posted by Christopher Swope
Like many of the towns along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, Gulfport has fallen in love with New Urbanism since Katrina. The city has held a series of charettes with citizens and planners over the last several months. As Mayor Brent Warr told me yesterday, Gulfport is even on the verge of adopting New Urbanism's ultimate credo, the Smart Code zoning scheme that presents an alternative to the usual strip mall/office park/subdivision sprawl.
Here's the irony. Gulfport's economic engine right now is exactly the sort of traffic-choked ugly Generica that New Urbanists find so repulsive. Around the intersection of U.S. 49 & Interstate 10 sits a starship fleet of big-box stores, hotels, gas stations and chain restaurants. By now, I know this strip better than I'd like to: the Best Western here has been my home for the past few days (free continental breakfast!).
Love these businesses or hate them, they've been good to Gulfport for the past 11 months, by virtue of a simple geographic fact: they were far enough inland not to be demolished by storm surge. Other neighboring towns aren't so lucky. Pass Christian, for example, lost its Wal-Mart in the flood, and with the waves went a big chunk of its tax base. By contrast, Gulfport has seen its sales tax revenues shoot up because everyone for miles around is now shopping here. "Our retail numbers are off the Richter Scale," Warr told me. "We've already overcome our losses from gaming and the property tax with the sales tax."