ISC

Moss Point, Mississippi, United States

Turning Crisis to Opportunity

Moss Point, Mississippi Rebuilds in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina


Six weeks after Xavier Bishop was elected to his first term as mayor of Moss Point, Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf Coast. He watched from his office at City Hall as floodwater swirled into the downtown district. When it started to engulf his desk in the midst of the storm, he found a way to push through the front door despite the pressing water and headed for higher ground.

In the days that followed, the full impact of the storm became starkly clear. Homes, businesses and neighborhoods were destroyed and the entire downtown area was washed out in the storm. As the poorest town on the Gulf Coast, and already struggling from the consequences of losing major industries in the last few years, the city had lost significant jobs and revenue before the storm. Its two poorest neighborhoods, Kreole and Escatawpa, were also the most damaged by Katrina.

Since Katrina, however, many community members have realized that the disaster has afforded Moss Point an opportunity to emerge stronger than it was before the storm. Residents of Moss Point are now looking to reinvent Moss Point, a city once known for being "industrial," as a "World Class River City" that invites tourists in to experience its breathtaking wetlands, that centers around a vibrant downtown, and that engages all of its residents in making decisions affecting community life.

The immediate outpouring of assistance after the hurricane helped many residents begin to put their lives back together. However, unlike the larger cities on the coast, local leaders had little access to ongoing outside help to deal with the huge challenge of rebuilding the community, channeling public and private funds to where they would do the most good, engaging citizens in shaping rebuilding efforts, and addressing the long-term problems magnified by the disaster.

With this in mind, ISC offered to help elected officials, local nonprofits, and community leaders get the tools and skills they need to manage the massive rebuilding process and transform their city into a sustainable, thriving community. As the city rebuilds from the storm—an estimated 10- to 12-year project—Mayor Bishop says his life has become like the movie Groundhog Day. "It just seems to be one continuous effort to recover from the storm, and that process gets repeated day after day."

ISC is helping expand the community's capacity to take on this challenge—to build a stronger, more sustainable, and inclusive Moss Point. Here are some examples of how we have helped so far:

  • ISC managed a team of experts and partners to provide targeted technical assistance to city officials on sustainable community planning and design, city management and leadership, civic engagement, and economic development.
  • We helped Moss Point officials implement an unprecedented city-wide outreach process in which they solicited each ward for public input on plans for a new waterfront downtown.
  • To address a void in civic capacity, ISC helped found and nurture a grassroots sustainability nonprofit and gave two existing housing and development nonprofits extensive training that has helped them to become more effective community partners.
  • ISC worked with the mayor to launch a Task Force on Affordable Housing and a Task Force on Downtown Redevelopment, which actively participate with city officials on redevelopment projects.
  • ISC helped city officials craft a new vision for their city that places a strong emphasis on sustainability.
  • ISC organized a study tour to Charlottesville, Virginia for 30 government and community leaders who gained a strong sense of community spirit and learned about best practices in smart growth, neighborhood revitalization, community design, city management, and public-private partnerships.

Results

  • All new municipal buildings are now required to be LEED-certified.
  • Smart Growth concepts are being broadly integrated in the city's comprehensive planning processes.
  • Reconstruction aid has been directed according to community-defined sustainability goals, instead of repeating past development mistakes.
  • With ISC's assistance, the city won Main Street designation, paving the way for new investments, partnerships and recognition focused on historical preservation.
  • Housing, planning, and design services are accessible to the community since ISC helped two resource organizations relocate to Moss Point (in a formerly empty historic building).
  • Residents are now actively participating in day-to-day decision making as a result of ISC's civic engagement efforts.
  • A range of new private and public resources are flowing into a previously under-resourced city.
  • Underserved groups are gaining access to community planning resources through such efforts as a series of workshops and exhibits related to strengthening Moss Point as an ecological city.
  • Real progress has been made in reversing longstanding apathy in the community and in bridging social, racial, and economic divides.

ISC is now working with communities across the Gulf Coast—including Moss Point—to help them share resources and solutions through the Sustainable Communities Network.

Our work on the Gulf Coast was launched with donations from individuals who wanted to reach out to these small towns. Your support will help us continue to provide critical training and mentoring to this city as they continue to grapple with the monumental rebuilding process.