More on whatever happened to the Katrina Cottage

Katrina Cottage
© Ben Brown

TreeHugger has followed, written about, quoted and generally admired architect and author Steve Mouzon since I learned about The Original Green back in 2008. He has been an inspiration and has become a friend.

We have also been covering the Katrina Cottage since 2006, which I recently described as " conceived by New Urbanists including Marianne Cusato, Steve Mouzon and Bruce Tolar as a response to Hurricane Katrina; the little yellow version designed by Marianne Cusato inspired many people, including me, who saw it as a solution to the problems of affordable housing."

However I never understood what a pivotal role Steve Mouzon played in this until I read his recent post on the Original Green: What Was Gained in the Katrina Cottage Loss?- that Steve actually designed the first one. He writes:

I designed the first Katrina Cottage, then used it to illustrate the principles of the cottages in a call for designs to the members of the New Urban Guild. Designs began to pour in almost immediately. Thus began several years of pro bono work by Guild member on the cottages and other aspects of Katrina recovery. Six weeks after the storm, Guild members made up most of the architecture team, and filled slots on several planning teams as well, as nearly two hundred architects and planners gathered in a Biloxi casino to craft rebuilding plans at the Mississippi Renewal Forum.

He describes how he asked Marianne Kusato to do the design for a cottage to be presented at the International Builders Show, where it stole the show, and the rest is history. Unfortunately it is a very sad history; a cottage that he worked on that was supposed to be donated to a needy resident of Silver Spring, Maryland was not; and there were other, more significant problems, ones that are familiar to anyone in the prefab world.

The cottages always had one fundamental problem: so long as they resembled mobile homes, they were susceptible to the strong rejection of mobile homes that most communities exhibit. Like I told the mobile home manufacturers every time I spoke at their conventions, “it’s not good enough to produce homes as good as site-built homes. Your homes have to be substantially better. So much better, in fact, that instead of signing an ordinance banning your homes from town, the mayor is signing a check to buy one of your cottages.”

And then there was the fundamental problem of the name:

Southerners are often much too polite for their own good, so it’s no mystery that it took four years for a New Orleans citizen to finally tell me “Steve, you made a huge mistake. ‘Katrina Cottages’ are ‘Losing Everything I Ever Owned Cottages,’ or ‘The End of My Life as I Knew It Cottages.’ How could you guys possibly name them that?”

In the end, it is a familiar litany of woes. Tiny homes actually appeal to a pretty tiny audience, although Steve's original plan looks totally livable. There is still a great resistance to what people consider to be trailers, even though narrow shotgun houses were totally common in New Orleans. Factories still are resistant to retooling to build more slowly and carefully with different materials. However Steve ends on a positive note and says things are changing; read it all at The Original Green.

And read all about Steve in Related Links below.

More on whatever happened to the Katrina Cottage
Problems with manufacturing, with image, even with the name, all contributed to holding it back.

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