« It's feed time again. | Ragged Edge Home | Edge-centric Home | Make it happen in Biloxi! »

October 13, 2005 | Read comments | Post a comment

Five minutes for a more accessible rebuilt Biloxi

Update: check out the comments at my Friday post -- folks have been writing the Sun Herald and getting some attention!

The idea of making new housing in the Gulf area "visitable" is such a good, sensible and profoundlly right idea... and so ignored. We must -- we simply must -- turn up the heat publicly on this issue.

Note that I use the word "publicly." The National Council on Disability sent a letter to Pres. Bush recently; and there have been other behind-the-scenes initiatives. A few weeks ago, shortly after my first rant on this topic, a number of national disability groups put together a press release (and yes, yours truly was involved) -- it went out over PR Newswire, but as far as I can tell was never picked up by any news outlet.

Yours truly also sent around an op-ed submission to dozens of papers. The Bradenton, FL Herald Tribune ran it in mid-September ("This is an important topic, especially so in our area, which has a high proportion of older retirees," opinion editor Carrie Gentile wrote back to me) but the Herald Tribune doesn't have it online, and as far as I can tell nobody else ran it.

This past weekend, On A Roll's Greg Smith had a commentary on NPR's Weekend Edition -- it was fun to listen to, as most of Greg's stuff is, but I think listeners likely came away with the thought that building homes Greg could get into would be a nice idea to help out folks like Greg... but I am not sure folks came away with the full enormity of the failure to rebuild with the no-step entrance, wider-halls, usable-bathroom features that are the keystones for truly livable housing.

The fact is, the issue of rebuilding homes with basic access features has not yet risen into the public debate on the matter. And that's what's desperately needed. And soon.

The housing-accessibility universal-design crowd has been upset in recent weeks -- and rightly so -- over what they seem to see as an end-run by the New Urbanists to colonize the Gulf Coast area with their style of community. And it appears, to hear them speak of it, that the big mucketymucks in the New Urbanism movement are actively hostile to the idea of access. Wrongheaded, obtuse, and tragic. According to figures provided by the National Council on Disability last month, up to a quarter of the residents of the Gulf Coast regions devastated by the hurricanes are considered by Census figures to have disabilities. According to NCD's information,

In Biloxi, Mississippi, a city of about 50,000 people, 26 percent of residents are people with disabilities. This means that there are 10,700 people with disabilities 5 years of age and older who live in Biloxi.

Scott Rains over at Rolling Rains Report has been taking up the cudgel recently. "New Urbanism is the wrong response to Hurrican Katrina," he says. And he's right. His immediate concern -- and he is right to be concerned -- is the pow-wow going today and tomorrow in Biloxi convened for the New Urbanists to come in and convince the powers-that-be to rebuild their way.:

Yes, Biloxi could be the center of the future. Or, it might just settle for being the showcase for New Urbanist nostalgia for exclusionary architecture. (Rains's blog entry: If Not Biloxi, Where? If Not Now, When?)

From yesterday's (Oct. 12) Biloxi Sun-Herald:

Scores of urban designers from across the nation begin a series of brainstorming sessions today to help South Mississippi cities rebuild after Hurricane Katrina wiped out much of the Coast. ... about 300 local leaders and new urbanist planners come up with ideas for 11 area cities severely damaged or wiped out by Katrina.

It is being called the largest community planning effort ever undertaken by new urbanists, advocates of city designs that emphasize green space and walkable neighborhoods.

Uh-oh. And hostility to access is part of the package? I don't think so! Not if Edge-Centric readers get involved.

Here's what to do -- and it should take only about 5 minutes: Here's a list of the emails of a number of columnists at the Biloxi SunHerald. Write to them -- right away. Point them to information on visitability -- here's a story on visitability to get you started; it has other links, and you can always use google.com.

The idea here is not to write a long, detailed email. The goal is to send a brief and concise email quickly, urging the paper to begin questioning a re-building effort that will keep people trapped in their homes when the next hurricane hits (and it will.) Please pass along these emails to as many folks as you can. The key dates are today -- Thursday -- and tomorrow, Friday -- but next Monday will be good, too. After that, it might be old news.

This issue needs to start being discussed publicly. Let's make sure that happens in Biloxi!

Here's the stuff to get you going:

Stan Tiner (tiner@sunherald.com), executive editor of The Sun Herald, maybe should be your first choice. He's written a number of columns on Katrina. Kate Magandy (kmagandy@sunherald.com), the city editor for the Sun Herald, would be the one to assign stories about visitability -- and she also writes her own columns. She can be reached at 228-896-2344. Gary Holland (garyholland77@aol.com) is the Jackson County editor of The Sun Herald. He can be reached at 228-762-0741.

You can read about all these newspaper columnists and editors here to learn what they write about -- and there are links to some of their earlier columns.

The newspaper also has letters to the editor -- you can submit one online ; but the more interesting feature is something called Sound Off -- you send an email (soundoff@sunherald.com) and it appears on the website. It has to be 70 words or less, though. More about it here.

Of course, once you do this, you should post a comment here to let us know what you did.

Posted by mjohnson on October 13, 2005 10:34 AM


Hi Mary,

SunHerald didn't run the letter to the editor I sent in a few days ago. The paper's Don Hammack (don.hammack@gmail.com) however was quick to respond both on his blog and with a personal email last night. Check out his on site coverage at:

The Mississippi Renewal Forum http://renewalforum.blogspot.com

Posted by: Scott Rains on October 13, 2005 09:35 PM

just sent something off to the Herald...You are so right, this needs to be out in front in these recovery efforts.

Posted by: imfunnytoo on October 13, 2005 10:52 PM

After watching the president pound some nails in Covington, La., earlier this week, I e-mailed Habitat for Humanity and their St. Tammany West affiliate to see if their "Operation Home Delivery" houses are being built with basic access features. So far, I haven't received a response.

I plan to follow up next week, but maybe a media outlet like Ragged Edge Online would be more likely to get an answer.

If Habitat's not even following its own endorsement of "basic accessible design features," the chances of getting visitability in the broader reconstruction effort are slim.

Posted by: Guy M. Fisher on October 14, 2005 03:51 PM

Money for the Biloxi/Ocean-springs bridge? If the state does not have the money, then set us toll booths at each end of the bride. I would rather pay than be without it. Stop wasting time.

Posted by: roy clark on November 25, 2005 07:00 AM

I live in Ocean Springs. Don`t build the bridge at all. That will keep tourist out of town I`ll be able to zip around town easier. It may lower property value because the drive from Ocean Springs to Biloxi for work will take so long that no one will will those to live in Ocean Spring. Then that may lower my taxes. Maybe a future ghost town looks good after all.

Posted by: steve tingle on December 25, 2005 09:23 PM