Baptist Town Neighborhood
Re-thinking Community and Addressing Housing.
Located in Greenwood, Mississippi, Baptist Town is a neighborhood strongly defined by the Chicago-Illinois Railroad, the Columbus & Greenville Railroad, and the Pelucia Bayou. Baptist Town is known as one of the African-American neighborhoods in Greenwood where community binds neighbors together by geography, history and common spirit. Characterized by its gable-roofed, shotgun houses, the district has distinctive qualities in its building forms and ways in which people use the public space.
Today, the neighborhood is troubled with problems of drug abuse, youth gangs, unemployment, and a general lack of community focus. The Mississippi State University School of Architecture and the Small Town Center were contacted to investigate and develop proposals that would help to revitalize the Baptist Town community. A third-year design studio, consisting of thirty-eight students, worked with the community members to determine the primary needs, propose solutions, and establish goals.
Throughout the semester the students photographed, sketched, and documented the elements and patterns that define the neighborhood. Through a series of public meetings, citizens provided input and ideas to determine the most pressing needs of the community. Through these discussions, a program was identified to establish a community center that would focus upon providing support to youth and employment. Such a center would best provide the community with childcare, vocational training, a place for community gathering, start-up business support and recreational facilities for all Baptist Town residents.
As imagined, the Center would provide activities and programs for children, youth, adults, and elderly. After-school programs for the children are needed to provide tutoring, recreation and an environment where children are given educational help, self-esteem building opportunities and positive role models. Job training programs for adults would provide instruction in particular fields and help individuals improve their skills to be employable.
Many spoke of the need of the neighborhood to increase the protection and safety of its residents and ultimately provide ways in which the residents and those outside of Baptist Town can recognize the neighborhood as a unified, proud community. Street and pathway lighting improvements were proposed to help decrease drug-related crimes and increase safety and awareness in the neighborhood. Ways in which the neighborhood entranceways could be improved and celebrated were identified through landscaping, signage and lighting.
And finally, of most pressing concern, was the need to address the current housing. Approximately one-third of the houses are owned by single families, the remaining are owned by absentee landlords. Identifying ways in which the single-shotgun house could be made to be more supportive to contemporary family needs and improving the general quality of the housing were identified. Fred Carl, from the Viking Range Corporation, identified a pair of shotgun houses to develop as a demonstration project with proposals made to add to the rear-end of the houses or combine two houses.
A final report was developed which presented all proposals, research and a resource directory identifying agencies that could be available to support the development of defined projects. This report attempts to reveal the needs, discussions and findings of the community, its local government, private support and possible direction that the community might begin to take.
This project began in a third-year design studio taught by Shannon Criss, John McRae, and John Poros in the Spring of 2000, and was followed by documentation and housing demonstration. It was funded by Viking Range Corporation of Greenwood, Mississippi.