Friday, September 18, 2009

ABOUT THAT BIG EAR

We are a group of fifth year students at Mississippi State University’s College of Architecture. More importantly, though, we are Jackson residents. Our goal is to encourage and continue the development of Downtown Jackson and the State Street corridor.




Although sprawl and decentralization have threatened Jackson, it is still a living city. Our goal is to work closely with Jackson’s residents; with their input, we hope to promote the city’s positive aspects and amenities, while identifying and offering possible solutions to problems within its borders. Jackson belongs to its residents. With their goals and desires in mind, our function is to serve as a guide for future efforts at restoring and maintaining interest, involvement, and pride in Jackson.

REGAIN ENTHUSIASM



“Jackson is poised at the edge of a developmental boom. We’re here to remind residents of the vast potential held by downtown, and get them excited again.”


RENEW FOCUS


“The stretch of downtown along the State Street corridor is the heart of the greater Jackson area, and, with resident support, we hope to propose solutions to return the area to its rightful place as the center of entertainment, service, and business.”



RETURN OWNERSHIP



“We want Jackson’s citizens to know that we are a voice that is helping to renew the sense of belonging that once saturated the air.”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Heartbeat of Jackson Hour

The JCDC will be guests with the Downtown Jackson Partners on WJNT News Talk 1180 AM, the “Heartbeat of Jackson”on Tuesday July 21 from 7:30 am - 8:30 am.

We will be discussing the future of our organization and how we intend to influence and assist with development and revitalization of the city. So tune in and check us out!

For more about the radio show, check out the "Heartbeak of Jackson" link.

Jacksonian Transit

When Jacksonians were polled regarding their current and desired mode of primary transportation, we found that almost 90 percent drive a car (of coarse) and the other 10 percent move about the city by car sharing, bus, bike, etc. The encouraging part is that 45% of the people said they would prefer another mode of transportation.

When we attended the Transportation Advocacy Board meeting at the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, we learned that there is a feasibility discussion for a future with light rail in Jackson.

So, perhaps some day the people of Jackson will have a mode of transportation that is something other than the car, but to do so, we should look at the way we are developing our city.
There is currently a rolling debate on the New York Times website which has opened the discussion for how to achieve carless cities or cities with less cars. According to Witold Rybczynsk, the density needed for mass transit feasibility and a significant drop in the need for a car is approximately 50 people per acre or around 30,000 people per square mile.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Issue - Limitless Growth and Consumption

The mid size American city, a metropolitan area that ranges from 100,000 to 1 million people, is home to nearly 30 percent of the current US population. The JCDC’s primary focus is the greater Jackson metropolitan area, which has a population of around 530,000 people, as a means to think about the future of these areas that make up 288 of the 361 metropolitan areas in the US. With the US metropolitan population growing at 3.8 percent per year, the making of a sustainable future depends on the healthy development of these regions. Currently, growth in mid size metropolitan areas suffer from the convergence of three attitudes: an implicit association of sustainability with rural and suburban types of development, faith in the power of technology to solve every problem, and a fear of cities.

To truly be capable of making proposals and projections regarding the Greater Jackson metro area, first we must grasp the issues at hand on the national scale. Research is being conducted to analyze current land use and projected growth patterns. The results are pretty shocking. The US population is currently around 30o,000,000 people with a current average density of 79.6 people per mile. Along with mapping the current land use and density we have found three projections of the population and development growth. As you can see in the graphics depicted here, we are predicted to rapidly continue to consume our countries available land and natural resources. The evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson states that to achieve maximum biodiversity the US should return to 50% developed and 50% natural, but unfortunately this is not the predicted direction.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In the works...

No fear everyone! The JCDC is not as dormant as it may appear to be at the moment. We are hard at work scheduling events and teaming up with organizations to increase our involvement in the community. We were lucky to have had a Michael Sorkin (www.sorkinstudio.com), an urban guru from New York, in our studio recently and we discussed the work that has been developed among us, the future of our organization, and the symposium that we have in the works.


In the Fall of 2009, students enrolled in Urban Design in collaboration with the Jackson Community Design Center will continue research initiated by last year’s class which addressed architectural, economic, infrastructural, and zoning conditions along the State Street Corridor in Jackson (that is, all blocks immediately adjacent to State Street from I-20 in the south to County Line Road in the north). While the form and specific content of this research will be determined by the class as a whole through the course of the semester, the measurable output of this work will take the form of a public symposium and exhibition early in the Spring of 2010. By disseminating their findings directly to city and state leaders, interested citizens, and other researchers, students will receive feedback, both practical and theoretical, and reap the benefits of expanding the all-too-often narrow dialogue.

It is our hope that the community at large will choose to participate.


(Excerpt from our letter of intent written by Jassen Callender.)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

the JCDC goes global

Where has the JCDC been?  Rome, Sienna, Orvieto, Florence, Vienna, Prague, Munich, to name a few places . . . .  but now we are back and will return once again to discussing Jackson on a regular basis.  Check back soon!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Lesson of Revolutionary Road

Several of us went and saw Revolutionary Road last night, and I was pondering the meaning of the movie for our project.  Some may point to moral, familial, or religious failure as the source of the hopelessness and meaninglessness in which Frank and April Wheeler find themselves.  Not to deny that these points have validity but only to add another angle to the discussion, I would like to also consider the existential failure of the Wheeler's as a result of the loss of the city. Religious leaders, talking heads, pundits, radio commentators, and others all decry the failure of families and morals today, but the failure of publicness and cities is often overlooked.

The idea of a city, particularly somewhere like New York, is predicated on diversity - on heterogeneity.  April Wheeler had a dream of her and Frank being different, of being "shining stars" in the world.  The collapse of these dreams was not the result of her having kids or the family's lack of money, it was the existential crisis of homogeneity.  Suburban living has the potential to create a situation that lacks the tension of difference between the people that surround us and the people with whom we come in contact.  The Wheeler's moved to the suburbs "because of kids," but it is also because of their fear to "difference," which I use in reference not only to phrases like "dare to be different" but also in reference to the difference of non-likeminded people that you can't help but encounter on the subways and railways of major metropolises.  Once they were in the suburbs, there was no chance of getting out because their imaginations and dreams faded until April eventually becomes an empty shell.

The crisis of homogeneity does not only happen in the suburbs, it can happen anywhere, but the ideas of defensible space (between the city, between people) and spatial privacy, and the proliferation of private transportation and the internet as public space, are all attempts to push tension out of our lives.  Voting blocs get drawn very distinctly the more we territorialize into homogenous groups (ex. gated communities) and let the public sphere fail.  On this blog, I've already pointed to suburban shopping malls and privately owned new-urbanist developments as examples of responses to the terror of urbanism, but suppose that all of this is also a result of a fear of difference. 

The implication here is not that difference isn't sometimes painful or annoying (Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David have proven that it is a comedy goldmine), but maybe it is really necessary for the feeling of being alive for which the Wheelers were searching. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Private City

Ridgeland has recently created a new masterplan as part of their campaign to RAMPup Ridgeland. The preliminary masterplan has two points of interest for us:

1) (page 7/16) AVOID NEGATIVE TRENDS.  
The neighboring town of Jackson has influenced Ridgeland's growth patterns in many ways, but one that should not be repeated is the development along the highway.  Service roads with too many turnoffs to street side parking and feeder roads can create bottlenecks and unsightly development.  Limiting curb cuts along the new I-55 service road system will be difficult but necessary in promoting development facing the roadway, not backing up to it.
Areas that are the reason that interstate architecture exists -  suburban conditions - are realizing the problems interstate architecture can create, but instead of returning to the density of the city, the goal has been set to create pockets of density with in the suburbs that turn away from their life force - the interstate.

2) (page 12/16)  MORPHING THE MALL.  
Indoor malls were once the standard in American shopping.  Due to a variety of influences, they seem to be losing favor with today's shoppers.  In order to protect and utilize the enormous investment of property, infrastructure and architecture, developers are initiating innovative ways to transform properties into more attractice veneus by blending mixed-use office, residential, entertainment, and outdoor retail.
A mix of offices, residential, entertainment, and outdoor shopping in a walkable area that turns in to itself . . . isn't that just the city?  The development trend seems to have recognized many the important aspects of the city, but without calling it what it is.  In the final irony, the suburbs, which have become a symbol of getting away from the urban, are now trying to recreate that from which they ran.  The immediate difference is that these "cities" are private developments on private land with largely privately controlled infrastructure.  This may leave us one day asking what happened to democracy in the city?

The shear number of core areas that this masterplan identifies that should be built up into walkable, new urbanist type communities leaves one wondering how many people it would really take to create this many small towns within Ridgeland.  Why are so many different small communities necessary?  I imagine this is the mixing of suburban and urban ideologies - of wanting the spread out and get close together at the same time.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Isolation: Concepts. Pt. 2

As a note, all of these concepts are very rough initial sketches...

iso·late 2: to select from among others ; especially : to separate from another substance so as to obtain pure or in a free state 


The fabric of the city is cut by an unplanned event: the isolation of the city from the interstate.  The routes in and out of the city (Pearl and Pascaguoula Streets and High Street) have become expressways offering a taste of suburban culture to the suburban invaders who flood the city every day from 8 till 5 pm (and flee at night):  a gas station here (how else am I going to get home?), a drive-thru fast food joint there (dinner?).  It seems there are several forces that have contributed to this condition.
1) The Gulf, Mobile, and Northern railroad (which later joined the M&O to form the Gulf, Mobile, and Ohio) came through Jackson in 1927. The station was constructed just east of the Old Capitol, halfway down the hill towards the fairgrounds.

It stopped running in 1954.  The bed of the tracks remains, as well as some of the actual tracks, but one of the major spatial effects of the route is the remaining zoning lines and buildings that responded to it.  In particular, take a look at the upper right corner of the current map below.
The temporal residue of past functions remains on this site.

Several other forces combine with the train tracks to allow this area to act like a pair of scissors that isolates the city from the interstate.  

2) This area behind the Old Capitol is also the location of a major topo change.  Train tracks sit halfway on the ridge between the upper and lower plane.  on the east side of the topo, the city disappears except for the tops of the highrises.

3) Pearl and Pascagoula avoid these areas at all costs.   The Pearl St. bridge avoids the lower topo and goes over the tracks.  Pascaguola runs under the ground and avoids the tracks.

4) The buildings facing Jefferson in this area are unable to robustly respond to the height of the bridge, or the realities of traffic routed away from Jefferson.  The visual focus entering the city on Pearl st. becomes the back of the buildings facing State st.

The buildings facing Jefferson feel like they are facing the wrong way, they address largely undeveloped space. In a way, their function becomes very similar to interstate architecture - architecture that is seen from a distance.  To get to these buildings you must exit Pearl st. before the bridge, or loop around once you cross it - just like trying to exit the hard edges of the interstate.

Also, the recent renovation of the Old Capitol seems to play up this distinction.  The backside of the capitol in its original scheme, to which it has been restored, was not plastered.  Of course in the original plan of Jackson the back side of the Capitol did not face the most heavily trafficed entrance into Jackson.  By restoring the Old Capitol, the alien nature of the pearl st. bridge is exposed even more...

5) The fairgrounds and the old pearl river flood plane occupy most of the space between the interstate and the city.  These two conditions act as "desert" conditions.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Survey Results - Part 1

That BIG EAR has been an evolutionary tool to provide public outreach and involvement in our efforts of reviving the Jackson Community Design Center. Just as with any scientifically, philosophically, or socially induced endeavor; one must begin at the beginning. First, we established that the degeneration of State Street as a vital artery to the city was an issue to be addressed. As a balance to the objective quantitative data we were collecting, some qualitative subjective data from the inhabitants of the city was deemed useful and important.

For our first attempt of extracting public opinion, we conducted a very general survey.
The most important aspect of developing theories about existing issues is to identify what these are and their hierarchy. Jacksonians were asked to do so in the survey.
We had 360 respondents and the results are as followed:

A grad student from Jackson State University who lives in South Jackson elaborated for us. When asked for any other comments or concerns he or she listed:

1. Poor Leadership 2. Poor Management 3. Poor Goal Setting / Planning 4. Lack of Unity from stakeholders 5. Lack of High Paying Jobs 6. Lack of Night Life for a major city 7. Poor Business Assistance / Development Programs 8. Lack of attention to the arts/ tourism - (no movie theater) 9. Poor Housing Stock 10. Lack of Infrastructural Investment i.e. water, sewer, pipe lines, power lines and street lights 11. Lack of youth investment - i.e. youth training, cultural center, recreation parks & youth outreach.

The elaboration of this particular Jacksonian is not too dissimilar from the others. Also, the responses to this question are not exactly unexpected, but this information allows us to isolate general concerns and the areas where people have them. This allows us not to solely rely on assumptions and it helps establish where our efforts can be most effective. But the question really is...what to do with this information? To what extent can the JCDC fit into this equation? What should our role in the continuing growth of the city be?

We wish to establish the differentiation between fact and perception. As we continue to compile and illustrate the rest of our data, perception versus truth will be exposed. We are currently mapping years of crime statistics and maps, property values, population density, traffic counts, and studying plans for future development. This will be the quantitative backing to our qualitative initiatives. Please stay with us and check in from time to time to monitor our progress.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Glacierization: Concepts Pt. 1

That BIG EAR is coming back to life this semester under the auspices of the Jackson Community Design Center based out of the 5th year MSU architecture school.  By the end of this term, the JCDC will be publishing a book of 4-6 conceptual suggestions about the current conditions of State Street.  

Our theories are conceived in the larger frame work of the relationship of I-55 and State Street.  The basic supposition that unites our work is that the interstate is one of the most important variables in the evolution of Jackson and many other similar cities.  This relationship is what we will call the effects of a superpath on a path.

This post is the first in a series of initial concepts.

GLACIERIZATION

gla·cier: a large body of ice moving slowly down a slope or valley or spreading outward on a land surface

Annexation Map of North State Street – annexation of the final territory happens around the time of the completion of the interstate

The speed of growth of State Street slowed to a crawl in the 1970’s as the interstate began to dominate.  Zoning annexation finished up the north end to the edge of Ridgeland , but the area was already marked with the stench of death. 

Development has continued in Ridgeland, just across the interstate—just across the divide between the suburban and urban.  At the divide, a suburban phenomena, Target turns its back to State Street and opens onto the interstate.  Just north of Meadowbrook Drive traffic drops on State Street and increases on I-55.  There are very few reason to come to State Street along this stretch, and, additionally, there are also very few reasons to use this stretch as a path from one destination to another.

Why does glacierization occur and why at the north end of State Street?  We may initially respond that it is simply a result of economic pressures, the interstate drove State Street out of business, but this answer misses the larger question, a question of ideology.  The north end of State Street acts as defensible space—distance that is used to separate the safety of the suburban from the terror of the urban.  This distance is a physical and psychological barrier—a constructed empty space made possible by the technology of the interstate and the state of mind of a fearful demographic.  Is this not the reason so many residents in Ridgeland put up a fight over the height of an office building at The Renaissance?  They moved to Ridgeland to get away from the city.  Tall buildings, vertical growth, is equated with the city, a truly unruly place.  Suburbanism is a politics of fear.

How could urbanism, a doctrine of compactness, over come the distance?  How could Jackson possibly reach out to its suburban neighbors?  The north end of State Street will forever be a glacier, a silent limping body.  In fact, the glacier seems to be spreading as development continues to move north and county line road begins to die.  The only hope is global warming...

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

That BIG EAR

That BIG EAR on Farish St.

Interview 1

video

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Necessary Jackson Discussion

Today that BIG EAR was featured in the Clarion Ledger.

Our letter to the editor:

What’s wrong with Jackson? It’s unsafe. It’s boring. Its politics are divisive. It’s hot and humid. There’s nothing to do after 5pm. Underneath the misconceptions and overstated rhetoric lies a truth: Jackson and the perception of Jackson are in need of improvement. Since the 1980’s, population has been declining. Suburban sprawl has increased the size and wealth of suburbs, but the city itself has seen limited development.

The condition of Jackson is not unique; similar cities all across America suffer from the same deadness. Just like many other cities, Jackson has great potential. What do we do? Listen. The typical master planning exercise often comes from a problem-solution approach. Experts are brought in to propose answers to problems that often aren’t understood. Instead of proposing solutions, we are listening to the problems. We are finding the trajectories that make up Jackson, specifically the State Street corridor. We are uncovering the past and present in order to better understand the complex situation in which we participate.

We are That BIG EAR. That BIG EAR is a group of 5th year architecture students from Mississippi State University located at 509 East Capitol Street, and we are in the process of an urban analysis of the evolution of Jackson, MS and the State Street corridor. We want to know what the community thinks. We want to hear stories about your experiences in Jackson. We want to hear about Jackson’s past. We want to know what you think is good and bad about Jackson now. We want to hear how you think Jackson should develop. Let us know what you think by joining in the discussion at our blog (http://thatbigear.blogspot.com). Take our surveys. Speak out about your city and keep your eyes peeled for big ears.


Written by Bryan Norwood, that BIG EAR

Click here to see our letter on the Clarion Ledger website.

Can architects solve crime?

"What would it take for you to move back to Jackson?"
Answer: "Navy Seals...at least 12 of them" - anonymous survey respondent

In our survey we ask questions about the main problem Jackson faces...almost 70% of Jacksonians who have responded have said "crime" and "bad leadership" are the main contributors to the current perception of Jackson. As an architect, these two problems create an interesting predicament. What can an architect do to address these problems?

Social implications of what we design as architects are just as (if not more) important that the aesthetics. No one will inhabit the buildings we design if they don't feel safe.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tell us the history of Jackson!

We have been getting some great feedback from all of you and we are hearing some stories that are unwrapping the "real" Jackson. For those of you we haven't heard from, here's your chance!

Post a story here that you think explains or contributed to the development of Jackson as it is today.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Downtown Hour


That BIG EAR hit the airwaves Wednesday evening with Ben Allen on the Downtown Hour! Be sure to tune your radio dials to 103.7 fm from on Sunday from 5 to 6 pm to hear us again!.


You can also listen online at http://www.wlezfm.com/.


We had a great time and a great conversation, and we look forward to continuing to work with Ben and the rest of Downtown Jackson Partners.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Face of Jackson, oh How it’s Changed

Yes, when people ask me do I enjoy spending time in Jackson, my answer isn’t usually an honest yes. Jackson has a lot to offer a 23 year old kid, but then again, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I grew up in Jackson. South Jackson to be specific. My childhood years were spent like most regular kids. I played a lot of little league baseball, rode my bike, played backyard football, went to church weekly, you know, kid stuff. I can’t count the hours I spent at Levell Woods Park hoping to become the next Babe Ruth and all the time practicing up on my skating skills at the old rink on Cooper Road. I’m sure if I thought hard enough I could still remember setting the high score on the old Street Fighter II machine at Diamond Jim’s in MetroCenter, or trying to hit a golf ball past the windmill at Golf World. I always hated that windmill.

But like all kids, innocence wears off. Sometimes things change even before you ask them to. All the time I spent growing up, not noticing the downfall of Jackson in front of my own eyes leaves a lot to be desired in me. Where is that fun, that excitement, that energy that Jackson I knew growing up used to have?

Now I’m about to take a leap of faith into adulthood called college graduation. This could be my time to really make Jackson shine. This could be everyone reading this blog’s chance to make a difference. But how do we do that? How do we overcome so many of the problems the city faces to bring back that sense of innocence to all of us? To prove that Jackson can do it, and it can be something special?

I think its safe to say there’s a passion about living here embedded in me somewhere. I guess there’s something in me that won’t let me walk away and just watch the city perish…

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Connections Come, Connections Go

Image from MDAC.  An alchemist's connection that lasts 2 weeks.

So long Mississippi State Fair 2008.  Here's to another year of a city disconnected from its main corridor.   

Prior to the construction of the interstate in the late 60's, The fairgrounds resided on the opposite side of the main corridor (State st.) from the city.  Now it resides between the city and the corridor (I-55).
Current Traffic Counts on State St. (red) and I-55 (yellow) from intersections with I-20 (right end) and County Line Rd. (left end)

It is an incision in urban fabric, a desert that cuts a quiet city off from a fast-paced interstate.  What do we do?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What is Jackson's Identity?

How many of you give driving directions like this...take a right at the Shell station, then go down until you see the sign for Home Depot, then you will take a right and you will see a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell... etc.? If Jackson was stripped of all of these signs and all outdoor consumer propaganda, what would the identifiable land marks be? What is Jackson's Statue of Liberty, Millennium Park, or Bourbon St.?

In an article by David Harris featured in Adbusters magazine, Harris looks at just this sort of situation. Sao Paulo, Brazil the fourth largest metropolis in the world and Brazil's most important city imposed a
regulation that all outdoor advertisements be banned and removed. The city's mayor, Gilberto Kassab explains:

“The Clean City Law came from a necessity to combat pollution … pollution of water, sound, air, and the visual. We decided that we should start combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector – visual pollution.”

The article also includes and excerpt from and interview by Bob Garfield on "NPR's On the Media" with reporter Vinicius Glavao from Brazil's largest newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. In the interview when Galvao is asked about the appearance before the ban he states:

"São Paulo’s a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria. And now it’s amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area."


The interview later continues with the following dialogue:

BG: I want to ask you about the cultural life of the city, because, like them or not, billboards and logos and bright lights create some of the vibrancy that a city has to offer. Isn’t it weird walking through the streets with all of those images just absent?


VG: No. It’s weird, because you get lost, so you don’t have any references any more. That’s what I realized as a citizen. My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was covered through this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s got now new language, a new identity.

Photograph of Sao Paulo taken by Tony de Marco

(Click here to see more photos of Sao Paulo)



Photograph of street signs after Hurricane Ike in Galveston, TX. (Click here to see flickr link)


Now, picture this:
If we were to wake up tomorrow and all evidence of outdoor advertisement had vanished, would the existing structures hold their own identity?

Which areas of Jackson would maintain their integrity? What measures would have to take place for those identities to begin to emerge?

Now, lets take this to another level...imagine that the entire population of the United States woke up tomorrow and found the same scenario. I feel like I'm creating the makings for a killer Twilight Zone episode, but work with me for a minute. Which cities do you think would be the most successful at still functioning?

This is an important factor in our research in finding the influence of the Interstate on city development. Most likely, the cities that would be the least detrimental to the human psyche and the personal sense of orientation would be those whose infrastructure developed based on the necessity of walkable neighborhoods and mass transportation. Cities designed around plazas and iconic landmarks. New York, Washington D.C., and Boston just to name a few.


The reasoning is simple: how easy would it be to find your unlabeled de
stination while driving 60 mph down the freeway?