Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.
Scott Crawford created a model of his ideal Jackson, Mississippi - a pedestrian-friendly spot with lots of bike lanes and solar panels.
Scott Crawford has a vision for Jackson, Mississippi. He sees a pedestrian-friendly city with lots of bike lanes and solar panels on city hall, where residents take good care of their homes and pick up trash in the streets. This isn’t just a dream he has. Crawford has built this city with his own two hands. In LEGO. Some 20,000 pieces of it.
Crawford has been working on the model city for three years now. When he exhibited it last December at the Arts Center of Mississippi, it was huge – an L-shaped metropolis that stretched nearly 20 feet in each direction. He has spent countless hours crafting the meticulously detailed buildings and streets of this idealized Jackson.
But last month, he suffered a terrible setback when vandals broke into the storage unit where he was keeping LEGO Jackson. They deliberately trashed about a third of it, reducing Crawford’s hard work to a pile of jumbled plastic. “This was a labor of love to me, and it was a gift to everyone else,” he says. "I've dealt with my share of adversity, but deliberate human cruelty is the hardest to cope with."
Crawford sure has had more than his share of hard times. He developed a severe case of progressive multiple sclerosis when he was in his early 30s, and now uses a wheelchair to get around. He is no longer able to practice as a clinical psychologist. He speaks in a whisper. He wears a splint on one hand.
And yet, despite the chronic exhaustion caused by his condition, he is tireless in efforts to improve his city. He’s a member of Keep Jackson Beautiful, an organization that helps keep the real Jackson clean. He is also an advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in a place where many streets are designed for cars only and are dangerous for people on foot or in wheelchairs.
Frustrated by a bus service that often left him sitting at the curb because the wheelchair lifts didn’t work, Crawford was lead plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by Disability Rights Mississippi to get Jackson’s transit agency to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a result of that suit, the city has added several buses that can accommodate wheelchairs. People who once felt trapped in their homes can now get around.
No, Crawford doesn’t give up easily. And so he is rebuilding the part of the LEGO city that was trashed, and will be adding even more in preparation for next December’s display. It’s all part of his hope that Jackson – a city that has long been damaged by white flight, high crime, and civic neglect – can become a much better place. “Before we can make something happen, we have to envision it,” he says. “LEGO Jackson is that dream of a clean, friendly, safe place that welcomes everybody. That’s the message that I want to send, that we can make it this way.”
He is still angry at the people who destroyed his city, but he is determined not to let that anger guide his actions. “I’m going to continue to act as if we’re worthy of redemption,” he says. ”I want to send a message to the folks that vandalized it, that the good people of Jackson will not be deterred.”