Applause (and Some Tough Issues) in Gulfport

Gulfport aerial photo

Gulfport has been one of the Gulf Coast cities to watch since the days (and nights) of the new urbanist-led Mississippi Renewal Forum in 2005, where city officials led by tireless Mayor Brent Warr logged long hours with planners creating a vision of urban rebirth in areas damaged both by Katrina and long-term blight and decline.

In the two plus years since the megacharrette, the Mississippi coast’s largest city has worked seriously to lay the groundwork for this vision –commissioning a form-based Smartcode available on an optional basis citywide and adopted maps that make it the default code for certain neighborhoods such as Mississippi City.

The city hired Duany Plater-Zyberk to run a week-long charrette last week that developed plans for Gulfport’s downtown south harbor and a 72-acre Veterans’ Administration property that the federal government is turning over to the city.

As the aerial image shows, industrialization, the auto-age and then Katrina drained much of the life out of Gulfport’s downtown and the adjacent waterfront, but a strong urban framework remains and the DPZ plans foresee a powerful junction where a graceful and tight-knit urban core meets waterfront parks. The birdseye perspective drawing shows a row of buildings watching over Jones Park like a smaller version of Chicago’s venerable Michigan Avenue “cliff wall.”

After an exhausting week of work, Gulfport residents packed an auditorium at Mississippi Coast Community College and reacted with real enthusiasm. “Duany's Gulfport plans fire up audience,” said the headline in the coast’s newspaper, the Sun-Herald of South Mississippi.

From the Sun-Herald article by Ryan LaFontaine:

"We were able to cram six to eight months of planning into nine days," Warr said.

So much work in such little time was possible because Duany's team of planners worked with residents and city officials on designs. Attorneys attended the sessions to immediately assess the legality of proposed projects. Economic consultants were there to determine feasibility of the plans. And other experts were assigned to specific areas.

Duany, the founder of New Urbanism, said Gulfport has "incredible potential" to succeed using his planning style, which promotes pedestrian-friendly communities where business and residential uses are mixed.

That's partially because the city has not rushed to rebuild since Hurricane Katrina, he said.

"Gulfport is back, economically, and I find that very odd, because physically, it's not back at all," he said. "There's an open-mindedness that's here now that wasn't here before; spirits are up and funds are finally flowing."

As for the tough issues, I’ll write about them briefly in the comments section of this post. Stay tuned.


Recommitting to SmartCode will make inspiring plans real

Amid the great news of last week's Gulfport charrette came a story that showed city leaders wavering a bit in their commitment to the codes that will make charrette plans a reality.

I have a longer discussion of the issue here, including news of fantastic coding progress in Pass Christian. It's here


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