Princeville is a community on North Carolina’s Tar River that has national importance as the oldest town chartered by blacks in America. Since its founding in 1865 as Freedom Hill, the town has survived the violence of Reconstruction, the institutionalized discrimination of Jim Crow, and multiple devastating floods. Resilience has long been a characteristic of Princeville.
Flooding after Hurricane Matthew in 2016 left an estimated 80% of the town underwater, and Hurricane Floyd 18 years earlier was even worse. Princeville’s vulnerability to floodwater, even with a three-mile earthen levee in place, has prompted recommendations that the entire community relocate to higher ground. However, its unique and highly place-based history makes that a difficult argument. Princeville’s assets include a strong sense of community, its rich history, and its celebrated places—such as Freedom Hill, Princeville Heritage Museum, Mt. Zion Primitive Baptist Church, Shiloh Landing, historic cemeteries, and the Tar River baptismal site. Through creative design and planning, students developed speculative projects that imagine and illustrate ways Princeville residents might build a future in which their homes are protected from floods, their history is celebrated and shared, and their community’s long-term health is secure.
In the summer of 2017, researchers from the NC State College of Design created a document entitled Homeplace and organized the Princeville Community Design Workshop. The document and workshop were developed and delivered in coordination with the Hurricane Matthew Disaster Recovery and Resilience Initiative (HMDRRI). The 2018 Coastal Dynamics Studio extended the ideas and research that were initiated through these efforts. The semester-long project developed strategies to leverage Princeville’s history, including but not limited to designs that promoted the concept of a Princeville Heritage Trail + Walking Museum. The primary goal of the project was to contribute to the forum of ongoing research, teaching, and engagement in the areas of community resilience, environmental justice, community planning, ecological design, and economic development. The studio served to establish and strengthen collaborative working relationships with partnering universities, agencies, and organizations, ultimately advancing the “scaling up” of research, teaching and engagement activities that are currently assisting the Town of Princeville and its citizens to recover from Hurricane Matthew and to thrive in the face of future threats.