North Gulfport leaders ready to put recovery concepts into action

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - After Katrina, North Gulfport leaders came up with a plan to redo their community. On Friday, they came to an important realization. Developing their plan was easy. Implementing it has become very difficult. Groups like the North Gulfport Community Land Trust are now trying to reinvigorate their neighbors to put recovery talk into action.

Rose Johnson is a lifelong resident of North Gulfport. She's also one of the key members of the North Gulfport Community Land Trust.

At a meeting on Friday with people who can help implement her concepts for the community, she told them, "It would be great to have a snapshot of the community as it is today."

Right now, that picture would feature a lot of decay. But Johnson hopes future snapshots focus on vitality.

"I want to hand it to my children and have them be able to hand it to their children," Johnson said. "But we've got to make this a better place for them to live."

Around a dining room table in the North Gulfport Community Land Trust office, the neighborhood's most vocal advocates mapped out the area's most pressing needs. Jason MacKenzie works with Johnson on Land Trust issues.

"You need to look at what the community decides is it's priorities, and focus on those efforts," MacKenzie said. "And I think that's what we're doing with housing, wetlands protection and leadership development."

In other words, Johnson said, "What we want to do is make this a very healthy community, a green community."

In 2007, the land trust bought three homes, hoping they could be salvaged, renovated and sold to neighbors in need. But an unexpected problem surfaced with the affordable housing plan.

"What's affordable for some people is not affordable for the people in north Gulfport," Johnson said.

Instead of throwing in the towel, Johnson keeps fighting, because she has a vivid picture in her mind of what north Gulfport can become, if land trust plans ever get enacted.

"We're picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off," Johnson said. "And North Gulfport is ready to move forward. The land trust is here for the community, and we're excited about it. And we're not giving up on any fights."

The North Gulfport Community Land Trust does have two projects that it considers successes. The group is about to open an education center, so children have a place for after school programs and tutoring. Behind that building, the land trust turned a menacing swimming pool into a beautiful garden. Flowers are now growing where mosquitoes once threatened the health of the community.