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A New Plan For Gulf Coast

Published: Thursday, November 3, 2005

Updated: Friday, August 23, 2013 16:08

Norman Garrick, an associate professor of engineering, recently returned to UConn after spending the week of Oct. 13 in Biloxi, Miss. at the Mississippi Renewal Forum (MRF). The forum was summoned by the governor of Mississippi "to recommend the best avenues of redesign and redevelopment for the state's coastal cities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina," according to a press release.

Garrick was chosen to join the forum of 100 experts by the Congress for New Urbanism, a group that promotes a "walkable" cityscape, "a diverse range of housing and jobs, appropriate architecture and planning" and "balanced development of jobs and housing," according to their web site. He was selected for his expertise in Urban Transportation Systems and was one of five engineers who attended the forum.

Over six days, the MRF created guidelines for the rebuilding of cities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast that were devastated by Katrina.

Garrick is hopeful the forum's progress will make the rebuilt cities better than before.

"Mississippi has been developed haphazardly," he said. "Very beautiful old towns were dismantled."

Garrick spent the week planning infrastructural changes that will prevent such catastrophe in the future.

"My main focus was on transportation systems that will support what [other planners] want to do to reconstruct the place, on what kind of infrastructure would help support their goals," he said.

Now that the MRF has developed a rebuilding plan, the responsibility rests on the developers who will realize it in the coming years. As for the plan itself, Garrick was impressed by the potential for improvement it showed, though tangible results may be many years away.

"In terms in developing a plan, it exceeded my expectations," he said. "These guys really know what they're doing in terms of getting public input, and getting together the plan. Transportation changes don't happen overnight, but they're looking to implement these things as soon as possible," he said. "One of the goals we kept talking about was that the immediate changes have to be done so as not to preclude following the proper path. Where we're going to put temporary housing, for example, has to be consistent with the bigger vision."

Realizing any vision in the Gulf will be a huge challenge, made increasingly difficult by the effects of global warming. According to Geology Professor Robert Thorson, the problem of global warming is effectively threefold.

"First it warms the ocean, which makes it expand, which raises its level, which threatens the cities," Thorson said. "Second, it melts glacial ice, which adds water to the sea. Third, it may increase storm intensity and frequency, though the jury is still out on that."

Due to developing problems, innovative engineering is crucial for at-risk cities.

"One architect suggested that we need houses that are designed to take a bath every 30 years," Garrick said. "Another idea is to build houses that can float. There are many challenges. Can poor people continue to live in these places?"

Although the challenges may be difficult, they are ones that Garrick and the MRF look forward to solving.

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