Soria City Neighborhood Planning
Community Partners: Soria City Civic Organization, Soria City Property Owners Association, Morningstar Baptist Church, Payne’s Café, Mississippi Center for Justice, City of Gulfport, IRD, Hope CDA, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, University of Minnesota-College of Design
In 2009, the GCCDS made a commitment to work in Soria City, an historical African-American neighborhood near downtown Gulfport. The goals are to help the community work with the City and other non-profits to provide lasting and meaningful improvements within the neighborhood, and to assist in the design and construction of new infill buildings and the renovation of existing buildings. Through partnership with various building organizations, the GCCDS has designed homes in Soria City that are either currently under construction or are complete. In the spring of 2010, five architecture students joined the GCCDS for an 8-week comprehensive studio on community-based design practice. Through measurement, observation, interviews, and collaboration with professionals and residents, the students informed the ongoing work at the GCCDS of developing a neighborhood streetscape plan, changing zoning regulations to promote better development, and continuing to work with various partners to make positive improvements in the neighborhood.
The original landowners of this small, close-knit neighborhood were African American families working in the nearby beachfront resorts. During the height of Soria City, in the 1950’s, local businesses and organizations provided services and entertainment within walking distance for residents. Like many historical African American neighborhoods in the South, integration signaled the end of functioning neighborhoods like this one; local businesses moved elsewhere, leaving vacant lots and empty storefronts. Damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 combined with a general lack of investment in the community over the course of many years has exacerbated the vacancies in the neighborhood even farther. As with many low-income neighborhoods, the average property value is too low for market-rate housing because the cost of construction exceeds the return on selling or renting the property.
Redevelopment requires subsidies and active participation by residents to create and maintain partnerships with the City and other organizations able to bring resources into the community. A vibrant group of life-long residents have recognized the challenges of maintaining the strong ties of the community and family in the face of urban degradation, and are working tirelessly to restore the neighborhood to the quality that it once was.