Much of the discussion focused on the ideas of creating more green space and improving public access to the ocean.
The town hall meetings, which are expected to run through early November, follow a six-day public design session involving several hundred local elected officials, state agency leaders, architects, engineers, planners and business people, commissioned by Gov. Haley Barbour and led by Miami planner Andres Duany.
By late December, the Governors Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal plans to produce a report with suggestions on how cities, counties and private citizens can help shape the look and feel of the 80-mile coastline of Mississippi, reported the Associated Press.
“I think that if the outcome is not greater than what was here before, there will be a permanent pall in Mississippi,” Duany said. “You will be pining for the Mississippi that was greater. You will be pining for a coast that was permanently lost.”
Barbour said Mississippians, not outsiders, will choose how the coast rebuilds from the devastating Aug. 29 hurricane. “At the end of the day, the local people are going to make the decisions,” he said.
Residents at one standing room-only meeting in Gulfport talked about the pros and cons of moving a CSX rail line and creating a passenger rail system similar to the cable car corridor in New Orleans.
One Gulfport resident, Dorothy McClendon, who lives one block north of the railroad said she worried the CSX change would draw more traffic to her community, reported the Mississippi Clarion-Ledger.
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr said the rebuilding gives the Gulf Coast an opportunity to plan for the future.
“It’s incredible. What we’re creating right now is the menu as well as the recipe,” he said.
Many of the leaders of the planning effort for the 11 coastal cities are part of the Congress for New Urbanism, a group of architects and planners who design communities meant to be pedestrian-friendly with green spaces, grocery stores and other businesses near residential areas.
The public forum was funded with a $1 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The cost of rebuilding the Mississippi coast is estimated at $50 billion. Commission members say they are working on various financing options, such as government grants and bonds, but that most of the money will come from private development, according to the Clarion-Ledger.