Richard McNeel, AIA, Johnson Bailey
Henderson McNeel Architects, Jackson, Mississippi:
We don't want a rushed process, and we don't want to rebuild
the coast exactly as it was. A lot of people agree.
You have to understand the dynamics of the Gulf Coast. It
used to be a vacation and resort area for Louisiana and then
changed with casinos building on barges. The casinos own land
and will want to start building immediately. You also have
to understand that each community has its own identity and
each lost so many older homes that helped shape identity.
Charette organizers will have to send many teams to work with
To plan the entire Gulf, about 120 miles of coastline, is