Some individuals are incredibly inspirational, and Marvin Miller can fall into this prestigious category. According to an article from the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mr. Miller is working with several planners and architects to design and build a brand-new town in rural South Dakota for signers (not just deaf but for hearing signers as well). Mr. Miller, who was born deaf, is supporting the project mostly with his own money, bank loans, and also several donations from benefactors who support deaf causes. Mr. Miller chose rural South Dakota because it has cheap land, a small population, and low taxes. The town will be called Laurent in honor of Laurent Clerc, a French educator who founded the first school for the deaf in the United States. The planned location for the town is off of Interstate 90 between two of the largest cities in South Dakota, Sioux Falls and Mitchell. This would give Laurent access to a major airport and hospital. Mr. Miller wants to build the town in the style of a European village with walkable streets and mixed-use development. He estimates the town will have around 2,500 residents.
Mr. Miller’s mother-in-law, M.E. Barwacz, has also been a driving force in this project. According to her bio on the Laurent town website, Ms. Laurent envisions Laurent to be a “walkable community where people can keep their independence, without having to drive a car.”
The project looks as though it is gaining momentum, hopefully the county zoning laws can be changed so that the town can be built. I think this community could exceed expectations if it is designed well. There are very few places in the United States that are built completely compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements. Those places that are ADA compliant are often the best places to live or visit because if a place is designed with the needs of the disabled in mind it will work for everyone, including children. While Walkable Neighborhoods typically is not supportive of greenfield development, this project can probably receive an exemption because the potential benefits could be huge. (Photo credit: Peter Musty, AIA and Peter Harmatuck of Charrette Center)