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The BIG Picture - Shaping Huntsville's Future
Coming Up: Citizens Academy - Economic Development Part I & II

For Immediate Release
September 10, 2014
(Huntsville, AL) - Huntsville citizens are actively taking part in The BIG Picture in record numbers. Public response to Huntsville's comprehensive master planning effort has exceeded City expectations.

Calling citizen engagement illuminating and compelling, Mayor Tommy Battle said The BIG Picture's diverse series of outreach and education events have shown people are hungry for engagement on long-range planning topics and anxious to talk about Huntsville's future.

"We're not hearing from our residents that they don't want change or don't want to grow," said Mayor Battle. "It is more of an expectation that Huntsville is going to change and they want to be part of how we going to shape that growth and our future."

Since The BIG Picture launch earlier this year, the City's Urban Planning Department has embarked on an 18 month planning process that has included the use of public gatherings, Citizens Academies, focus groups, online surveys and forums, multimedia outreach, Book-a-Planner opportunities and kiosk events. As a result, Huntsville's Long-Range Urban Planner Dennis Madsen says his team has received a broad range of input.

"I have been remarkably surprised at the interest and insights on transportation issues," said Madsen. "People are asking about pedestrian bike environments, and they talk about public transit in terms of light rail, beyond shuttle busses. There is a sense that road building can only get you so far. Most residents understand and appreciate that light rail won't happen in five years, but they recognize we need to be talking about and planning for it now if we want greatly mobility options in the future."

Madsen says quality of life concerns are also foremost on citizen's minds. "People today want to work to live and not live to work," he said. "There is a push to create more interesting places like Lowe Mill, Stone Middle, the activities we see downtown and creative uses for the Grissom High site."

That thirst for something uniquely Huntsville was evident at The BIG Picture's first Citizens Academy in June on the Tennessee River. Discussion generated so much enthusiasm that the Ditto Board is going ahead and gearing up its own concert series in anticipation of the new master plan.

For Mayor Battle, though, The BIG Picture comprehensive master plan is not about drawing lines on a map. It's about community buy-in and a vision for Huntsville's future.

"By summer 2015, when we draft the plan, we hope to have a better understanding of where we want to be in five, 10, and 30 years," said Mayor Battle. "We will identify our goals and shape a new strategic approach as to how we will direct our growth. There is so much we can accomplish when we work together as a community."

There are still many more opportunities for public education and input. The next Citizens Academy will address Economic Development in two sessions. In Part 1 on Sept. 16, Atlanta-based planning consultant Lakey Boyd will talk about revitalizing "greyfields," abandoned strip centers and older buildings in decline, and she will explore how the retail landscape has changed.

Part II on Sept. 18, a panel discussion will explore design guidelines, how they can impact a community, and ways we can encourage better development.

On Sept. 23, Joe Minicozzi, principal of planning analytics firm Urban3 in Asheville, North Carolina, will speak on the financial benefits of urban, mixed-use development over suburban, "big-box" stores, and how they can create a better return on investment for cities. The event will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Merrimack Hall on Triana Boulevard and is sponsored by the Committee of 100, Downtown Huntsville, Inc., and the City of Huntsville.

Madsen says these three sessions are significant in understanding the dynamic forces influencing our desires and decisions.

"Consumer preferences are shifting," said Madsen. "People no longer want to see the same generic shopping center with the same stores you can get two miles up the road. They are hungry for choices. Choices in shopping, choices in living, and choices in transportation."

Future BIG Picture topics include neighborhood reinvestment (October 14) and transportation and mobility (Spring 2015). For more information visit bigpicturehuntsville.com and give us your thoughts and ideas at imaginehuntsville.com.


The BIG Picture Calendar:

September 16 - Economic Development: Citizens Academy, Part 1
Greyfields and The Changing Face of Retail
6 p.m.

Lee High School, 2500 Meridian St.
September 18 - Economic Development: Citizens Academy, Part 2
Design Guidelines and The New Economy
6 p.m.
Challenger Middle School, 13555 Chaney Thompson Rd.

September 23 - Joe Minicozzi
"ROI Driven Municipal Investment"
6:30 p.m.
3320 Merrimack Hall, Triana Boulevard

Economic Development Questions
"Old and underperforming shopping centers can be found in every community in the United States, and Huntsville is no exception. How can the public sector and private sector work together to revitalize these blighted properties?"

"The way we design and build our shops, our offices, and our industry is evolving. Commercial development is decentralizing, getting smaller, and more flexible. How are these changes going to affect the way we shop, the way we work, the way we create and the way we move around in the future?"

"The demographics of our country - and our city - are changing. We're getting older, we're getting more diverse, and the new workforce is entering a radically different market. How are these trends transforming our culture, families, homes, work, and money? How does that affect the ways in which we plan for and create our communities?"

"Design guidelines come in many forms and serve an array of functions. They can address anything from building design to parking and landscaping, and they can be narrow or broad in scope. How can design guidelines benefit the community, and what are some of the challenges associated with them? A panel of local developers and designers will discuss."


For more information, contact Kelly Cooper Schrimsher, Director of Communications, Office of the Mayor, 256-427-5006 (w), kelly.schrimsher@huntsvilleal.gov

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