Spotlight on Community: The Village of Providence
Developer: Placemakers North America, LLC
Builders: BT Neely Construction, Jimmy Bryan Homes, VTS Home
Architect: Steve Mouzon and Bob Martignoni
Land Planner: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company
Like a glass of sweet tea on a hot August day, the Village of Providence in Huntsville, Alabama is positively filled with southern charm. Whether strolling down the sidewalk or driving the tree-lined streets, one feels a sense of being in that perfect hometown grandparents still talk about. Picturesque homes are intermixed with brownstones, traditionally styled townhomes, and apartments, as well professional offices, stores, and businesses.
This mixed-use traditional neighborhood development came about in a not-so-traditional way. Developers David and Todd Slyman had a specific vision. They wanted to create a place for families that was reminiscent of their childhood neighborhood as well as other great places they visited such as San Francisco, New York, and the great towns and villages of Europe. They sought to establish a neighborhood that would be more than a collection of houses and yards–a place where families would be part of a close-knit and active community.
Designing a Town
Like most cities, Huntsville already had standards for residential and commercial developments. Local rules were for modern subdivisions and commercial developments but not for a traditional neighborhood concept. Providence was different, and making it happen would require buy-in from city planners, area residents and city government. The Slymans, referred to as the “Town Founders,” would have to educate the stakeholders and decision makers, get them engaged in the concept development, and make them a part of the process of creating Providence.
Providence is designed for people first and vehicles second. The streets are narrower, the radius of street corners, and the placement of trees and sidewalks all make walking the priority. Planners sited homes on each lot with care, making them both inviting and private. The community’s architects designed front porches to be inviting but allow enough distance for seclusion. Commercial buildings continue the look and feel of the community using traditional architecture that blends into the overall aesthetic.
Selling the Concept
Because it was a departure from the familiar, the pedestrian-centric design required an education process. The “Town Founders,” took city officials to other traditional neighborhood developments to help them understand how they function. They organized numerous presentations, expert consultations, and site-visits to other traditional neighborhood developments and old towns to educate stakeholders. The lesson: With careful planning, Huntsville could accommodate its city requirements without sacrificing the design of the community. Once the stakeholders understood the vision and saw it in action elsewhere they enthusiastically supported the development.
The Value of Design
Fast-forward more than a decade: The careful focus on quality of design that created the Village of Providence has proven worth the effort. The pedestrian-oriented development adheres to that original 2002 master plan with few deviations. Its architectural standards and building codes work—architects follow them carefully to ensure accuracy of designs and quality of structure. For example, a Greek Revival home displays the correct proportions, column sizing, and appropriate entablature. These tight standards ensure that homes built 10 years ago fit in with homes completed this year. The continuity of design and quality of materials guarantees these houses will last for decades.
An architectural review board and a builder’s guild review and supervise new construction in Providence. The architectural review board assures that new homes fit into the community aesthetically but are also true to their respective styles. The task of actually building falls to one of the guild member builders. Guild members are vetted and strive to ensure the best quality of construction. The review board and builders guild consider every aspect of all homes, reviewing, evaluating, and constructing them to ensure they will last for generations. As its “Town Founders” envisioned, The Village of Providence will remain–and retain its charm for many decades.