Hurricane Matthew

Evelyn McCormick looks out at what used to be her back yard in Hope Mills, NC.

Andrew Fox is an associate professor in landscape architecture at NC State. Following Hurricane Matthew in 2016, he began work on disaster relief for communities in eastern North Carolina that were affected by the storm.

In the weeks following several major hurricane landfalls, Technician sat down with Fox to discuss his relief work in the town of Princeville, North Carolina.

What exactly were you working on with your colleagues in Princeville?

We have been working with a group throughout the summer, and actually all the way back to last fall post Hurricane Mathew, looking at a number of different communities. The group that we are most specifically aligned with is the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative. That is led by Dr. Gavin Smith, who is a professor in the department of city and regional planning at [UNC-Chapel Hill]. He, myself and Professor Kofi Boone, who is here at NC State in the Department of Landscape Architecture also, worked through the summer with a large team including architecture, landscape architecture and graphic design here at State to work in six communities on a document about recovery, specifically recovery housing and what to do with open space left vacant through the FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] buyout program. And as an outgrowth of that we established the Princeville community design workshop, and that’s probably what you have seen out there.

Professor Boone, professor Smith and myself set up that event to look at, specifically, a 52-acre site the state of North Carolina is considering helping the town of Princeville acquire, which is outside of the 100-year floodplain. The thinking was that they could move essential services there that would be up and out of that 100-year flood zone, when and if floods come again.

As a part of working above and beyond that was to understand how that new parcel, outside of the existing town, could be incorporated into the fabric of that community to support that community beyond just administratively, but also become a part of the fabric, so to speak, of how the citizens of Princeville think about their town, and what opportunities exist around that community to tell the story of Princeville. I don’t know if you are familiar with Princeville at all, but it's the oldest town chartered by blacks in the United States. It was settled by freed slaves in 1865, so it is not just of historical significance in the state, but also nationally. They’ve had their three worst disasters in recorded history in the past 20 years. Fran, Floyd and now Matthew, so since 1997 they’ve endured three massive flooding events in addition to smaller scares, so there’s lots of reasons to work with that particular community. The current residents are trying to rebuild in the wake of the devastation caused by Matthew.

How badly did Hurricane Matthew affect Princeville? 

It was devastating for the community. The number of houses that will go through the buyout program has not yet been determined, so I don’t have exact numbers for you at this time, because FEMA and the state are looking through their particular process to get applications from survivors who were affected, but it was a devastating storm. They were still rebuilding from the last series of storms, and just haven’t been able to recover fully from the storms that have knocked them down over the last 20 years.

What is the timeline of the current project they’re working on, buying and incorporating this new parcel of land into Princeville?

The state is looking to, hopefully, acquire the property, if they’re able to do so, but it’s not set in stone if the state is able to do so. They are looking at this fall, and then the development process is unknown at this time, it would depend on what would go on in those 52 acres. But that’s a part of what we were helping them to study. The design activities that we undertook over that week’s time with the citizens, the state representative and a number of agencies, we were exploring what could sit on that plain, but we weren’t determining what exactly those things would be. We were looking at feasibility of this project. Our plan is not set in stone and requires a lengthier process than the five days we were able to work with the town, the citizens and the county through issues and opportunities related to that site.

How important was resident feedback over the course of those five days when you were working on this project?

It was critical, the public came in every single night. We arrived with 30 design professionals from around the country, with expertise in space planning, architecture and land use policy and planning. We had this expert team from the private sector, the regulatory sector and the academic sector. We also had specialists in addition, that came in from different agencies like FEMA, the state floodplain management program, the national parks service, so lots and lots of folks were there with technical resources. We worked all day long, and worked through ideas each day and every night, beginning on Friday night, through Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night, there were formal presentations to the public.

At that time we would interact with them for a couple of hours around the table, just getting input from them. And the next day we would go back at it again with that input and tighten things up. Work in different areas that were important to the community. We repeated this every day, so that we were always getting input and making adjustments based on what the citizens wanted, not necessarily based on any assumptions that the design team or the state had coming into the project.