Every February, the team at the Huntsville-Madison County Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB), encourages us to answer the question, “Just what is it that makes Huntsville so special?” Called #iHeartHsv, the CVB leads a two week endeavor aimed at getting visitors and locals alike to “share the love” and vocalize the many things that make our community great. A big ‘thank you’ to the CVB for encouraging this conversation.
In the spirit of this year’s campaign, I’d like to share with you a few personal reasons I ‘heart’ Huntsville.
Capacity to Care
Huntsville residents, and our City Hall employees, make up some of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. One example occurred this past December, when temperatures were plunging well below freezing. Big Spring Park renovations had reduced the water level in the pond, and few concerned citizens were worried the baby ducks might not be able to climb over the retaining walls and become stuck in the water. Experts reassured us that our duckling friends could escape the frigid water when needed; however, there was still that lingering concern that some baby ducks might freeze.
The e-mails and texts started flying between employees and citizens as they looked for a solution. Animal Services located a temporary baby duck ramp that could serve as a bridge of sorts. The crew at General Services built temporary steps in the water to allow the baby ducks to hoist themselves to safety should the water get too cold. Talk about teamwork. And big hearts. Always happy to see our departments so responsive to citizen concerns – big and small.
This type of compassion is also evident in our community’s commitment to care for the area’s lost and surrendered pets and to spay and neuter our own pets to humanely control our animal population. This year, Animal Services celebrated a record 92 percent live release rate. This means of all of the animals that came into our shelter, over 92 percent found new homes. This is a huge turnaround from years past when we saw thousands of animals euthanized. And, it means a lot to me. Eula and I recently adopted a kitten – Dancer – from Huntsville Animal Services. Let me tell you, there are few things that bring more joy and life to a home quite like a new rescue pet.
Willingness to Collaborate
Every morning I meet with the City’s department heads for what we call the “daily.” It’s a time for updates and to make sure we are all on the same page – working from the same playbook. It’s also a time to ensure that each department’s projects are in sync with City plans and projects throughout City Hall. I’m continually impressed to see how well City departments work together for the greater good. An example is the Parks and Recreation Department. They support our Healthy Huntsville initiative, including the Mayor’s 100 Mile – 100 Day walking challenge, Saturdays in the Park, and the Mayor’s Bike Ride. Last year, they worked with the Huntsville Botanical Garden to organize a walk in the Garden – complete with adoptable dogs (all eager for a good walk). A great example of collaboration – maintaining a healthy lifestyle, finding forever homes for our homeless pets, and getting to see the beauty of our Botanical Garden.
A Sense of Place
Our sense of place, of who we are, comes easily to Huntsvillians. We welcome newcomers and natives because we’ve been doing it for decades. Our handle as the “Rocket City” was born out of our expertise in blasting a man to the moon, but we retain the title because of our ongoing smart work to explore farther than ever before.
We pride ourselves on innovation. Standing out. Doing things some people say we shouldn’t have the ability to do. We defy expectations, and we’re scrappy. I like that about us.
As we plan for the future, it’s going to take everyone working together. Dennis Madsen, the City’s Urban Long Range Planner, and our Planning Department have done a tremendous job putting together The Big Picture Master Plan, and they have done it in a way that brings together input from all corners of our City. A big part of the philosophy behind The Big Picture is strengthening and growing what’s called our ‘placemaking’ capabilities.
Placemaking is a big buzzword in the planning community and its really about creating quality public spaces that contribute to a community’s health, happiness, and well being. We do this by planning, designing and managing of public spaces in a way that capitalizes on local assets: our ingenuity (a smart city), inspiration (sending men to the moon), and potential (re-imagining our urban core and Cummings Research Park). Placemaking is embracing the essence of what makes our community special. It’s who we are.
As we reinforce our place at home, in the region, nation, and the world, we’ll continue to prioritize the quality of life aspects that make people want to live, work and play here. We’ll increase the connectivity of our greenways, launch Downtown Huntsville’s new bike share program, install public art, and enjoy Huntsville’s new pocket parks.
Thanks again to the #iHeartHsv Campaign and the Huntsville-Madison County CVB for making us stop, appreciate and share all of the many things that makes Huntsville so special.