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At Mississippi charrette, planning for the future

Link: Robert Ivy, FAIA, Returning to the Gulf Coast


By Andrea Oppenheimer Dean

November 2005

The Mississippi Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal aims for no less than an “economic renaissance for coastal Mississippi,” says its chairman Jim Barksdale, a former president and C.E.O. 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 areas. Joining him were more than 100 members of the Congress for New Urbanism, including transportation planners, environmentalists, code writers, sociologists, and representatives of such large AE firms as SOM, HOK, HDR, and UDA. Some teams dealt with regional issues, and others visited the three-county area’s 11 municipalities. The sessions focused on low-income development, because, Barksdale says, “Rich people take care of themselves.”

Striving to “create the kind of coast we want 20 years from now,” says Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, the charrette offered a variety of suggestions: permanent mobile homes featuring front porches and improved finishes; a selection of house plans suited to local climate and culture; pedestrian-oriented commercial districts; downsized big-box retailers; and sketches envisioning integrated, Monte Carlo–like casinos and street life. Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr says, “We will retain our Southern history and culture. But [as for] things that weren’t beautiful [in the first place], we’ll let them fade into history.” The important thing, says Duany, is to create such incentives as pre-permitting that will encourage developers to follow smart growth principles.

The charrette left a number of thorny issues for communities to decide for themselves: how to create high-density streets that allow poor people to get along without cars; how to build storm-resistant buildings without making them unaffordable and inaccessible; and how to accommodate behemoth casinos to the urban fabric of small towns. A summary of the charrette will constitute a major portion of a redevelopment report due on the Mississippi governor’s desk by December 31.

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