Slate On-line Magazine: Mississippi Spurning
Mississippi’s Gulf Coast has become a hotbed for New Urbanist activity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devestation. Rybczynski explains how Mississippi’s governor arranged a forum in 2005 for planners, designers, and public officials to strategize the rebuilding process with context-sensitive considerations in-mind. He also takes note of the lead organization behind these planning efforts, the Congress for the New Urbanism, and how a design pattern book that was distributed to interested Mississippi homeowners has generated mixed reactions.
Mississippi Spurning: How is the Gulf Coast faring post-Katrina?
By Witold Rybczynski
Posted Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006, at 1:13 PM ET
...The Gulf Coast has another advantage for reconstruction—it has a well-thought-out plan. Or, rather, 11 plans. In early October, only six weeks after Katrina and under the auspices of the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, and Renewal, a six-day planning and urban-design forum involving mayors, citizens, and local and visiting town planners, architects, and design professionals, developed plans for 11 affected coastal cities and towns. The aim was to rethink a number of issues, including how large commercial enterprises such as casinos and big-box stores could be better integrated into their urban surroundings, codes and plans that would help buildings withstand future hurricanes, and regional transportation. In Waveland, a small town near the Louisiana border, for example, the planning team suggested rebuilding devastated areas as mixed-use neighborhoods and proposed inner-block footpaths as well as a trolley line linking the town to other beach communities. This wish list will probably be only partially realized—and only over a long period—but the plan represents a sensible, down-to-earth vision and a useful guide for the recovery process.
The organization that Mississippi invited to spearhead this planning process is the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes what is popularly known as smart growth—compact development, mixed use, walkability. When it comes to the appearance of buildings, new urbanists are biased toward tradition. A Pattern Book for Gulf Coast Neighborhoods has been distributed free to residents as part of the rebuilding effort. The book illustrates details, materials, and forms that have traditionally been associated with local styles and demonstrates how these can be practically adapted to even mobile homes and manufactured housing—which will likely form the bulk of new houses. A chapter shows how typical Gulf Coast houses can be adapted to meet FEMA requirements. Four local styles are recommended: Acadian-Creole, Victorian, Classical, and Arts & Crafts. One looks in vain for such Gulf Coast perennials as Funky Beach Shack, '50s Googly Motel, or Down-and-Dirty Shopping Strip. Like most design guides, the Pattern Book is as much about taste as style. Whether it will succeed in turning the Mississippi coast into a Southern version of Santa Barbara remains to be seen.
To read more, go to Mississippi Spurning.
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