Making The Cotton District (White): Urban Renewal, New Urbanism and the Construction of a Nostalgic Neo-Plantationist Pastiche


Sometimes heralded as the first ever new urbanist development, Starkville, Mississippi’s Cotton District neighborhood stands out as a relatively dense, walkable and mixed-use neighborhood in the otherwise car-centric landscapes of the rural south. Together with the neighborhood’s colorful buildings reminiscent of the grand homes of the antebellum South, these elements obscure the fact that the neighborhood as it exists today is the result of a federally-funded urban renewal project that razed much of the adjacent Black neighborhood of Needmore, and opened up the present day Cotton District as a space for new investment. In excavating the details of these different elements of The Cotton District’s history, our central conceit is that The Cotton District represents what we call a ‘nostalgic neo-plantationist pastiche’ produced through the material and symbolic displacement of Blackness and its replacement with both material and symbolic whiteness. By conceptualizing this landscape as constituted fundamentally by white nostalgia for a mythical, bygone era of plantation capitalism, and instantiated through a bricolage of architectural and design styles, we seek to draw attention to the precise ways that this landscape actively (re)constructs the past, rather than simply representing it. At the same time, the case of The Cotton District offers an opportunity to reconsider received wisdom in urban design and planning concerning the historic and contemporary linkages between urban renewal and new urbanism, and racial inequality and urban planning more generally.

Annals of the American Association of Geographers 113 (5): 1153-1171
Taylor Shelton
Assistant Professor of Geography