Quantity and quality in Biloxi

The seven-day Mississippi Renewal Forum in mid-October, which created regional and local plans for redevelopment of 11 cities along 120 miles of coast devastated by Hurricane Katrina, was the most efficient and productive event I have ever witnessed or even heard about in recent times.

The plans are masterful, state-of-the-art visions. They include not only physical designs rendered two- and three-dimensionally, but also development codes, transit strategies, street sections, economic development proposals, green building concepts, and scores of building plans, from tiny cottages to massive hotels. This work could take years in a normal process, but was compressed into three or four days (in addition to several days of groundwork and group visioning prior to the real work beginning). The positive reaction on the part of local officials and citizens so far attests to the high quality — not just quantity — of the work.

How did 150-plus people in a single, overcrowded room accomplish all of this so quickly? Three factors were most significant.

1) Everybody shared a deep commitment to and knowledge of principles of New Urbanism. This greatly reduced friction, boosted teamwork, and facilitated decisions.

2) Most of those who participated were principals of firms or leaders of organizations. Principals are used to making decisions quickly and independently — including the decision of whether to consult with someone else. They made thousands of competent calls throughout the week, sometimes independently, sometimes in groups, all adding up to an amazing body of work. An atmosphere of camaraderie and trust, free communication, and near zero bureaucracy maximized creativity and energy. Ego was never an issue.

3) Andres Duany provided great leadership. I never saw him with a pencil in his hand, but whenever the forum threatened to get bogged down in disagreement and confusion, he calmed everybody down with easygoing confidence and shrewd observations. Moreover, Duany was probably the only one who could pull such a group together on short notice (the event was conceived less than a month before it began).