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 ( 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 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

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?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sprawl Part I: Democracy and Public Space

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (1st Amendment to the US Constitution)
Democracy depends on the free and open discussion of ideas, and the right to free speech and peaceful assembly depends on the public space.  In antiquity, proto-democratic space was the agora, a place to discuss and deliberate the good.  In the city plazas, streets, sidewalks, parks, squares, piazzas, and other spaces act as these places for events.

What has happened to these public spaces in the last fifty years?  The suburban space is essentially designed around the car.  Jackson's suburbs, and those of many other US cities, began an exponential rate of growth after the introduction of the interstate in the late 60's.   Along with the automobile came a decline in sidewalks and increase in gated communities.  Instead of increased interaction of ideologies, suburban sprawl has encouraged clustering.  Groups of like-minded individuals have assembled together to fight the culture war.  Voting lines can be drawn to match spatial divides.

Sprawl has given rise to a particular suburban institution to which we must pay careful attention - the shopping mall.  The shopping mall makes that which was once public space into private, controlled territory.  In "Reclaiming and Remaking Public Space: Toward an Architecture for American Democracy" Kevin Mattson writes:
Though it draws citizens to a public square of sorts, the shopping mall is de facto a private space - run by a management company and owned by investors.  Due to this private status, many mall managers believe they have no responsibility toward the U. S. Constitution and its protection of free speech. . . . Unlike civic spaces of yore the shopping mall was created to encourage the private act of consumption.  In fact, contemporary architects design the mall for shopping - and shopping alone. (National Civic Review, Vol 88: 2, Summer 1999, 134-35)
The legal debate (ex. Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner) over whether malls, indoor and out, are public or private space has continued to rage, with some states erring more on the side of the protection of private properties and others more on the side of free speech.

What about Renaissance at Colony Park, Dogwood, Northpark, just to name a few?  Although the debate is important, doesn't the larger problem seem to be that of the architect, the urbanist, and the developer rather than the lawyer and the judge? 

What is to be done?  Is the solution New Urbanist communities, such as Seaside, FL or Lost Rabbit in Madison, MS, which are created from scratch to be "ideal towns"?  What about the older core of the city, Downtown Jackson and State St?  New Urbanism still has an air of omnipotence about it that, in contrast, no one can claim over Jackson.  In a consumer society, does the privatization of the public square scare us anymore?

Jan Mattiace, the marketing director for Mattiace Properties (one of the developers, along with H. C. Bailey Companies),  described Renaissance by saying "You feel like you're in a city."  The real question is, "are you?"

Friday, October 10, 2008

That BIG EAR hits the road!

Today that BIG EAR went to the fair with the rest of the team. We spoke to lots of people and conducted surveys and interviews. Many of you have very strong opinions about you're quality of life here. So far we have had a great response to our effort, but to truly grasp an understanding about the cares and concers of the people of Jackson it will require hundreds, if not thousands of responses. So tell your friends!

Stay tuned to see where that BIG EAR will be next!!!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where did all the density go?

Aerial image of Capitol St in 1946. (Courtesy LeFleur's Bluff Heritage Foundation)

From 1940 to 1950 the population of Jackson increased by 58% from around 62,000 to 100,261 as a result from the post-war baby boom. Jackson was on its way to becoming a thriving modern city which could have been comprised of walkable communities and public trasportation being an essential part of life. In the 1960's the Interstate was introduced and suburbanization became the more apparent life choice. Why did the people dissipate?