Biloxi Must Not Waver in Community-Based Renewal, Says Pulitzer-winning Sun Herald

With its editorials and ongoing coverage, the Sun Herald of South Mississippi proves again and again that the Pulitzer committee made a wise decision in awarding the paper the top prize in journalism. With a compelling and carefully detailed December column, Sun Herald publisher Ricky Mathews astutely analyzes post-Katrina rebuilding in Biloxi, the Mississippi Gulf Coast's most closely watched city, and calls for exceptional leadership from city leaders to overcome the epic damage caused by Katrina.

As Mathews observes, Biloxi officials have been praised for getting the casino industry up and running again and generated optimism with a Reviving the Renaissance plan, but they've had trouble resisting the pressure to grant variances to developers for quick-return projects that jeopardize the community's character and long-term prospects for a broad-based renewal that benefits most citizens.

Mathews says the Mississippi Renewal Forum involving more than 120 CNU planners convinced him that communities along the coast must adopt and stand-by true form-based codes or else rebuilding will take the form of haphazard sprawl. And he credits Moss Point, D'Iberville, Ocean Springs, Gulfport (the largest city on the Mississippi Coast) for their progress on this front.

Mathews writes:
Here's something else we all learned from the Mississippi Renewal Forum: The necessity of zoning codes that align future development with community planning visions. The New Urbanists won over many city and county officials with their advocacy of form-based codes that regulate the look and feel of streets and neighborhoods instead of regulating the use of buildings. Conventional use-based codes segregate living, working, shopping and entertainment so that transportation by car might as well be mandated. Form-based codes - especially the SmartCode advocated by most of the New Urbanist consultants - seek to replicate the feel of historic neighborhoods we love, where a wide variety of housing, stores, office and entertainment opportunities are within walking distance. Even the most inspiring sort of plan - like the one brought forth by Goody Clancy for the Reviving the Renaissance effort - needs a code to become a reality.

So what is Biloxi doing about a form-based code? Currently, there is no proposal in sight.


East Biloxi Rebuilding Framework, courtesy of goodyclancy.com

Gulfport, D'Iberville, Ocean Springs, Long Beach, Pass Christian, Pascagoula and Moss Point got the message. Some called it "the Gospel." And they moved forward aggressively, understanding how ideas from the Mississippi Renewal Forum could help them build cities that years from now will collectively be some of the most extraordinary in the country.

In my work as chair of the Tourism Committee for the Governor's Commission, our committee said that embracing the essence of ideas from the Mississippi Renewal Forum will enable us to recapture our sense of place and will create a region of enormous appeal. I feel strongly that this will happen because of the work being done in the trenches in each of those cities to adopt these new approaches.

I cannot overstate how important it is that Biloxi take a similar approach.

Mathews column should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand post-disaster planning in Mississippi.

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