A committee of dedicated Chamber volunteers is offering a series of fascinating public workshops to help raise awareness on what it takes to be a "Smart Community."
- story by LB Kovac
Allison Anderson is a founder and one of the architects behind unabridged Architecture; she was also the first LEEDs-accredited professional in the entire state of Mississippi (LEEDS - Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - is a nationally recognized design standard).
Her portfolio ranges from small-scale residential remodels to macro commercial redevelopments, but much of her practice incorporates her community-driven approach.
Anderson’s been a member of the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce Greenways and Scenic Byways Committee for more than twenty-three years and has a long history of volunteerism and advocacy in the county.
“[As a city], you might want to be big enough to support a community college. How big is that?” she asks. “What does that town look like?”
Anderson’s eye for the bigger picture led her to develop “Smart Communities,” a series of lectures sponsored by the committee and spanning the year that highlights the powers shaping today’s communities. Anderson said, “The point of the conversations is to educate people on these ideas and open up the conversation to a larger group of people.”
The first lecture, given by leading economic development specialist Knox Ross, asked what communities could do to grow smarter. Some of the advice Ross gave might seem obvious, such as investing in local businesses, having a distinctive character and considering the role every individual plays in the community. But maybe less obvious? Moving your business a few blocks over.
“Good communities have to have these dense urban cores,” said Anderson. These cores help support small businesses, restaurants, culture, and a city’s night life, but they are often not ideal spaces for a new business. At some point, she said, “We have to look at places where our community can support new development.”
And, we have to think about the painful possibility of disaster. Much of the Mississippi coast is located on a 100-year flood plain. Anderson said, “Every home in our area has a 1-in-4 chance of flooding over the life of a mortgage.”
Rather than implementing the costly services necessary to support people in emergencies, communities need to consider retreating from the areas at the most risk.
“Katrina was a watershed moment for us,” said Anderson. Unabridged had just finished two projects before the hurricane and only one survived. “The guesthouse we had just finished was completely erased. It didn’t make it a month. And it was built to the same code as our office. A few blocks distance was really the only difference.”
The next lecture, given by Anderson Kim Architecture & Urban Design principal designer R. John Anderson on February 16, focuses on the mathematics of city planning. He specializes in urban strategy and will help explain why two businesses only a few miles apart can pay wildly different property taxes.
Other lectures planned for the year include a presentation by the Stennis Institute, a discussion on urban waterways, and a presentation by Mississippi Power on smart ways to incorporate power in communities.
Many aspects of “smart communities” will be explored at the series, which are all scheduled to take place at the Bay St. Louis Library. You can find updates on topics and lecture times at the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce website.
“There are a wide range of opinions about the right way to design, the right direction for our community,” said Anderson. “We want to take the temperature of the people. This is a chance for everyone to become part of the conversation.”