BIRMINGHAM — Cordova was described as a town full of history and hardworking people at the “Designing After Disaster” workshop held in Birmingham on Tuesday.
Paul Kennedy of the Walker Area Community Foundation told audience members that it is one of the most well-planned communities in the county because it was built to accommodate a booming textile mill and hundreds of workers.
A century later, a new generation of residents and designers are working to define what the Cordova of the future will look like after the city was devastated by two tornadoes on April 27.
Kennedy described the rebuilding process as a slow and constant struggle that has been complicated by a perceived lack of progress since the mounds of rubble were hauled away.
“Nothing is happening that the public can see, and when the public can’t see something, they get very irritated about that,” he said.
Beth Stukes, chairman of the city’s long-term recovery committee, agreed that it has been difficult to keep local residents from losing hope.
“The opportunity is very exciting and invigorating at the onset because we want something better, but our adrenaline runs out and people begin to tire of hearing what is going to come,” Stukes said.
Kennedy said that on an individual level, recovery committees in the city and county have been instrumental in soliciting assistance for unmet needs. However, they did not reach some storm survivors in time.
While local leaders were organizing a game plan, the patience of those who had lost everything ran out. Committee members later became aware of several families who used the assistance they received to purchase substandard housing such as tool sheds because it was the best they believed they could afford.
“Nobody was talking to them about what could be coming or how they could get it. These were well-intentioned individuals doing the best they knew how,” Kennedy said.
He added that one of a handful of housing challenges that Cordova residents faced after the storm was that many of the structures destroyed were rental properties. Landlords had little incentive to rebuild, and tenants were hard pressed to find new living arrangements because of bad credit, low income and other factors.
Also, a popular housing solution in the past, a mobile home, is now forbidden in most areas of the city by a zoning ordinance passed several years before the storm.
Kennedy said Cordova needs more housing that is affordable, weather resistant, energy efficient and an appropriate size to fit on the city’s narrow lots.
“The long-term ideal is to develop a community plan that figures out ways to build and fill in vacant lots with modest square footage homes. We hope to do the financial literacy and have the financial tools available for the individuals to be able to acquire those homes and stay in them,” Kennedy said.
Stukes ended the presentation by stating that although long-term recovery is taking longer than many people imagined, city leaders continue to work with officials at all levels of government to make the community’s vision for the 21st century into a reality.
“We will not settle for unsatisfying design. We will not settle for instant gratification. It is cheaper. It would make our lives easier at the coffee table, but we are building for our grandchildren,” Stukes said.