Before the term New Urbanism was invented, developer Dan Camp was working out its basic concepts in the Cotton District, an upscale to midscale mixed-use neighborhood in Starkville, home to Mississippi State University and a natural market for Camp’s innovative mix of shops, townhomes, apartments, and streets.
Termed the “most photographed” area of the university town, the Cotton District takes its name from Starkville history. The area once called Needmore, bounded by Lummus Drive, Holtsinger and Maxwell Streets, and University Drive, was built as tenant housing for workers at the Sanders Cotton Mill in 1926. The mill scaled back operations in the 1950s and shut down completely by 1964. Camp began developing the area in 1969, first building fourplexes on small lots on Lummus Drive and renting them to students and young professionals.
By the turn of the twenty-first century, the development contained more than two hundred duplexes, fourplexes, apartments, townhouses, and cottages in varying architectural styles, ranging from the Charleston-style townhomes on Planters Row to the Seven Sisters, a set of cottages named after women in Camp’s family. In addition to Charleston, South Carolina, Camp has cited New Orleans; Alexandria, Virginia; and Vicksburg as inspiration for the classical details in his construction. Design hallmarks of Cotton District buildings include courtyards and fountains reminiscent of New Orleans, wood-post foundations based on an early Mississippi architectural style, and custom millwork, windows, and posts created by Camp’s stable of craftsmen, including Camp himself.
New Urbanism is an architectural movement that encourages redevelopment of urban areas through the renovation of older buildings and the creation of mixed-use communities that offer residents easy access to goods and services. Architects founded the Congress for the New Urbanism in 1993, but “Dan Camp was practicing new urbanism for at least twenty years years before new urbanism had a name,” according to charter member Victor Dover, a Florida architect.
Urban planners have come to consider the combination of livable, affordable, practical, and organic development that the Cotton District exemplifies as a model and are amazed at how Camp has made low-cost housing not only beautiful but profitable. Said Dover, “He’s achieved affordable housing, which is the holy grail of city planning in America today, without . . . the government paying part of the bill.”
The Cotton District continues to garner national attention, with shows as varied as HGTV’s Dream Builders and the Turner South Network’s Three-Day Weekend featuring the area on television. “Everybody said I was the town fool,” Camp told the Mississippi Business Journal in 2003, “but I knew I needed a better mousetrap.”
- Dan Camp, telephone interview by author (2003)
- Cotton District website, www.thecottondistrict.net
- Victor Dover, “Peer Review: Dan Camp’s Cotton District,” paper presented at the Congress for the New Urbanism (2003)
- Victor Dover, telephone interview by author (2003)
- Wilton J. “Bill” Johnson Jr., Mississippi Business Journal (31 July 2000)