Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Tuscaloosa looks to other disaster sites for guidance


When it comes to recovery, it is no secret that Tuscaloosa has never faced devastation as vast as the aftermath of the April 27 tornado. Therefore, when it came to moving forward and taking steps toward revitalization, Mayor Walt Maddox took his sights outside of Tuscaloosa and into the various communities that have not only faced such disaster, but those who have taken a tragedy and flourished from its debris.

Less than five years before April 27, a 1.7-mile wide EF5 tornado devastated the two-mile wide town of Greensburg, Kan., killing 11 and leveling at least 95 percent of the city, according to The Washington Post.

Surrounded by wreckage, the small town had to move forward and begin the strenuous path to recovery. It looked for ways to not only rebuild in a financially responsible way, but also establish a stronger sense of community than ever before. Community members found one of their answers in Coordinated Public Facilities, a concept that takes separate establishments and rebuilds them under one roof.

Their success came by way of the Greenburg School Facility, a building that houses the city’s local school and also a community center used for meetings, events and various social functions.

“By combining the buildings we were really able to increase awareness and bring the community together in one place,” said Pam Reves, Greensburg city treasurer. “It has become so special to us. It’s not what it used to be before the tornado, but everyone has really rallied together around the facility and it has created strong community ties. It’s a place where we can come together and cheer for our kids in the gymnasium. It is the heart of our town.”

Not unlike Greensburg and Tuscaloosa, Waveland, Miss., was struck by natural disaster in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. The hurricane, listed as one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, killed more than 1,800 people in seven different states, including 238 in Mississippi, according to the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy.

Federal authorities deemed Waveland as Mississippi’s ground zero, as the town of 10,000 people and much of surrounding Hancock County had virtually no infrastructure following her landfall, according to The Washington Post.

As the town began to rebuild, Art Schuldt, of SGB Architects, LLC, said the key goal was to involve more of the community in the planning process. As town builders began construction on Oak Haven, a residential community for elders, they elected to rebuild using insulated concrete forms, walls strengthened with concrete to assist in withstanding future natural disasters.

“We really wanted to go out there and rebuild safer and better,” Schuldt said. “We started with a clean slate after Katrina destroyed many of our residential communities. “There’s definitely a sense of perception involved, as the residents want to make sure that they’re not moving into what they just left. With this design, the residents can focus on their safety.”

Builders also focused on location, as the community was designed as a pedestrian-friendly development near Waveland’s main economic and transportation arteries, something Maddox hopes to accomplish in Tuscaloosa.

A key section of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan involves building homes and townhomes that are affordable to those with a wide range of incomes. In the 5.9 miles that that EF4 tornado covered while on the ground in Tuscaloosa, it damaged approximately 5,000 units, which equates to over 12 percent of the city’s housing stock, according to numbers provided in the plan.

“The residents of Tuscaloosa overwhelmingly welcome the opportunity to rebuild Tuscaloosa into a 21st century city,” the section reads. “Rebuilding homes to meet the needs of returning residents and newcomers will be an important step towards realizing that goal. Tuscaloosa can boldly step into the future by setting the standards and creating a plan to finance and rebuild homes that are green, affordable, well-designed and transit-accessible, and to offer a full range of housing choices to its citizens in connected and thriving mixed-income communities.”

Although Maddox took many components of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan from cities devastated by natural disaster, he also looked at cities that have chosen to make improvements by their own accord.

More than 2,000 miles away in Morgan Hill, Calif., Madrone Plaza is a community built not only with green aspects in mind, but also as a community whose main priority is middle and low-income residents. Madrone Plaza also provides specific ways for low-income residents to obtain deferred payment loans and assistance to make Madrone Plaza more available.

“The city cares [about Madrone Plaza] because we want to provide housing for the entire spectrum of our residents,” said Erwin Ordonez, housing manager for the city of Morgan Hill. “We want to provide housing for current residents, employees, employers and for future residents of Morgan Hill.”

In the Tuscaloosa Forward plan, Maddox emphasizes the importance of the various green aspects of Madrone Plaza as well as its availability to local residents who work and thrive in the city. As outlined in the Tuscaloosa Forward plan, Tuscaloosa hopes to create such communities that are readily available to the entire range of the city’s residents.

In addition to seeking out financial benefits for the city of Tuscaloosa’s residents, Maddox looked to Milwaukee for inspiration when it came to encouraging a healthier Tuscaloosa in response to Tuscaloosa’s 33 percent obesity rate.

In Milwaukee, various community leaders and residents decided to create the Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network, a network that encourages local agriculture to better benefit the community. In the Tuscaloosa Forward plan, the network is described as a collaborative effort to raise awareness of the local production of food within the community as well as a way to support a healthier lifestyle.

“Another way to look at urban agriculture is that it is providing good food for people who are sometimes in neighborhoods that don’t have access to local grocery stores,” said Jeff Fleming, spokesperson for the Department of City Development in Milwaukee. “It also encourages community building which is something that really adds strength to communities. Urban agriculture brings people together, but once they are together, these neighbors can work together to find resolutions to more local problems.”

By developing the extensive plan in less than four months, Maddox said he understands why there are some people concerned that the city is moving too far and too fast, but says the situation requires Tuscaloosa to be deliberative yet be swift as it lays out a plan that allow for rebuilding of our city in such a way that honors all those who lost so much.

“None of us should ever forget what happened here, but I think that we should use it as motivation to improve our lives; if we don’t, we’ve failed,” Maddox said. “Then we really will be just captured by 5:13 p.m. on April 27. But if we grow this city and we grow ourselves, then that’s where the silver lining can be found.”

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