Special Hurricane Report

Mississippi charrette report is complete

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Amid the bleak news from the Mississippi Gulf Coast comes a beam of optimism: the completion of a report on the mid-October planning charrette led by the state and the Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) in Biloxi. The report, released in print on November 21, posits that the Gulf will emerge a better place, and that the nearly clean slate left by Hurricane Katrina offers the area an opportunity to be the first U.S. region "to arrive at the inevitable future" of sustainable development.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour gave Miami-based architect and planner Andres Duany the go-ahead to lead the charrette, which took place from October 11 to 18. One hundred and twenty members of CNU—designers, engineers, and other specialists—plus an almost equal number of Mississippi officials and professionals, gathered for a week to brainstorm ideas for resurrecting a 120-mile coastal region, including 11 cities.

Reconnect towns

The report first suggests reconnecting the Gulf's towns and their region by turning Highway 90 into a beachfront boulevard, moving the CSX freight rail line to the north of I-10, transforming the abandoned CSX right-of-way into a boulevard for cars and transit, and creating a high-speed, east-west rail network linking the Gulf Coast with Mobile and Pensacola to the east and Baton Rouge or Houston to the west. Improved freight and passenger rail service, says the report, "has the potential to substantially bolster the economy and vitality of the Southern states." As for roads: "There is a sense of urgency to restarting the local economy that can be assisted through strategic road and bridge projects" Because "design matters" all road, transit, and bridge projects

"should pay attention to the details of place-making."

Revive downtowns

Beyond advocating such New Urbanist trademarks as pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, and transit-based communities, the report suggests stopping the exodus of retail from historic towns. To revive downtowns, it suggests establishing business-improvement-district authorities. Historic buildings would be rebuilt or restored and form-based zoning codes and regulatory boards would be adopted. Coordinated leasing plans could be used to attract leading retailers and big boxes, and it has been suggested that new casinos could be located in downtown shopping districts, or linked to them. Overall, regional planning would be used to discourage sprawl.

Housing issues

A section on housing options recommends that temporary buildings be designed so that they can later be made permanent, and points out that permitting needs to be expedited. Modular and prefabricated structures "with individual identity" could cut construction time, and that bringing manufacturers to the region could reduce costs and delivery times. Setting regional design standards for architectural detailing could enhance safety. The report also recommends appointing town architects to oversee the rebuilding. As a companion to the report, Urban Design Associates produced A Pattern Book for Gulf Coast Neighborhoods, a resource for homeowners, builders, and communities.

Flood control

The report also exhorts FEMA to

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Proposed plans include walkable, human-scaled downtown streetscapes (top), stilted housing developments (above), a raised casino (right), and development begun far from the coastline (below).

replace prescriptive flood-control standards with performance-based principles, and offers some alternatives to expensive, "anti-urban" stilt houses. Recommendations include "submersible dwellings" designed on raised porches using hurricane-and mold-resistant technologies and materials, and buildings with wide openings, tall ceilings, and appropriate ground-floor finishes that permit storm surges to flow through. These ideas are not universally accepted. Todd Davison, mitigation director for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, insists it is not possible to build beachfront homes or buildings that ff

You may need to build a Bauhaus garage.

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