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Hattiesburg Receives Honors at Conference for Alabama – Mississippi Chapters of the American Planning Association

Hattiesburg, Mississippi – Hattiesburg was recently recognized at the 2022 annual conference for the Alabama – Mississippi Chapters of the American Planning Association. Honors included an award for Dr. Richard Conville, a longtime member of the Planning Commission and Board of Adjustment, as a “Planning Advocate”; and a “Great Public Space” award for the collaboration that brought the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum Alley to life. 

The Planning Advocate Award honors an individual, appointed or elected official, who has advanced or promoted the cause of planning in the public arena. This only begins to scratch the description surface of the impact Conville has made on the greater Hattiesburg area. 

“Dr. Richard Conville embodies the definition of what it means to give of oneself solely to benefit the community in which he lives,” said Urban Development Director Wiley Quinn. 

A lifelong learner, teacher and community advocate, Conville was invited to take part in the Planning Commission in 1996. Since his appointment, he has attended more than 300 planning commission meetings and served as the chair of the committee for many years. His award nomination stated, “His engaging commentary and critical mind are invaluable to the community as a commissioner. The institutional knowledge he brings to the commission proves to be useful in every meeting.”

Conville’s involvement in the Planning Commission has included assisting in all major planning documents produced for the City of Hattiesburg since 1996. He has also served as a member of the Vision Advisory Team for the 2008-2028 Comprehensive Plan, a member of the Leadership Team for the Midtown Development Project (2010) and the currency Land Development Code for Hattiesburg (2017).

Quinn added, “While continuing to serve our community as a member of the Planning Commission, he has further volunteered his time in service as a valued member of the Board of Adjustment. It is a pleasure to know that a man with a heart to see growth, development, and continuing education in our community is honored in such a manner as this.”

Conville’s contributions to Hattiesburg are many. He is a deeply respected member of the community where he worked as a professor of Communication Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi for 35 years. He led the university’s efforts in fostering student engagement and civic values for over 15 years and has been active in the promotion of service learning as a discipline.

Ginger Lowrey, division manager for Planning, stated, “It has been an honor to work with Dr. Conville on both boards. Every month we look forward to the results of his sharp eye on an application, his feedback on the appropriateness of a request in the context of our community, and to learn from his years of experience in these roles.”

Conville was surprised by the APA honor and designation, “I received the award on behalf of the dozens of Hattiesburg citizen-volunteers who serve our community. It feels good to be appreciated, and it energizes me to continue to devote time, energy and care to make Hattiesburg better than I found it.”

Not only has Conville served the community through his career as a professor and service to the Planning Commission, but he also helped establish the University Heights Neighborhood Association in 1999. It remains among the most vibrant and active of all neighborhood associations in the City of Hattiesburg.

In addition to Conville being recognized, the City’s tiniest museum exhibit – the Hattiesburg Pocket Museum – and the alleyway that serves as its home were also recognized as a Great Public Space. 

“Every year our APA chapter recognizes public spaces that exemplify how the built environment can foster culturally important spaces. It is an honor to have the entire alley of the pocket museum awarded as A Great Place by planners throughout our state,” said Lowrey.

In 2020, the alley that sits across the street from City Hall and adjacent to the historic Hattiesburg Saenger Theater became the focus of a creative project. As an underutilized space in the heart of Downtown Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Convention Commission Executive Director Rick Taylor and wife Vicki Taylor, along with Mayor Toby Barker and a trusted team of city and commission employees, initiated a plan for creative placemaking. In its simplest form, the project included cleaning up the alley and making it a walkable, enjoyable space – a deceivingly simple idea. 

The community saw an opportunity in the opening months of COVID in the spring of 2020. When the Hattiesburg Convention Commission (HCC) had to shutter the doors of the Saenger due to gathering restrictions, they found an opportunity to turn the alley into a way for residents and visitors alike to escape the isolation of health-related restrictions and enjoy both surprise and delight. Quickly, HCC worked to convert a boarded-up alley window into a small museum – a pocket museum. 

Around the same time, after the natural gas provider finished replacing gas lines in Downtown Hattiesburg, the city paved the full alley and closed it to vehicular traffic. This included the City working with neighboring property owners to change access patterns for sanitation pickup. A faux brick pattern was stamped into many of the areas of the alley, which encourages foot traffic while adding historical character. This part of the project was completed by late summer 2020.

These collaborations, along with key structural and environmental updates, allowed for a blank canvas that would soon become light during the dark days of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As the pandemic continued through 2020 and into 2021, the City worked with HCC to install picnic tables to support existing businesses and outdoor dining options. In the Spring of 2021, string lighting was added overhead. 

What began with a simple idea to recast an underutilized space and a creative window display quickly grew into an artistic transformation. The Alley is now a hub for art events and gatherings downtown and has spurred new traffic that otherwise may not have existed. On a slow week, it tracks approximately 3,000 visitors – on a busy one, 7,000. 

The Pocket Museum is the only “small museum” in the South listed on Roadtripper.com’s list of eight best small museums in the United States. The attraction and alley have also been mentioned in national publications like Southern Living Magazine, The Washington Post and more.

Lowrey added, “Many players in the community came together and turned an eye sore and a community crisis into an opportunity to make a public space more useable. And more than usable, it is a thriving, blossoming space that gives back to the community. Most visitors are repeat visitors, as much of the art and installations are temporary and rotate to something new each month.”“It has been an honor to work with Dr. Conville on both boards. Every month we look forward to the results of his sharp eye on an application, his feedback on the appropriateness of a request in the context of our community, and to learn from his years of experience in these roles.”

To learn more about the museum and its alley, visit hattiesburgpocketmuseum.com

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