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No new posts are being added to this blog. For planning news and updates, check out The BIG Picture Huntsville (also on Facebook). For transportation info, check out the Huntsville Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Park Place, Cleveland Avenue Going 'Uptown'

In a rare instance of public participation in planning projects in our region, the people behind the Park Place redevelopment in North Downtown Uptown held three meetings ("charrettes" in planner-speak) this month to discuss plans for a streetscape improvement project on Cleveland Avenue. The project will involve relocating Cleveland to the south from Meridian to the skate/dog park to make way for a wide ("meandering") sidewalk, landscaping, and displays of public art. It is expected to begin early next month and be completed before the end of the year.

Some of the ideas brought forward at the meetings included small fountains, murals, and sculpture gardens. The benches that will be placed along the sidewalk will be made from stone salvaged from a pre-Civil War stone wall that was taken out during the Meridian Street widening project. A "convenience store" for bicyclists and skateboarders (who frequent the skate park nearby) is part of the plans as well. Several of the ideas introduced by the public and the developers were shot down due to city zoning regulations. Hopefully the introduction of SmartCode in the near future will relax some of these rules.

This project is rather small in scale, and the biggest problem I see with it is continuity towards surrounding neighborhoods (Downtown, Five Points, Lincoln Mill). That will involve the tedious job of getting each business owner in the area involved, but it's key to the success of this project, along with the infill development of surrounding lots for added vibrancy.

There are separate plans to make the vacant lot across from Park Place into a surface parking lot. It seems kind of ironic that a car-oriented project will be located next to one of the most interesting pedestrian improvement projects this city has seen in a long time. While parking is a necessary evil even in pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, it should always be hidden, and use up as little space as possible. The part of the lot closest to the street should be developed, possibly extending the Park Place concept, and if that's not possible right now, leave it as open space, keeping the door open for future opportunities.

This vacant lot, sandwiched between three parks, could be put to much better use than just a surface parking lot.

Developers and planners should take note at the level of public participation in this project. It's sad that these meetings/charrettes don't happen more often here. They should not be something to be afraid of-- there are plenty of great people with great ideas in this city. The problem is getting the word out-- if I can't find out about your meeting, you're not doing enough.

For more info about Park Place, and the streetscape project, visit their website: http://parkplaceplaza.com/

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

August 2010 on Facebook and Twitter

Get these updates quicker by following my Twitter and/or Facebook feeds.

August 5: Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts, a nationwide chain with stores in Hoover, Nashville, and Montgomery, is opening its first Huntsville store at the old Linens-N-Things space on University. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall.

August 8: From the Decatur Daily-- a rendering of a proposed visual arts center in downtown Decatur. Athens State University and Calhoun Community College are moving their arts departments to the facility, which is scheduled to break ground in December.

August 10: A Birmingham Business Journal article comparing the progress with high-speed rail plans in Alabama and Georgia. And once again, Alabama is falling behind due to an outdated "roads-only" transportation policy and perpetual stalling by state politicians. Or, as Jim put it on Facebook, "We're too busy waging the war on Bingo!"

August 15: The Mobile Press-Register prints a series of articles on Smart Growth, and how many towns and cities, including Rosemary Beach, Florida, have used it with great success. Mobile, like most cities, has a zoning code that largely prohibits pedestrian-friendly development.

August 23: Redstone Gateway, the $1 Billion office/retail development that's being considered "the next Research Park," officially broke ground. The project is expected to take a decade or more to complete.

August 24: A public meeting was held to introduce the new routing of the Northern Bypass through the Northeastern part of Madison County. The alternatives (see map below) are radically different from what has been planned in recent years-- closer to the early 1980s plan that would have had the bypass cut through the Moores Mill/Winchester intersection. The newest Long-Range Transportation Plan had it intersecting 72 East near Gurley. Wherever the bypass goes, don't expect it to be built for another 15 years, if ever.

August 26: Decatur Mall was auctioned off, going to a New York investment fund with the highest bid of $8.5 million. While I've never been inside the mall, I've heard from readers and friends that the mall isn't in the best shape, and several redevelopment efforts have failed.