Friday, October 14 - Design teams visited the state's eleven most affected coastal communities Thursday, gaining perspective and engaging local direction and input. Today, the lessons learned in the field take center stage as the Forum's nearly 200 participants begin formulating ideas for how the region might come to rebuild.
Concurrent with Thursday's field work was a day-long interchange between local officials and the visiting design team back at the Isle of Capri. Among them was Harrison County supervisor Connie Rockco, who remembers touring the area just after Katrina passed, seeing the destruction and discovering three fatalities. "From that day until today," said Rockco, "I have renewed hope from the experts I've met yesterday and today."
She admits, "That's not the way I felt at the beginning. But that's all changed. I'm so glad to be part of this... I see the puzzle coming together. I see the light at the end of the tunnel. All I can say is thank you."
Mark Lishen, Long Beach alderman and an architect in private life, echoed Rockco's hopes. "We're not Gulfport. We're not Biloxi. We're more laid back," says Lishen. "And that's the heritage we want to maintain."
After spending Thursday focusing on community challenges with local colleagues and national design specialists, "I think they feel our pain," said Lishen. "They feel what we're going through. . . We're going to come out fine - and better."
Highlights from the day's eleven field trips include:
About 20 Waveland residents filled the folding chairs in a fabric Quonset hut on Coleman Street, the center of the town's small commercial district, to share the memories that inform their dreams of revival. The town of about 6,000 was all but leveled by the massive storm surge and winds of Katrina. Mayor Tom Longo told the visiting planners and architects about Waveland's origins as a getaway for wealthy New Orleans residents, many of whose grand homes were lost in Hurricane Camille, to be replaced in many cases by more unassuming houses. More recently, Waveland had been establishing a new identity as a place not just to vacation, but for year-round "living, working and playing, in that order" Longo said.
Gwen Impson, a Waveland resident who heads Arts Hancock County, shared her vision of a renewal focused on the arts, an expansion of the scene that had developed in adjacent Bay St. Louis. Laid-back and affordable Waveland had become a home to many of the artists whose work was shown in the nearby galleries, she said. If the Coleman Street district were to rebuilt, she and other residents said they could imagine some artists, performers and craftspersons living above studios and galleries, adding life to what had been a modest set of 29 shops (with a 30th set to open before the storm) came to spend the morning and afternoon. Her husband, John Impson, said he hoped Waveland would follow the model of other villages centered on arts and tourism, such as Port Townsend, WA, and Taos, NM.
Ricky Peters, the outspoken and self-described "crazy" chef of the popular Ricky's Restaurant, said he wanted to see the town's commercial district grow, with better-managed parking and some condominiums that could accommodate more potential shoppers. "This is a quiet town, but we need some more places for people to stay, and we need the infrastructure to handle it." He and others agreed, however, that they would like to continue Waveland's unique asset, a stretch of publicly accessible beachfront unspoiled by commercial development or busy multi-lane highway.
For Tommy Kidd, the most pressing question was reviving the strip commercial development along Highway 90, the region's shopping corridor. "That's an instant tax base," that must be brought back soon. He and others said they were unsure whether the corridor could be reconfigured as the walkable, less pavement-heavy zone that some others imagined.
Gene Bradley, 74, has been living at a Red Cross shelter at the West Harrison County Civic Center since three weeks after the storm. Bradley and his wife, who weathered Camille, lost their home of 30 years, and now wonder whether they will have a place in a rebuilt Pass Christian.
While Commission Chairman Jim Barksdale called yesterday for Forum participants to place top priority on designing solutions for the middle class and poor, Bradley offered a perspective that clearly demonstrated the scope of the challenge. "I believe development is going to happen in Pass Christian because people are drawn to that beach. I don't think people like me will have anything to say about it. … They need to have some commuting trains. We need trains like we used to have a long time ago. That would help people get to their jobs, help old people get around. You already have to crank up the car and drive too far just to get a loaf of bread, and now I'm sure they're going to move the stores farther north. Life ought to be easier than that. … Tourism is important, but the local people have to be thought of, too, not just the tourists."
"I don't know whether we'll rebuild on our lot," he continued. "I can't think straight lately. I went the other day just to sit with my house - I found an old bench I had made that was still there. I sat there like you'd sit with a real sick friend. Sayin' good-bye."
How to reconstitute the casino, hotel, and tourism industry in sound urbanistic fashion is one of the biggest challenges facing Biloxi. A number of the participants in the Biloxi design team's Thursday tour agreed that when the casinos return, it would be good to design them so that they - and their hotels and parking facilities - fit better into the city's urban fabric, rather than forming massive, self-contained complexes that block off parts of the waterfront.
Ideally, visitors would be able to walk comfortably from casinos and hotels to nearby attractions. One area that might benefit is the downtown core, where Mayor A.J. Holloway is considering converting a narrow, one-way commercial street - Vieux Marche - to two-way traffic. Vieux Marche, containing many buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, currently has only one lane of traffic. Mayor Holloway also encouraged the design team to focus on specific sections of the city, such as East Biloxi, where there is a lack of grocery stores.
The design team listened to varied opinions on what kinds of new housing - possibly including townhouses and low-rise condominiums - should be encouraged. "I think you'll see a lot of developments like Seaside," said Chevis Swetman, president of People's Bank. A traditional-style HOPE VI project, Bayview Place, suffered wind and flood damage but came through much better than some of the city's old bungalow areas.
The team is looking at how to maximize the economic and social benefits generated by Keesler Air Force Base, where thousands of people work. Other issues include neighborhood reconstruction; placement of museums and cultural attractions such as a seafood industry museum; beachfront development; and improvements to the road system. Bill Raymond, historical administrator for the city, said it's important to save as many salvageable historic buildings as possible.
The Retail Hub of the Next 20 Years
In the first meeting between the local officials of D'Iberville and the Mississippi Renewal Forum team, led by Colombian-born, Miami-based urban designer Jaime Correa, it was clear that they had a lot in common. Like so many of the local residents, Correa's home was destroyed in 1992 during Hurricane Andrew, and he has worked on multiple post-disaster reconstructions since.
The two parties also shared a similar vision for D'Iberville, a small city incorporated only 17 years ago. Despite being protected by the Biloxi/Gulfport peninsula, the neighborhoods bordering the bay were essentially leveled by Hurricane Katrina. Both for these heavily damaged neighborhoods and the other relatively unscathed areas of the city, Correa and mayor Rusty Quave envision the creation of lively, walkable, attractive town centers with similar architectural styles and mixed retail/residential areas. The two most fertile locations for redevelopment are the city's coastline and the area adjacent to the intersections of I-10 and I-110, a hot crossroads now home to a Lowe's home improvement center and Super Wal-Mart store.
These neighbors in a strip complex on one side of I-110 now account for more than a third of the city's tax base, leading local planner Richard Rose to acknowledge, "D'Iberville will be the retail hub for the next 20 years, if not more. We couldn't stop it if we wanted to." But Quave hopes to use this opportunity to work with Correa and his team to bring neighborhood-design principles to the growth and development that's bound for D'Iberville. Local officials and their out-of-town advisors are to work together to plan the reconstruction and development of the growing city.
Pining for Community
Rolling into the historic Bay St. Louis train depot, now its ad-hoc triage and City Hall, there was little sense for the extent of the nearby devastation. However, it was clear early on that the heart of the community rested firmly on the historical main street - a roughly two block commercial street running perpendicular to the bay and extending into a ‘T’ along the beachfront and Beach Boulevard. It was fitting then, that the tour start there.
Bay St. Louis is a town originally platted in the French system of “arpents”, a measurement increment of 192’ on each side. Each parcel was allotted 40 arpents and formed long, narrow blocks reaching over a mile and a half inland from the shore and back out through the water to the center of the bay. Divided into a number of smaller lots, the arpents were home to a great number of long-standing summer cottages, many that withstood 1969’s Camille, now completely erased by hurricane Katrina.
While some of the larger, more rigid main street buildings remain standing, and subsequently those buildings lucky enough to be sheltered by them, the sense of devastation quickly became very real. Katrina had completely ripped out Beach Boulevard, scattering boulders of asphalt and the stumps of centuries-old live oaks. Where some of the rigid buildings of Main Street had a chance, the traditional cottages lining miles of coastline did not. Katrina had disassembled and scattered hundreds of years of housing, and left no survivors for ½ mile inland in most cases.
While the local officials and community leaders expressed the determination and focus to rebuild, a subdued excitement was expressed to get back not only what was taken by hurricane Katrina, but Camille as well. This was a community that had been pining for their community, not just for weeks, but for decades. In this modest city of 8,000, the mission became increasingly clear -- to replace and rebuild a city worthy of its brave residents and its rich history and, in the words of the worn and bedraggled mayor of Bay St. Louis, “to come back bigger and better than ever.”
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