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An unlikely urban neighborhood and center has taken shape in Northwest Huntsville, Alabama— an area characterized by car dealerships, big box stores, apartment complexes, industrial parks, subdivisions, and single-family houses. Through more than a decade of design and development, this project has demonstrated how successfully new urbanist principles can be applied in a suburban context.
Northwest Huntsville is largely African American—an affordable yet automobileoriented suburban sector. Three miles to the north is the second-largest research center in the US, Cummings Research Park.
The 305-acre Village of Providence, designed in a 2002 charrette led by DPZ, wraps around an existing apartment complex and includes two waterways that form a natural greenway in the midst of the new community.
Providence’s village center was built at a greater density and intensity than was originally designed, due to the pent-up, previously undiscovered demand for mixed-use urbanism in the area. The center was originally planned for two-story buildings—but now has up to five stories of mixed-use development. A five-lane suburban artery has been converted to a main street with on-street parking and a center tree-lined median.
An eclectic nightlife, previously unknown in this part of Huntsville, has taken root in the village center, which is now the city’s most vibrant and inclusive entertainment destination. The suburban retrofit also includes one of the most racially diverse elementary schools in the city—a school that draws students from areas surrounding the new village.
Compared to other traditional neighborhood developments, the Village of Providence is relatively affordable, with more than 600 apartments already built, starting at $700 per month. Garden apartment complexes within walking distance allow for pre-existing affordable housing.
The variety of housing, from estate homes to apartments, cottages to townhouses and lofts, sets this project apart, according to the National Association of Home Builders, which named Village of Providence the 2014 Community of the Year. The retail is equally diverse, focusing on day-to-day uses like a drug store, barber shop, dry cleaner, pizzeria and other restuarants, coffee shop, and sports bar. Weekly outdoor markets revolve around healthy, sustainable food and the support of local entrepreneurs.