Remember that Katrina Cottages thing? Whatever happened to that?

This is the second of two parts addressing Hurricane Katrina 10 years after the storm. The first looked at issues in New Orleans. This one focuses on one hoped-for innovation in the storm’s wake in Coastal Mississippi.

Right about now, a couple and their two children are getting much-needed affordable housing help via a move into one side of a cool-looking modular duplex in Mobile, Alabama.

Continue Reading

Are We There Yet? Affordability in the ‘New Normal’

Pretty soon we’ll have something like a decade of experience in losing our innocence about housing affordability. Isn’t it about time we got over it?

For a good part of the last century, we trained generations of housing consumers and housing enablers to buy and sell into what Chuck Marohn calls a “growth Ponzi scheme.” It was fun while it lasted, allowing a lot of us to postpone paying the tab for our delusions to some unspecified date in an imaginary future. Then we got to the real future.

Continue Reading

The Data is In: Let the heavy lifting begin

The good news about making the redevelopment of American neighborhoods more responsive to 21st century American needs is that we seem to have a pretty good grasp on the problem:

We have a lot more isolated, supersized, energy-sucking housing than we want or can afford. And we have a lot less compact, close-in, energy-efficient neighborhoods than we need.

Continue Reading

Finally Thinkin’ Small: But can we build on what we’ve learned?

As soon as the destructive path of Hurricane Sandy became evident, I got emails and calls from colleagues who, like me, worked in disaster recovery situations on the Gulf Coast. When the clean-up gets underway, could this be an opportunity for the Eastern Seaboard states to apply some of the rebuilding lessons of the Gulf after Katrina? Is there a role for Katrina Cottages?

Well, sure. If there’s one upside in the succession of devastating weather events over the last decade, it’s the opportunity to build on lessons learned. Time between disasters dulls response capacities; shorter gaps refine best practices. And for my money, no lessons are worth more than those connected with the evolution of sustainable neighborhood design.

Continue Reading

The New Incrementalism

The latest design trend appears to be designing a place to be realized in very gradual stages. Not in terms of planning for phases of development pods, built-out in a predetermined sequence, but about individual lots changing — evolving — over time. Very rarely now are we designing to build immediately for a project’s absolute highest and best use or, as Nathan Norris calls it, its “climax condition.” This new incrementalism focuses on how lots change — how they’re built upon and reconfigured over time before, ahem, reaching their climax.

Continue Reading

Hardiplank: Get into the groove?

In 2006 I was in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, for a planning event. On display downtown at the time was the prototype Katrina Cottage and a number of us spent one evening there conducting a spontaneous test of its ability to host a party. At some point, I ended up on the porch with a prominent new urban architect and, noting the cottage’s smooth Hardiplank siding, asked him, “Why do you think people always seem to choose the Hardiplank with faux woodgrain when the smooth is so much more natural and attractive looking?”

His response: “I don’t know. Vulgarity?”

Continue Reading

Dream Home for the New Era: Compact, connected & mortgage-free?

The future is here. And it’s for lease.

Even before the Great Recession, real estate market analysts Todd Zimmerman, Laurie Volk and Chris Nelson were patiently explaining the demography-is-destiny argument for an inevitable shift in American housing. It’s all about the numbers.

Continue Reading

Punk Rock and the New Urbanism: Getting back to basics

By the early to mid 1970s, something was wrong with rock and roll.

It no longer fought the system. Worse than that, it had become the system. Bloated. Detached. Pretentious.

Performer and audience, once fused in a mutual quest to stick it to the man, now existed on separate planes –  an increasingly complacent generation sucked into the service of pomp and circumstance. And the shared experience of joyful rebellion? Replaced by pompous, weed-soaked, middle-earth mysticism.

Rock and roll needed to get back to basics. What country pioneer Harlan Howard characterized as “three chords and the truth.” Enter punk rock.

Continue Reading

Livin’ Large in Small Spaces: It Takes a Town

I’m big on small.

Ever since the 2005 Misissippi Renewal Forum in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve been beating the drum for Katrina Cottages and cottage neighborhoods. Most recently here and, in 2009, here.

I haven’t exactly been a voice in the wilderness. In fact, I wasn’t even among the early wave of advocates. Continue Reading