Professional planners: ‘Keep Oxford Oxford’

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – By many measures, Oxford is already one of Mississippi’s most attractive cities to visit or to live in, but a recently released, 88-page study is aimed at making it even more so.
A multi-disciplinary Sustainable Design Assessment Team from the American Institute of Architects spent several days in Oxford over the past several months and considered the city’s assets and needs in five areas – historic preservation, community planning, urban design and gateways, green infrastructure and transportation.
“The Oxford community has a wealth of community assets and several defining features,” the report states. The Courthouse Square defines much of the town’s “Southern charm and character,” while the community’s identification with William Faulkner and the University of Mississippi give it a strong civic identity and culture.
Features in regional, national and international media continually recognize Oxford’s quality of life, based largely on its small-town character.
Again and again, the SDAT team heard residents say, “Keep the feel.” “Keep Oxford Oxford.” “Consider the 24/7 residents.”
The design team recommended if the city looks after “the continued care and feeding of its preservation program,” partners with a nonprofit advocacy/ education group and expands the preservation message to schools, “then Oxford will keep being Oxford.”
The SDAT report noted Oxford’s existing orientation toward planning its future, as evidenced in Vision 2020, which identified long-term priorities for the community. It also encouraged partnerships on large-scale opportunities such as redevelopment of the old Whirlpool site and the soonto-be-replaced hospital site, along with development of the University of Mississippi Research Park.
Another major planning issue is that of housing – lessening the negatives of student housing and finding ways to provide more affordable permanent housing for the workers that are vital to any community.
Design assessment team members suggested more focus on giving Oxford’s gateways more signature looks and human scale. Its brainstorms included such diverse ideas as a strong Faulkner identity, a reflection of South Lamar’s commerce-dominated entrance and a plaza at the end of North Lamar’s stately residential section that would be a community gathering place. The recommendations also included street-scale trees, planters, public art, seating, pedestrian lighting and “placemaking” signage for thoroughfares.
Green infrastructure drew a host of recommendations, from such short-term priorities as usage of rain barrels and native plants to long-term changes such as water-conserving fixtures in public buildings, appliance buybacks and “greener” development ordinances.
City Planner Tim Akers said officials will study the document before deciding how to use it in Oxford’s governance.
“I think one of the most valuable things we got was the opportunity to work with a very professional team thatbrought a new, fresh perspective of some of the issues we’ve been discussing,” he said.


Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or errol.castens@journalinc.com.