Elements of Urbanism: Huntsville

January 14, 2010 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville visits the downtown of America's Rocket City: Huntsville, AL

Huntsville Population 2008: 176,645 (City); 395,645 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1811)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Huntsville (16,437)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Huntsville: +15.56%
Jacksonville: +16.97%


Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Huntsville: 213,253 (ranked 141 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)


Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Huntsville: 1,356.5
Jacksonville: 2,149.2


City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Huntsville: +18,429
Jacksonville: +72,312


Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Huntsville: Von Braun Center (1975) - 150,000 square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Adjacent to Convention Center:

Huntsville: Huntsville Embassy Suites (295 units)
Jacksonville: N/A


Tallest Building:

Huntsville: Saturn V Dynamic Test Strand - 360 feet; Regions Center - 189 feet (Downtown)
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet


Fortune 500 companies 2009 (City limits only):

Huntsville: There are no Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Huntsville
Jacksonville: CSX (240), Winn-Dixie (340)


Urban infill obstacles:

Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.


Downtown Nightlife:

Jacksonville: East Bay Street  


Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Huntsville: 80 out of 100, according to walkscore.com
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to walkscore.com

City Land Area

Huntsville: 210 square miles
Jacksonville: 767 square miles

Green = Jacksonville's city limits (current urban core) before consolidation in 1968
Red = Jacksonville's current consolidated city-county limits

Jacksonville's current and original city limit boundaries over Huntsville's limits (highlighted in orange).

About Huntsville

The Huntsville Metropolitan Area's population was estimated at 395,645. Huntsville is the largest city in the four-county Huntsville-Decatur Combined Statistical Area, which in 2008 had a total population of 545,770.

Originally settled by John Hunt in 1805 as Twickenham, named after Alexander Pope's English home at the request of LeRoy Pope. However, it was renamed "Huntsville" on November 25, 1811 after its first settler. It has grown across nearby hills and along the Tennessee River, adding textile mills, then munitions factories, to become a major city, including NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and the United States Army Aviation and Missile Command nearby at the Redstone Arsenal.


Downtown Huntsville

Huntsville's Administration Building is also known as City Hall.

Big Spring Park

Big Spring International Park (or Big Spring Park, for short) is located in downtown Huntsville, Alabama. It is most noted as being the site of the Panoply Arts Festival, held there the last full weekend in April, and Big Spring Jam, an annual music festival that usually occurs on the fourth weekend in September.

Big Spring Park is named after an underground spring that John Hunt, Huntsville's founder, built a cabin next to in 1805. During the 19th Century and the first half of the 20th Century, the spring was Huntsville's water source. Today the park features gifts given by other countries to Huntsville. One of the most recognizable gifts is the "Red Bridge", given to the city from Japan in 1987. Other gifts include 60 cherry blossom trees, also from Japan, a 1903 light beacon (often referred to as "the lighthouse"), a 1929 fog bell given by Norway in 1973, and a park bench from Britain.


Huntsville Museum of Art

Huntsville Museum of Art was originally established by city Ordinance No. 70-134, on August 13, 1970, which established the Museum Board of the City of Huntsville. The museum held its first exhibition in 1973 and moved to its first permanent facility at the Von Braun Center in 1975. The museum moved to its present building at Big Spring Park in March 1998.

The museum building is 52,000 square feet with over 15,000 square feet of gallery space.


Von Braun Center

Huntsville's convention center is twice the size of the Prime Osborn, features parking underneath the exhibition hall, an Embassy Suites hotel and anchors Big Spring Park.

The Von Braun Center, which opened in 1975, has an arena capable of seating 10,000, a 2,000-seat concert hall, a 500-seat playhouse (~330 seats with proscenium staging), and 150,000 square feet of convention space. Both the arena and concert hall are scheduled for major renovations; upon completion, they will be rechristened the Propst Arena and the Mark C. Smith Concert Hall, respectively.


Huntsville Depot

The Huntsville Depot is the oldest surviving railroad depot in Alabama and one of the oldest in the United States. Completed in 1860, the depot served as division headquarters for the Memphis and Charleston Railroad.

Huntsville was occupied by Union forces in 1862 during the Civil War as a strategic point on the railroad and the depot was used as a prison for Confederate soldiers. Graffiti left by the soldiers can still be seen on the walls. The Huntsville Depot saw its last regularly scheduled passenger train, Southern Railway's The Tennessean, on March 30, 1968. Today the Depot serves as a museum, part of the Early Works Museum.


Huntsville Hospital

Just south of downtown, the Huntsville Hospital's medical campus is the home of some 5,000 employees, 2,000 nurses and 650 physicians. In 2003, the hospital completed construction of a two car overhead tram system connecting the main facilities on campus.


Unique Huntsville

- Huntsville was known as the Watercress Capital of the World during the 1930s.

- Huntsville's population increased from 16,437 in 1950 to 72,365 in 1960, after the U.S. Army picked the city as the location for its missile research program.

- On September 8, 1960, U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower formally dedicated the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

- It is estimated that 1 in 13 of Huntsville's population are employed in some engineering field of work.

- Cummings Research Park (CPR) is the second largest research park in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.

- The inland Port of Huntsville combines the Huntsville International Airport, International Intermodal Center, and Jetplex Industrial Park. The intermodal terminal transfers truck and train cargo.

- The University of Alabama in Huntsville is the largest university serving the greater Huntsville area. The research-intensive university has more than 7,700 students. Approximately half of the university’s graduates earn a degree in engineering or science, making the university one of the largest producers of engineers and physical scientists in Alabama.

- The Huntsville Museum of Art features the largest privately owned, permanent collection of art by American women in the U.S.

- Notable natives and residents include Fred "Rerun" Berry, J.Reu, Jose Canseco, Howard Cross, Mark McGwire, Brian McKnight and Dred Scott.


Article by Ennis Davis