If you’ve survived a hurricane with the fury of Katrina, the word sustainability is partly synonymous with survivability. The downtown area of Ocean Springs was one of the few commercial districts on the Mississippi coast to come through Katrina intact, or nearly so — but 177 houses in the small city did not. Mary Alice and John Miner had lived in Ocean Springs for 32 years when Katrina blew their house right off Lover’s Lane. Now they’ve rebuilt a smaller house out of steel studs and walls. At age 82, the couple (owners of a toy store that survived) once again has a mortgage, but they say it was out of the question to move away from their cherished hometown.
Because of debris that’s still being cleared away, local officials have implemented a hefty $300 fine for littering. They’ve already replaced more than 5,000 trees and have plans to restore protective wetlands. All new public buildings will meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building standards.
“We learned to be grateful for what we have here,” says mayor Connie Moran. What they have is a historic town settled by the French in 1699, with a colorful mix of mansions overlooking the sea, fantastic gardens and ivy-covered cottages shaded by live oaks — the southern symbol of strength.
Ocean Springs also has both natural and cultural assets. Tourists come here to eat fresh seafood; go sailboating, fishing and birding in the bayou and bay; or visit the barrier islands that are preserved as a National Seashore. Many also come to see the art of Walter Anderson, a painter who expressed the nature of Ocean Springs in bold, Van Gogh-like strokes. The Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center supplies music, visual and performing arts displays, and education to the community.
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Ocean Springs, Mississippi
Climate: Hot and muggy summers. Annual precipitation: 62 inches. Average January temperature: 68 degrees. July average: 82 degrees.
Median House Value: $120,500
Natural Assets: Elevation: 30 feet. Access to 170,000 acres of public lands in Jackson and George Counties and the 80-mile stretch of the Pascagoula River that is protected from development. At this year’s Wild Wing festival, more than 200 of 342 species of birds in the region were identified.
Sustainable Initiatives: Restoration of natural wetlands; replacement of destroyed houses with smaller, more energy-efficient homes; and creation of an eco-tourism industry around the unspoiled nature of the area: birds, marine life and other wildlife on huge tracts of undeveloped land.