Christopher Swope was GOVERNING's executive editor.E-mail: email@example.com
A short walk from the quaint main street in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, architect Bruce Tolar is assembling a living museum of the Katrina-cottage movement. On a two-acre parcel he calls "Cottage Square" sits Marianne Cusato's original model, made famous in architecture magazines. Next door are other prototypes, home to a beauty salon, a real estate office and Tolar's own studio. Recently, eight of MEMA's one-bedroom cottages arrived and were arrayed behind white-picket fences in a neat row beneath pine trees. They're rented to locals displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
Tolar sees the neighborhood as a showcase for how to create genuine communities from the masses of cottages that MEMA is taking back from people who aren't using them anymore. But with the exception of Ocean Springs, which is working on creating two more neighborhoods out of used MEMA cottages, local governments don't want them. Tolar admits his idea can be tough to grasp. "Most people don't get this place," he says of Cottage Square. "Until they come here."
Lately, the housing bust has turned Tolar's thinking about the cottage movement in a new direction. "First, I thought it was a better, more humane way to provide recovery assistance after a disaster," Tolar says. "But really, it may be the recovery housing for the new economy. Maybe it's the home we can all afford. When people ask me why I spend so much time on these cottages, I say it's because I may be living in one."
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