Video: Mississippians fear casino shuffle

By Martin Savidge Correspondent
NBC News
updated 12/20/2005 7:45:58 PM ET 2005-12-21T00:45:58

Along the Mississippi coast, a new vision is rising from the destruction.

But Elaine Parker is convinced that vision doesn't include her. She's lived in East Biloxi for 61 years, and her family dates back six generations. Katrina flooded her home, and now she fears a new law will prevent her from ever living in it again.

That law allows once-floating casinos to be rebuilt on land. As a result, many have big expansion plans.

"It's going to be a tremendous opportunity for us," says Ricky Matthews, publisher of the Sun Herald newspaper.

Parker says she and her neighbors are being pressured by the city to sell out for pennies on the dollar.

"If you were our officials and I hand you money in this hand and that person had nothing, who you going to listen to?" she says. "It all comes down to greed, to money."

Bigger casinos mean more tourists and more jobs.

"For each casino job there are two additional jobs created," says Matthews. "We're talking about 15-17,000 casino jobs prior to Hurricane Katrina, and [an] estimated 25,000 in five years."

To attract those coming to work or play, Mississippi's coastal towns are leaning toward something called "New Urbanism." The idea favors old-fashioned town centers with quaint streets, parks, dense housing clusters and shopping. Driving is discouraged in favor of walking. Smaller versions already exist, like the community of Seaside in the Florida Panhandle. But new urbanism has critics.

"The creation of this sugarplum fairy vision of what a city looks like or can look like is an unnecessary, and I think, slightly insulting view of human intelligence," says Reed Kroloff, dean of the School of Architecture at Tulane University.

Others say New Urbanism is designed for a limited kind of resident, primarily wealthy and white. Most homes in Seaside sell for more than $1 million.

Which is exactly what Elaine Parker is afraid of — that plans for the future will make her and her neighborhood a part of the past.

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