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Saturday, December 12, 2009

"Green 13" Town Hall Forum

I attended the Green 13 town hall forum today. The G13, created by Mayor Tommy Battle earlier this year, has the goal of creating a plan to make Huntsville a sustainable city. The forum was set up to get ideas from the public on what should be in this plan, which is expected to be finalized in February. The plan will be modeled after (surprise!) Chattanooga's plan, which I will research and discuss soon. One of the concerns about the plan was the small coverage area, and there were calls for more input from neighboring counties and suburbs. "This needs to be a regional effort," said Don Nalley, president-elect of the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce and one of the chair advisers of the G13 team. 

Some great ideas were brought up in many subjects, such as agriculture (localized food production) and energy (solar roofs). I'll leave the discussion of those ideas to those who know more about them than I do. But here's a few ideas I know a little bit about that caught my attention:

Complete Streets/SmartCode-- this was brought up several times, mainly by members of Huntsville's biking community. For those who don't know what either of these mean, SmartCode is a planning code standard used and modified by many municipal and regional planning departments. It was introduced in 2003 by Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company (pioneers of the New Urbanist concept) to help communities develop plans for more pedestrian/bike-friendly, dense, and environmentally-friendly neighborhoods. In other words, more Providences than Lake Forests. Check out the list of cities that have adopted SmartCode in their plans-- note that many of them are coastal towns in Mississippi and Louisiana that were damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Complete Streets is basically the transportation portion of SmartCode, designing roads to accommodate bikers, pedestrians, and transit riders along with cars.

Complete Streets

Creating Google Transit maps for the Shuttle-- Several attendees expressed concern about the lack of reliable information about our almost non-existent transit system. While I think we should start our transit "network" over on a clean slate with a solid regional plan, one idea was brought up to relay information to the public. If you look at just about any major city on Google Maps, you can find information on bus and rail systems in the area, including timetables, proximity to the closest stops, and even directions using transit. Why not Huntsville?

I found a website the other day, City-Go-Round, a search engine for transit apps, which provides transit information to sites like Walkscore and calls out transit organizations that don't release information to the public or websites such as theirs. Guess who's on that list?

Increasing density/brownfield development-- the density part was something Mayor Battle talked about. Huntsville, as you probably know, is not a very dense city, sprawling over 200 square miles. In order for future plans such as mass transit and walkable neighborhoods to be used at their full potential, the density issue must be addressed. One idea was to encourage "brownfield" projects, or developments that re-use abandoned industrial/commercial sites; one such example is Atlantic Station in Atlanta, which was built on the site of an old steel mill.

If you were unable to go to the meeting and would like to contact the G13 with your ideas, their email address is green@hsvcity.com.

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