Since the workshop: Huntington, WV and a place-based approach to economic development

Downtown Huntington, WV. Photo via UrbanUp.

Back in 2014, Huntington, WV won a free technical assistance workshop from Smart Growth America to help the city achieve its goals for housing, businesses, and its downtown. What has the city been up to in the two years since? The answer is: a lot.

“Smart Growth America’s technical assistance has provided the City of Huntington with valuable tools that have helped propel efforts within our targeted neighborhoods,” said Mayor Steve Williams when we asked what the city has been doing. “We’re excited about the progress that we have been able to achieve and the plans that we continue to develop to create a financial and sustainable city based on smart growth principles.”

The 2014 workshop focused on implementing Plan2025, a blueprint for the city’s future development and planning that passed in December 2013. Plan2025 successfully identified many of the challenges facing Huntington, but city staffers felt unsure about realizing its goals. The City brought in Smart Growth America’s experts to help kickstart that process.

During the workshop, Huntington city officials expressed concern with developers tearing down empty storefronts for additional parking in the heart of downtown. Since then, Huntington conducted a major land use survey focusing on the vacancy, condition, and cost estimates of parking throughout the city, with an emphasis on downtown development districts. They recently finished collecting data for the study and is now analyzing it for further recommendations.

And soon after the workshop, the city received a $100,000 Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Planning Grant, aimed at creating a plan to reduce crime in the downtown, and the City saw an immediate opportunity to put a smart growth approach into action. In May 2015 the City hosted a “Build a Better Block” event that converted the Old Main Corridor, which has seen a spike in crime in recent years, into a thriving and walkable city block in downtown. The city placed retail shops in abandoned storefronts and transformed an empty parking lot into a stage for music and entertainment. The event not only showcased the Old Main Corridor’s potential as an exciting commercial space, but also suggested how the presence of a lively urban center and occupied storefronts can curtail criminal activity and cultivate a sense of place.

These are just some of the many projects Huntington has worked on since the workshop we held with them in 2014. We look forward to seeing more successes there in years to come.

Smart Growth America’s free annual technical assistance program, made possible through a five-year Building Blocks for Sustainable Communities grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Sustainable Communities, seeks to develop local planning solutions that help communities grow in ways that benefit families and businesses while protecting the environment and preserving a sense of place.

Technical assistance