The Big Picure: Your Study. Your Vision. Your Plan for the City of Huntsville

Aging in Place / Healthy Communities

A healthy city recognizes the value in active living and provides opportunities for physical activity for all its citizens, including its seniors.  “Aging in place” refers to the opportunity for older citizens to live out their lives either in the home they’ve known, or within their familiar neighborhood where they can lead a life of reasonable independence. 

Bike Network Development

A complete and well-linked bicycle network is has value on several fronts.  While automobile use should dominate regional travel for the foreseeable future, interest in – and demand for – cycling options has been on the rise.  A recent example is the popularity of the new PACE bike share network in Downtown Huntsville.  By recognizing and accommodating this demand, some pressure can be taken off the traffic network, whether through alternative commuting or simply the reduction in local auto trips.

Business Incubation / Innovation Support

Developing and supporting entrepreneurship is vital to maintaining a culture of innovation and to creating a unique identity for the community.  The Huntsville metro has historically been very successful at attracting industry to North Alabama, and the last half decade has seen even more of that success. A sustainable and resilient economy has that industrial growth as a hallmark; equally important, however, is its ability to “grow local talent”.

Business, Homeowner and Civic Associations

An important aspect of any project, but particularly of planning and governance, is communication. By ensuring that all groups that might be party to an issue have the opportunity to share their perspectives, consensus is developed and a better project or policy is most often the result.  In many cities, community associations and business associations can fill that role. They can provide a consistent and clear voice for areas within the city, particularly those that have shared issues, goals or concerns. They can provide a link to their representation that can make citizen engagement more effective.

Complete Streets

A complete street is a road that is designed with all users in mind, a street that moves people, not just cars.  There is no one kind of complete street; it is less a type, and more of an approach.  The idea is to get as much as we can out of the streets we build by looking at:

  • Where they go to, and where they pass through
  • What places they connect
  • Who uses them
  • How they are developed

Cultivating a Culture of Music

A ‘Music City’ is defined as a city that embeds music as a tool into its collective governance ethos, across economic development, tourism, education, equity and overall quality of life. Sound Diplomacy, an international music planning and consulting agency, completed its “Music Audit” and released a detailed assessment and list of recommendations for the City of Huntsville.

Data Infrastructure

Much of the discussion around infrastructure focuses on what we typically think of as the backbones of cities: roads, power, water, sewer, etc.  But in the 21st century, it is likely that the importance of all of those traditional concerns fall in behind the preeminence of the new infrastructure: data.

Design Guidelines

For a community that is interested in addressing aesthetic concerns, Design Guidelines are a common tool.  Design Guidelines can be built into zoning, or can overlay existing zoning, and they can address everything from how a building faces the street to what colors and materials can be used on it. The scope of the guidelines can be tailored to suit the goals of a specific community, corridor or neighborhood; to that end, they should be initiated by the community affected as part of a public discussion with the City.

Employment Diversification

The key to a sound economic base is diversity. It helps  to ensure consistency and stability in the face of fluctuations in the economy. The key to sustainable development is a diversity of goods and services to appeal to the widest customer base feasible. It is critically important to expand the types and sizes of businesses in the City in an effort to achieve long-term sustainability.

Energy Resiliency and Security

Through the work of groups like Energy Huntsville, our community can become a hub for research, design and development of new energy technologies and products.  Our tech-oriented workforce and our existing industries can be leveraged to make a name for ourselves on the global energy stage.

Growth and Annexation

At just over 218 square miles, Huntsville’s land area ranks among the top 30 cities in the U.S. with populations over 100,000.  While the size offers definite benefits, particularly with regard to shaping development patterns, it also comes with certain challenges. 

Housing Choice

There is a need for housing product diversification across the City.  This simply means allowing mixed products and a variety of price points within the same area.  Such diversity helps neighborhoods thrive whereas single family residential alone may not achieve this.  Single-family homes, townhomes, condos, and apartments should all be allowed to develop across the City.  They should be co-located – not separated into clusters – to help encourage a pattern of life cycle housing.  This development pattern would allow recent college grads with their first job, couples starting families as well as retirees to all live in the same community and in close proximity to each other.

Local Talent Growth and Retention

Huntsville has had incredible success in corporate recruitment and relocations, including being a beneficiary of BRAC consolidations. While importing a talented and skilled workforce is a significant positive for the regional economy, it is also important to ensure that homegrown talent is valued and retained as well. Having so many relocations to the local economy can be leveraged to enable residents to grow and evolve.

Mixed-Use Development

Mixed-use developments that combine various components of housing, offices, and retail have become popular in the marketplace. These mixed-use developments have the potential to slow, and possibly reverse, the decline of aging suburban communities.

Performance Measures

Performance measurement, both the activity itself and the application of the data, is a key component of success in community and economic development. Unfortunately, there are many misconceptions about performance measurement and its utility. In order for performance measurement to be successful and to produce benefit, regular and sustained measurement of progress toward specified outcomes has to happen. Further, the “right” things have to be measured correctly, or the resulting data could be misleading.

Public Art Master Plan

Public art is an oft-underappreciated facet of community.  In cities where a robust and well-supported public art program exists, it has a notable positive effect not only on the quality of life, but on economic development.  The expression of local character through public art communicates to residents and visitors that they’re in a creative and engaged community, one worthy of investment and reinvestment.

Recreation Destination

There is a great deal of overlap between quality of life and economic development. Nowhere is that more evident than in the opportunities for recreation in Huntsville.  By continuing to build upon a strong recreational base, the City can make huge strides in improving quality of life for residents, and it can continue the diversification of the local economy.

Retail Redevelopment

Much of the strip center development along Huntsville’s major commercial corridors is ripe for redevelopment. It is important to make room for new businesses, just as it is important to make room for new residents. Retail pruning is going to be critically important, particularly along the Memorial Parkway and University Drive corridors, in the future. This basically means that having large quantities of low-quality space is actually worse than having less space, but of higher quality. Secondary and tertiary retail uses can overwhelm the marketplace and discourage the interest of developers and potential merchants.

Small Business Support

Entrepreneurs and small businesses are a critical linchpin in the transformation and diversification of the local economic base. Entrepreneurs tend to be “sticky,” that is, they tend to stay in the same place or at least in close proximity to the place they started their business; beginning what is called a “virtuous cycle.” Entrepreneurs and small businesses are assets for a community because they are making localized decisions and increasing local leadership capacity. Most importantly, entrepreneurs create wealth locally, and thus, keep local dollars cycling through the local economy. It is crucial to support people that are already in the community, trying to get a foothold on starting a business, figuring out how to make sure their business survives, or taking an existing business to the next level.

Town & Gown

Town-and-gown districts are typically pedestrian-friendly.  They offer bike and ped greenways connecting to the community, retail nodes with storefronts providing bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants, and other student-oriented retail, topped by offices or apartments. They not only improve the environment around the campus, they serve as a gateway for students and business people to connect and collaborate.

Transit

An important aspect of any high-functioning transportation network is ‘modal variety’: options for how citizens get around town.  This might be on foot, by bike, car or transit.  Providing many different means of transportation helps get the most out of the built infrastructure, and ensures effectiveness as a community grows.

Transportation Planning

The ability of goods and services to move within and beyond a region, the ease and efficiency of commutes, and the connections among businesses and consumers all rely on a high-functioning transportation network.

Urban Agriculture

During the latter half of the 20th century, agriculture found itself pushed farther and farther away from the consumer. However, improvements in technology and how we understand our own food chain have changed how we view farming.

Zoning Updates

In discussing a vision for the future of Huntsville, it is rare that the talk turns to zoning and land use. However, the way in which a community regulates growth has a very real impact on the nature of new development and redevelopment.  Zoning is not something that typically excites the imagination.  However, ensuring that zoning is not only consistent with, but supportive of, modern market-driven development is one of the most effective methods for shaping a community’s built environment.