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3/28/11 - Carl Small Town Center wins national award for Delta project

Mississippi State's Carl Small Town Center's efforts to help revitalize one of the oldest and most historic African American neighborhoods in Greenwood is being recognized by the American Planning Association.

During the APA's National Planning Conference April 12 in Boston, CSTC director John Poros and assistant director Leah Kemp will accept the group's Outstanding Student Project award for the center's Baptist Town project. The honor recognizes efforts by a university graduate or undergraduate class or individual that addresses a planning issue facing a small town or rural area.

The research and service arm of MSU's School of Architecture, Art and Design, the Carl Small Town Center works to help improve the lives of residents in historically and culturally significant communities, among other missions.

Known to many through the works of blues musician and storyteller David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Baptist Town was the last place legendary bluesman Robert Johnson lived before his death. Morgan Freeman, one of the nation's most famous actors, also attended school in the community.

Established in the early 1800s, Baptist Town has a history of a strong sense of community, having produced both blues singers and civil rights leaders. Time has taken a toll, however, with many residential structures in need renovation and housing generally in short supply.

Poros and Kemp said the MSU team is working to provide the needed direction to restore and revitalize the area. A master plan produced by MSU architecture and landscape architecture majors includes the addition of a public park, a community center and improved housing.

"It has also been a way to bring together so many entities, including residents, city officials, design professionals, and others, to work together toward a common goal," Kemp said.

Senior architecture major Chris Hoal of Collierville, Tenn., is among students who worked on the project.

"I learned planning techniques with the goal of promoting a sense of pride among a community," Hoal said, adding that the time spent in the Central Delta city helped him develop a greater appreciation for the impact of planning on a community.

With a master plan completed, partners on the project now are awaiting the results of a grant application to help fund neighborhood changes. The CSTC team also continues to refine plans for the community center.

Other partners in the project are working to set up a temporary community center, partially funded by The Help Productions, which spent time in Greenwood during the fall filming of the upcoming movie, "The Help."

Kemp said students involved with Baptist Town will apply the experience and insights they gained from the project as they begin their professional careers.

"I was able to see a different side of architecture not normally seen in a classroom," said Ryan Morris, a senior from Starkville.

ROBBIE WARD | University Relations

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