Written by Sherry Lucas | Photographed by Paul Wolf
Travis Crabtree and Salam Rida stride across the Ecoshed’s open expanse, full of the energy that comes with youth and the purpose that comes with vision.
The pair — partners in life, work and business — are urban designers for long-range planning under Jackson planning and development director Mukesh Kumar.
Crabtree grew up in the South, from Texas to Mississippi. He studied landscape architecture at Mississippi State University, then pursued a master’s in urban design at the University of Michigan. There, he met Rida, originally from Detroit, who has a master’s of architecture and a background in sociology.
“He brought me here,” Rida says of their move to Jackson for the Ecoshed, an incubator project to foster the state’s green and creative economies. Climate change is a controversial topic in the conservative state, and many people aren’t exposed to regenerative or sustainable food, water, energy and waste systems. “That’s the mission of the Ecoshed — to be this sustainable center for Jackson and for Mississippi,” Crabtree says.
There’s a cultural piece, too. Ecoshed’s pop up events — music, art, a fashion show — entice broader connection to the mission. “We need to start thinking about these problems today before we can’t do anything about them tomorrow,” Rida says.
Their aims find a good fit, too, with the city, where since February 2018 they’ve focused on long-term, sustainable development — visionary rather than piecemeal. “We’re trying to be a really experimental and radical thinking planning office,” Crabtree says. Human-scale, equitable development is the goal, to make a heavily automobile-dependent city more walkable, bikeable and public transit friendly.
That vision blossoms in the ONELINE project, targeting a corridor from Fondren through downtown to Jackson State University with a bus rapid transit system. It finds a positive outlet in the Congress Street parklet, and plans for a second on Capitol Street for PARK(ing) Day Sept. 20. “We’re going to basically be creating a courtyard/alleyway/public space,” says Crabtree that also connects to the first site for the Bloomberg Public Art Challenge’s Fertile Ground.
Clustering projects maximizes efforts for a higher impact, Rida says, “so that when people see the changes, it’s striking.”
The two, dreamers as well as hard workers, like to compare Jackson with Detroit, roughly the same size but only about a quarter of the people. Jackson has advantages useful in rebuilding itself, Crabtree says, imagining underutilized land transformed into stormwater, food, energy and waste infrastructure for a “super-interesting … semi-urban environment” where rural bumps up against high density.
Rida sees a lot of momentum here, “a lot of people who are ready for a great change to happen, especially with the younger generations.” That’s the creativity they hope to tap for sustainable involvement.
The Ecoshed is located at 133 Commerce Park Drive, just west of Fondren.