6 months in….

June was a rocky month for this project, but the team here in Greenwood is committed to seeing this through, and I feel lucky to be part of such a positive group. After taking a few days off to recover during the 4th of July holiday, Richard and I are back in Greenwood, and rather than hiding out until we’ve figured out answers, we’ve been spending extra time in Baptist Town. A few hours with neighborhood residents each of the last three days has energized and inspired us. There is no substitute for spending time with community members in this line of work.

The following article was published in the Greenwood Commonwealth on July 2, 2013.

Baptist Town Project Suffers Setbacks

by Jeanie Riess, Staff Writer

Bill Crump says recent setbacks for the Baptist Town project won’t prevent it from moving forward.

“We are committed to getting this project completed one way or another,” the chairman of the Greenwood-Leflore-Carroll Economic Development Foundation said.

Two new setbacks recently were added to the list of challenges the project has faced since its inception in 2010.

The bill to redirect 26 “Katrina cottages” donated to the city of Greenwood by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not picked up during a special session of the Legislature in June.

The bill would have given the city, which now owns the cottages, the authority to donate them to the Fuller Center, a nonprofit charged with installing the permanent houses. The city does not have the legal authority to make such a donation; it can only sell the cottages as surplus property.

The cottages are the kind of small structures used to provide housing on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The new, brightly colored homes, which are to be installed in Baptist Town to help revitalize the century-old black neighborhood in Greenwood, are sitting at Greenwood-Leflore Airport.

“We had the legislation ready,” Crump said. “Sen. (Lydia) Chassaniol and Sen. (David) Jordan were prepared to introduce the legislation to give the city the authority to donate the cottages to the Fuller Center. Rep. (Linda) Whittington and Rep. (Bobby) Howell were ready to introduce the bill to the House.”

Crump said he and Angela Curry, executive director of the economic development foundation, along with Emily Roush Elliott, the architectural fellow managing the project, had also worked with Gov. Phil Bryant’s office to introduce the bill. Only the governor has the authority to add a bill to the call of the special session.

But the Legislature was meeting to discuss the expansion of Medicaid, an issue that Crump said proved so contentious and critical that it pushed any housekeeping issues off the table.

This isn’t the first time the Baptist Town project has seen defeat in Jackson.

In April, state Rep. Willie Perkins amended the same bill to redirect the cottages to a nonprofit of his choosing, one that Crump and his team didn’t feel was a good fit for the houses. The bill died in the Senate, once again rendering the cottages ownerless.

Crump said he’s looking into other options.

“The people of Baptist Town deserve this project,” he said. “The 30 people who have made out applications deserve these houses.”

Curry agreed, and she said in an email that the economic development foundation will keep working to get the cottages placed in Baptist Town despite the setback.

“We have encountered some obstacles, but we cannot abandon this project as it is too important to the residents of Baptist Town,” Curry said. “After all, the mission of this foundation is to improve the quality of life for residents in our community. The fruition of this project will help to do just that.”

The project encountered a second bump in the road last week, when Crump’s team decided to pull out of its partnership with the Foundation for the Mid-South, the organization managing the grant money for the installment of the cottages.

Crump said the decision to split from the group came about because the Foundation for the Mid-South did not feel that the Fuller Center was qualified to handle the project.

Crump’s team, however, is committed to working with the Fuller Center.

“They’ve put up more than 30 houses in Greenwood,” he said. “So we decided to continue on with Fuller and not with Foundation for the Mid-South. We would love to continue working with Foundation for the Mid-South, but their requirements were not in accordance with our plans.”

Because the foundation was the manager of the funding provided by the Walton Family Foundation, Crump said the split will affect some of the money.

“That money will be sent back to Walton,” he said.

He insisted, however, that it would not be to the detriment of the project.

“We do have plans to at some point make a proposal straight to Walton for some phases of this project,” Crump said. “But we’re not waiting for Walton. We have other sources of funding we are going to draw from.”

For Crump, the only issue standing between the cottages and their new owners is the legal hurdle of donating them.

“Everything else is in place,” he said. “The land has been purchased; Greenwood Utilities has done the initial work with power lines and water and sewerage. We have a fantastic team of people who’ve been committed to this for months and years. Everybody really feels we have to get this completed.”

everybody likes a video

“I believe this is how we make the world safer, a better place: trying to give people access to healthcare and improving educational opportunities. And I think we really are creating the global village that we can communicate through and understand how we’re similar and how we’re different in different places.” – Richard Elliott

A lot of courses are taught today that are focused on large scale societal issues. Particularly in the field of design, students are asked to solve real world problems through studios. This is a slippery way to approach the challenges of the globe. On one hand, students are exposed to budgets and schedules, and gain broad perspectives that cannot be replicated in a classroom. They are more likely to pursue a career path defined by this immersive experience, as evidenced by so many of the graduates of Auburn’s Rural Studio. Conversely, questions of feasibility and responsibility must be considered before embarking on a project that students may not have the time or expertise to see through to be anything other than a research exercise that uses under-served populations as case studies.
In the video above, Elissa Yancey takes her students on a semester long journey that straddles the two sides of this discussion. In the weeks leading up to the trip to Tanzania, her students researched, practiced interviewing, and learned to use audio and video equipment. The film that resulted is not perfect, but the human element is really close: envelope pushing experiences for students, an easy to share message about Village Life and the organization’s mission, and no one in Tanzania was promised a business, building, or otherwise that will not appear.

sidewalks

sidewalks start

The construction of a sidewalk along one of the entryways into Baptist Town is an exciting ground breaking. Promises of projects in this neighborhood have existed for a long time, and I hope that residents are as happy to see some evidence of all the work that has been going on behind the scenes as I am.

This sidewalk (and street lights and trees soon to follow) will improve the appearance of the entries to the neighborhood, but more importantly they will provide a safe place to walk. Hopefully residents will feel more comfortable walking downtown, to school or to visit friends once they don’t have to walk in the street. The prospect of people saving money, burning calories and not using gasoline reminded me of a study a friend of mine did a few years ago that proposed a lifestyle independent of oil. One of her blog posts discussed the efficiency of walking and biking over driving:

As for biking and walking, they have no competition… Biking (calculating human calorie energy expended) is equivalent to 759,493.7 miles per gallon and walking (burning 100 calories an hour) is equivalent to 314,782.17 miles per gallon.  Biking is 19,230.8 times more efficient than driving your subcompact car and walking is 7,886.4 times more efficient.  Walking burns about 60 more calories per hour than biking making it less ‘energy efficinet’, but as my roommate pointed out looking at these numbers, when it comes to your own energy, suddenly energy expenditure looks like a good thing.  After all, its renewable 🙂 Eat a sandwich. 

miles per gallon comparison

another sign of progress

gw cw sign

Many thanks to Jeanie Riess, a great writer for our local paper, who covered the unveiling of our new sign and ran this image and caption in the Greenwood Commonwealth today. I have had more than a dozen phone calls already from interested applicants, and two completed applications submitted. Thanks to Jeanie and everyone supporting this project!

progress is…

Cottages for Sale 4_1 small

As I wrote in an earlier post, architect | journalism, a lot of work in public design doesn’t fit within the mold of how architects typically spend their time. Today is no exception, and today, progress is advertising.

In September of 2011, twenty-six Katrina Cottages arrived at the Greenwood-Leflore Airport. They are still sitting near the tarmac today (pictured below), but thanks to many dedicated individuals this project is one big step closer to becoming a reality. Shovels, hammers, and concrete are still a little ways off, but advertising has begun for these new homes. Thank you to Bruce Tolar for his expert advice. We hope someday our neighborhood will be similar to your Cottage Square!

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looking for something?

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The first Public Interest Design week happened in Minneapolis last week. As one attendee put it, “I found my people.” If you are new to community led architecture, this post is for you. These conferences allow an open format for discourse about architecture, development, design, and the way we work to progress.

The field can sometimes be frustrating because it is difficult to know what is happening in the field and how to take part when so much of the work is through grassroots efforts. The program for last weeks conference documents many opportunities in the field – educational, fellowships, jobs, papers, etc. Most of this is at the end of the document below, so go apply for something new and exciting.

http://issuu.com/johncary/docs/public_interest_design_week_2013_program