- Huntsville has developed a brand as a college town, with multiple student-friendly districts around each of the major campuses. These districts are hubs of economic and social activity, they are emblems of their respective colleges/universities, and they’re used as recruiting tools for prospective students.
The Huntsville/Madison County metro is home to a number of colleges and universities: Alabama A&M, Calhoun Community College, Drake State Technical College, Oakwood University, and the University of Alabama in Huntsville. They all represent an important part of the local economy, community, and identity.
When held up to other cities that are home to colleges and universities, what is notable is how physically disconnected our local institutions are from their surroundings. Consider Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Downtown Athens by the University of Georgia, or Chapel Hill adjacent to UNC; these are examples of classic “college towns”, places where city and college (or “town and gown”) meet and mingle.
Among the colleges and universities that have a home in Huntsville, AAMU, Calhoun and UAH have the clearest opportunities to mesh the campus fabric with the surrounding community in such a way as to create a distinct college or university district.
UAH, as the largest university in the metro area, has several places where it could engage in town and gown development. The Wynn Drive node is close enough that it can, along with Calhoun, have a presence there. At its eastern edge, both Holmes Avenue and Jordan Lane provide opportunities. Holmes, as it continues to develop its link with Downtown, can become a small student hub, with shops and services that attract local residents as well as students. Jordan Lane can, with better pedestrian connectivity, become the foodie district that is so often found near colleges and universities, capitalizing on the students’ adventurous palates while accommodating their skinny wallets.
At AAMU, the opportunity is fairly straight-forward. Meridian Street cuts right across the front door of the campus, and provides a unique opportunity for development. The broad right of way offers the opportunity to add bike, pedestrian and on-street parking facilities, and to create a better link between the two parts of the campus.
Creating this sort of environment requires cooperation among the institution, the City, and the surrounding community. The implementation of better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, linking on-campus to off-campus is crucial, as is identifying and developing specific areas for town and gown-style growth – typically small-scale and mixed-use. Working together, the community can create places that allow students and faculty to mix with the off-campus community, and which serve as recruiting tools for potential students who value an active college town.
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.
Work with Alabama A&M University to create a redevelopment plan for the Meridian Street corridor fronting AAMU. This will be the primary mechanism for encouraging the development of a “college row” and gateway adjacent to the campus. If desired and feasible, the plan may extend to the Drake State campus frontage as well.
Coordinate with the University of Alabama at Huntsville to identify potential redevelopment areas on the perimeter of their campus.
In cooperation with Calhoun Community College, review the Cummings Research Park Master Plan and identify aspects of the plan, and of future Calhoun development, that might be eligible for a “town and gown” approach.
Support rezoning in areas identified by redevelopment plans to encourage the creation of campus-oriented “town-and-gown” districts.
Improve the bike/ped environment on, and connections to, campuses from the surrounding districts.