PLANNING - The Cotton District

June 1996, Vol. 62, issue 6

Cotton mills started going up in Starkville, Mississippi, at the turn of the century and prospered until the 1950s. But by the 1960s, the failing remaining mill had been bought by the university and the surrounding area declared "blighted" for federal urban renewal purposes. By a fluke, says Dan Camp, part of the district was left out of the renewal area boundaries. Camp, an assistant professor of industrial education at Mississippi State University, was looking for land on which to build student rental housing and bought three lots. That was the start of the ongoing transformation of the Cotton District. Starkville, which is about 150 miles from Birmingham, has a permanent population of about 18,000, plus 15,000 students. 

ILLUSTRATION: In the last two decades, Camp has created some 135 rental units in buildings like these on Holtsinger. 

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Bit by bit, Camp is creating a new neighborhood. The cottages, duplexes, and fourplexes revive many elements of traditional southern architecture; including the two-story porches on the buildings he calls "The Four Apostles." Camp has trained local workers to duplicate many of the details.

 PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): "Zoning is my most interesting success," Camp says. Over the years, he has received variances allowing 10-foot front setbacks and a density of up to 29 units an acre. The Starkville planning commission also agreed to approve a planned unit development on a far smaller site than usual. Camp now owns about 10 acres. Although his relationship with the city hash 't always been smooth, local building director Larry Bell sounds genuinely approving when he says of Camp, "He's done a fantastic job with a Fun-down area." 

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Features like this brick passage between buildings have caught the attention of neotraditionalists. Camp made a presentation at the first Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993. 

PHOTO (BLACK & WHITE): Camp, a native of Tupelo whose business card describes him as a "community visionary, "says he became intrigued by the architecture of Vicksburg, where he once lived. And for the future? "I am fixing to do a 24-hour commercial zone, "he says. His idea, if he can get another zoning variance, is to redo an existing commercial street with new shops and apartments above them--and street vendors. "It would be a place that would benefit the students," he says.