October 15, 2005

Details Matter

Hundreds of planning professionals are in Biloxi, Mississippi this week, working on recommendations for rebuilding areas of the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast. The goal: Not simply reconstruct, but improve.

New urbanism pioneer Andrés Duany, who is spearheading the sessions at the invitation of Mississippi's governor, emphasized the need to un-do some errors of the past decades. "People know that this took a wrong turn somewhere," Duany said, according to the New York Times. "People know this has become honky-tonk, and this is the chance to get it right. ...

"This place has lost its neighborhood structure over the last 50 years. This is a chance to rezone it ... so people can walk to the corner store, kids can walk to school."

The task is formidable, covering 11 communities severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina; and time is short, since some rebuilding efforts are already underway. "Among the other issues being considered here this week are how to integrate the behemoth casinos that line the coast with the neighborhoods they share; how to create small-scale, high-density streets so that poor people with limited access to cars can meet their daily needs; and how to build hurricane-resistant structures that are not prohibitively expensive," the Times notes.

But planners are focusing not only on grand designs, but small yet critical details such as parking, building setbacks and landscaping. "There are the kind of trees that support retail," Duany said. "You plant the wrong tree, people won't shop, because it blocks the signage."

Whether you're looking at rebuilding entire communities or just a single home or business, those details matter.

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