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Since the 1940s, Huntsville has grown to a city of more than 180,000 people from a sleepy rural town. Due to prevailing development patterns during the city’s growth spurt, most residents have little choice but to drive.
The Village of Providence has converted a five-lane arterial thoroughfare in Huntsville into a lively town center connected to walkable neighborhoods—bringing $400 million in investment and winning the 2014 Best in American Living Award from the National Association of Home Builders.
"The award highlights the growing awareness of not only the financial, but the social and even emotional benefits of living in a community with walkable streets, multiple modes of transportation, and a mix of uses," said architectural designer Marianne Cusato.
Construction has so far included more than 600 single-family houses, townhouses, and apartments, three hotels, main street businesses with more than 100,000 square feet of retail, 100,000 square feet of offices, a K-8 public school, and civic spaces that host special events, festivals, and a farmer’s market. The Village wraps around a large existing apartment complex that offers relatively affordable housing—but was isolated and completely automobile-dependent before. Now the apartments are located a short walk from a growing mixed-use town center.
For the first time in more than half a century, Huntsville is once again building in a walkable neighborhood pattern—planned by DPZ Partners with the ongoing guidance of town architect Steve Mouzon.
The transformation of the arterial is a pioneering change for this suburb. The City of Huntsville gave back the outer two lanes for on-street parking, and after over a decade of battling with the fire marshal, the middle turn lane is finally being rebuilt as the tree-planted median—completing the vision of an urban boulevard.
The spine of the town center is the main street, which is bounded on both sides by three- to five-story buildings. Ground-level shops are topped with offices, apartments and condominiums. The town center was originally planned to include two-story buildings. Market demand led developer David Slyman to revise plans and build higher, demonstrating the pent-up desire for compact, mixed-use urbanism. “Robust and highly successful town centers can be built in new urbanist plans, so long as they serve more than just the neighborhoods in the plan,” says Mouzon.
Imbedding the K-8 school into the neighborhood has allowed dozens of students to walk instead of taking the bus. Village of Providence is located just north of Cummings Research Park—the second-largest research park in the US, and a major employment center. The village is becoming a significant employment center itself.
The architectural styles are based on vernacular Huntsville houses. But the style evolved in a way that is different from what was anticipated, based on buyer preference. “It turns out that Huntsville’s rocket scientists have a real appetite for more romantic architecture, so the blend of character was allowed to move in that direction,” notes Mouzon.
Village of Providence is creating a more diverse urban environment in an area that was previously a suburban monoculture—providing transportation choice where little existed before.
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