DMR boss: "We've gotta be smarter" about rebuilding

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Building affordable homes is an important variable in south Mississippi's hurricane recovery efforts.  Building them to be resilient and sustainable are two other variables that have become key initiatives in virtually every gulf coast city.

On Tuesday, those development buzz words were the focal point of the DMR's annual Smart Growth conference.

If you ignore the destruction, Brian Sanderson says you can see the waterfront's possibilities.

"We still have a great opportunity, particularly on our post card, which is Beach Boulevard, to make that one of the most scenic and special places in the America," the president of the Gulf Coast Business Council said during his talk at the DMR's Smart Growth conference.

If a storm battered community is rebuilt the right way, Dr. Bill Walker says it can be both resilient and sustainable.

"We just cannot keep rebuilding and getting torn down, and rebuilding the same way over and over.  We've got to do it differently," Dr. Walker said.  "We've gotta be smarter about where we build and how we build in low lying areas."

Dan Camp made smart growth concepts a priority in Starkville.  Camp is the mayor of that Mississippi city.  When he became mayor four years ago, Camp wasn't sure what he wanted Starkville to look like.

"I had no idea what I was doing.  But I wanted it to look like a historic town," he said.

So he got developers to turn an old cotton gin into the centerpiece of the Cotton District -- a six block neighborhood where homes and shops blend together.  Mayor Camp told the 400 people at the DMR conference he sees that sort of opportunity across the gulf coast.

"Biloxi's got many old facilities and buildings," he said.  "And I think, too often, when you live in a community, you think of them as just being old, rundown places.  We need something new.  And when I went into Starkville, I didn't see that."

Dr. Walker hopes the mayor's vision becomes a roadmap for coastal cities to follow.

"It's really the only way that we can go forward in a sustainable way," he said.

Mayor Camp and the Gulf Coast Business Council's Brian Sanderson were two of the opening session presenters at the DMR's conference.  They both talked about what South Mississippi could become in this post Katrina world.  But the also mentioned the impediments, such as more stringent building codes, and higher insurance costs, that could still trip up smart growth developers.

"I think that's the most important step is having the citizenry and the public officials and private sector educated on what those important issues are," Sanderson said.  "And we're taking those steps.  And the next step is to implement them."

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