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SCI-Arc Director Stirring Up Debate Down South

Leave it to Eric Owen Moss to devastate the devastated. The sometimes loved, mostly reviled, but always interesting Moss attended one of those feel-good, "let's help the South rebuild" meetings in Biloxi back in October, as Business Week relates. The discussion of housing and how to do it right became a main topic of conversation, with new urbanists dogma coming under direct attack from Moss.

He told the [Washington Post's] Linda Hales that the New Urbanists' traditional town planning "would appeal to a kind of anachronistic Mississippi that yearns for the good old days of the Old South as slow and balanced and pleasing and breezy, and each person knew his or her role." Moss didn't say that Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk wanted to bring back the Jim Crow laws, but he might as well have. "How does he know? What does he know?" replied an infuriated James Barksdale, former Netscape CEO and head of Mississippi's rebuilding effort, when I asked him about Moss's volley from afar. "I thought it was a mean-spirited thing for him to say that we all want to go back and own slaves." Actually I thought Barksdale was being charitable when he characterized Moss's remarks: "arrogant" would have fit the bill — or "blindly ideological." But at least Moss was engaged enough by what was going on in Mississippi, and the stakes were high enough, that he felt compelled to say something.

Writer Blair Kamin's point in mentioning the Moss episode was to showcase a new battle among varying ideologies in how housing is being built in American cities today. The complaints about cookie-cutter subdivisions and soulless high-rises isn't going unheard among the builders and architects who's names are attached to these buildings. Is there a chance we'll see a return to socially acceptable, aesthetically pleasing and affordable housing in the near future? God we hope so. Let the discussion continue.
· Architecture Arguments Don't Help Housing [Business Week]