Any road will take you there

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If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.

The idea behind the Tuscaloosa Forward plan was to let the residents of Tuscaloosa provide their thoughts on how Tuscaloosa should move forward after the April 2011 catastrophic damage by tornadoes. The Tuscaloosa Forward plan that is posted on the city’s website explained its purpose:

The citizens of Tuscaloosa have stepped up to share
their best ideas on what their City can become. This
document could not exist without their input, insight and
great ideas. Further, without the leadership at City Hall
that has been exhibited since the tornadoes of April 15
and April 27, there would be no framework upon which
to capture these ideas, organize them, and have hope to
see them through to a future reality. A thousand thanks
to those listed here, and those many others who have

contributed in some way to this community plan.

The Tuscaloosa Forward document continued:

When disasters strike, the pain and loss are immense and the road to recovery can seem long and tiring. However, disasters can also reveal a resilience and dedication to community that had been hidden by the bustle of “ordinary” days. We are all reminded about what is truly important and community leaders are challenged to rise to the occasion. It is possible to emerge from a disaster a stronger and more capable city than before.

The Tuscaloosa Forward Strategic Community Plan to Renew and Rebuild is an investment in the idea that through smart decision-making and careful planning Tuscaloosa can become a better and stronger city. The plan represents the community’s vision for the future of Tuscaloosa. It establishes a framework that city government, the private sector, and the public can work from to achieve a common vision. The strategic rebuilding plan balances the hundreds of ideas from thousands of residents who gave their time to help imagine how the rebuilding could be done to maximize the impact of the policies, projects, and other investments that will move Tuscaloosa Forward.

 

The neighborhood advocacy group Tuscaloosa Neighbors Together (TNT) conducted  a survey on the Tuscaloosa Forward plan where 300 respondents were generally in favor of the plan.

The Tuscaloosa City Council unanimously approved the Tuscaloosa Forward plan in September 2011. Jason Morton reported in the Tuscaloosa News that, “Now, the city will turn to the Code Studio consultant firm of Austin, Texas, to help craft building codes, zoning rules and other policies that will turn the elements of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan into reality.”

At the time TNT’s Secretary Joan Barth said, “The consensus is that people want (small businesses) to come back. But no, we don’t want it to go back the way it was. These are changes that (residents) wanted to see.”

Many citizens who participated in the Tuscaloosa Forward planning process have observed that, time and time again, that the recommendations in the plan have been been ignored as often as they have been realized.

Inflated land values were the result when the storm left large areas in Tuscaloosa with a clean slate. To a great extent, anticipated real estate values dictated how successful the fulfillment of the Tuscaloosa Forward plan would be.

But, as well as inflated property values being a impediment to the plan, many developers approached the city with an attitude that, “if I can’t have my way, I’ll take my ball home and the game’s over.” For example, a Shell gas station that resembles many of the developer’s other truck stops sticks out like a sore thumb on 15th Street. Its huge brightly light canopy and signage can’t be missed. The zoning that resulted from the Tuscaloosa Forward plan called for gas pumps to be located in the back. The developer insisted on the canopy’s location in front of the building. The art rendering of the proposed gas station presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission did not include the canopy. Many people were shocked by the appearance of the gas station when it was built.

Many people who participated in the Tuscaloosa Forward process were enthusiastic about Village Centers with their potential for connectivity and housing that had varying price ranges.

A variety of housing styles, densities, and price ranges are concentrated within and around Village Centers to provide housing options for residents of different ages, incomes, and lifestyles. This concentration of housing helps to create a critical mass of residents to support the services and amenities provided within the Village Centers and enhances their viability. Focusing housing around Village Centers also maximizes the number of people who are able to access the Village Center by walking, biking, or a short drive. Along the tornado path where the impact was most severe, there are entire blocks and subdivisions of homes that were almost completely destroyed. In these areas the challenge of rebuilding goes beyond reconstructing individual homes where they once stood. It is to rebuild entire neighborhoods and create places where communities can flourish. This big idea is to create Model Neighborhoods that illustrate new ways to house the citizens of Tuscaloosa in a manner that addresses both pre-existing challenges and emerging needs. These Model Neighborhoods can help to rebuild Tuscaloosa at the sites where they are located, but they also demonstrate techniques and practices that can be applied across the tornado-affected areas and even citywide.

Elements that could be incorporated into model neighborhoods, and into residential development throughout the city include:
Neighborhood design that seamlessly integrates a variety of housing styles, densities, and price ranges to provide options and serve diverse needs
Techniques for integrating pocket parks and open space as amenities within neighborhoods
Energy efficiency and water conservation features to reduce housing costs
Home design and construction methods that are durable, safe, healthy, and environmentally sustainable while remaining affordable
Creative strategies to finance quality housing for developers, owners, and renters
Innovative approaches to home maintenance and property management to improve the visual appearance and longevity of housing
Housing construction and neighborhood design techniques that apply quality new housing in a manner that is tailored to, and compatible with local characteristics and needs

Showpiece sustainable design that includes green building, efficient infrastructure, emerging technology, and natural grasses that clean stormwater and provide ornament.

In May of 2017 Mayor Walter Maddox proposed a new plan, as Jason Morton reported in the Tuscaloosa News, “to address a number of areas of concern, from land left undeveloped after the April 27, 2011, tornado to road and infrastructure projects that have been planned for years.”

Maddox explained this program, a proposal for which he plans to submit to the City Council later this year, is meant to tackle pockets of undeveloped areas of city.

“We want to do our part to incentivize that rebuilding,” the mayor said. “Right now, those vacant pieces of property are generating very little in terms of revenue for our city.”

Much of the land in question is in areas that were cleared by the tornado that damaged or destroyed 12 percent of the city in 2011.

Some residents are concerned about that the vacant pieces of property will not be used in a way that reflects the Tuscaloosa Forward aspirations. An absence of affordable housing is a major concern.

This is particularly the case in the Alberta area where major variances and rezoning have allowed the construction of an abundance of multi-family housing projects which have relatively high rental price points. Quite often unrelated students can afford such housing whereas single families cannot.

Was the Tuscaloosa Forward plan too ambitious an undertaking? Or was it only an exercise in public relations that was never to be taken seriously?
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2 thoughts on “Any road will take you there

  1. Julie Evelsizer says:

    The plan may have been honestly intended. However, the prospect of making a lot of money turns heads pretty quickly, and, in addition, you can’t fit 30,000 students into the pre-tornado Cedar Crest.

    Tuscaloosa is doing what it has always done: throwing away opportunities to be unique and exciting with one hand while raking in money from predictable-minded developers with the other. I don’t understand why Maddox is hailed as a savior with new, fresh ideas. Students with money to spend have always dictated rents in Tuscaloosa. Since UA is courting and attracting well-heeled out-of-state students, the situation has become worse.

    The apartment complex on McFarland south which is designated for older people, presumably with rents one or two people could pay, is a bright light, but of course it comes nowhere near providing for the demand. Apparently only high-priced McMansions are being built as new housing for families.

    I am swimming against the tide of support (pun intended) for Walt Maddox. I do not believe the situation in Tuscaloosa has improved one whit, other than to clear the tornado debris and provide chain outlets we didn’t have before. He appears to share UA’s phobia of any space left unbuilt upon.

  2. Tom Wyatt says:

    “Dr. Ryan, I’m a politician which means I’m a cheat and a liar, and when I’m not kissing babies I’m stealing their lollipops. But it also means I keep my options open.”
    ~ from The Hunt for Red October

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