(Note: The topic of housing can be a very touchy one.  I strongly favor diverse neighborhoods with people of all kinds living, working, and playing together.  Any policy or planning should treat equal opportunity as paramount.)

My family and I have lived in Hoover’s Loch Ridge community for over 15 years.  I drive through these neighborhoods daily, but I’ve lived in the area since I was 10 years old so these places are very familiar to me.  Ours is an older community in Hoover just off of Rocky Ridge, so the need to maintain our older neighborhoods is near and dear.

bradyhouse

Some of our neighbors in Loch Ridge. OK OK…not really! But part of living in an older neighborhood is the fun nostalgia.

There are two large areas to address when it comes to the future of these older neighborhoods.

First, we have to address the situations where people allow their houses to fall into disrepair. Sometimes these require aggressive action by the city to ensure standards of safety and habitability are maintained.  In other cases there may be people who have, through no fault of their own, lost the ability to maintain their home.

In the first case, many people I’ve spoken with have indicated that our ordinances are inadequate for addressing situations of simple neglect.  It is difficult and in some cases impossible for the city to take action without significant citizen involvement.  It would be pretty straightforward to revamp these ordinances and policies and that’s something we should do immediately.

nice-loch-ridge

Fortunately, many of the houses in our older neighborhoods are more than just well maintained. It’s a real treat to drive through these streets every day.  (This is a real house this time!)

In the second case, we should help people who want to maintain their homes but have a legitimate reason for being unable to do so.  Many cities have implemented charitable programs, partnerships and foundations to assist those (particularly elderly) who are unable to address some of the issues.  Cities such as Dallas,  New Orleans, have volunteer and funding programs to help people maintain their homes.  Of course those are big cities, but we’re not a small city.  We should have a big vision when it comes to helping people.

(I’m particularly fond of the idea of helping Hoover’s seniors maintain their homes.  They built this community and we should help them take pride in it.)

The second big task is addressing the natural lifecycle of a neighborhood.  Neighborhoods last much longer than the families who live there.  And as those chapters come to an end, we must ensure new chapters are waiting to be written.  When people move out and there is little demand for the house, it has a severe effect on our older neighborhoods.  Unfortunately, those of us who live there have occasionally seen this first hand.

So the most important question in the life cycle of a neighborhood is “who will want to live here next?”.

The answer to this question is problematic when there are thousands of homes being built to more contemporary standards, in areas with more capital investment, and with newer stores and necessities nearby.  How do we keep our older neighborhoods attractive?

south-bend-vestavia

Vestavia’s South Bend development on the corner of Wisteria and Rocky Ridge is right in the middle of older Hoover neighborhoods. Our schools must be strong and our neighborhood plan sound if we’re going to exist in this competitive environment.

A key strategy for this is to maintain a stable, consistent, world class school system.  Young families are an important “who’s next”, and we are in a very competitive environment.  We have to start cooperating with our schools again.  If additional capital or operational funding is required, we should step up.  There are many stories of Alabama cities working together with their city school system. Ours should be the best story.

Many books have been written about what makes people want to live somewhere, but to me the easiest answer is to simply look at what developers do and follow suit.  Developers are smart, and they know what it takes to make neighborhoods attractive.  Things like:

  • Walkable/bikeable communities
  • Small Parks and gathering areas
  • Access to organized activities such as sports and arts
  • Specialized public attractions (Dog parks, swimming pools)
  • Access to schools, grocery stores, and other day-to-day resources.

So what can be done in these areas?

Many of our older neighborhoods are walkable/bikeable by their very nature.  Plus they have a nostalgic charm that make walking them fun.  It’s something that newer neighborhoods can’t compete with.

monte-deste-bliss

Not only do many of our founding neighborhoods visually represent the American dream, they are easy to walk. We just need to find a way to connect them.  Who would’t want to live on Monte Deste Drive?  But there is a bigger picture to consider.

But in some cases, great neighborhoods are ‘roped in’ by busy roads, rivers, creeks, and other barriers.  You can feel trapped and isolated.  A big improvement would be to create a plan to allow access between neighborhoods that dramatically reduces the risk of getting squished-like-grape by an SUV.  Some of these particulars would be expensive and time consuming, but that’s why plans exist.

wisteria-sidewalks

People don’t like to walk on busy streets. This sidewalk on Wisteria is helpful, but it only lasts a couple hundred yards. How does this compare with newer neighborhoods?

trail-loch

Sometimes people create their own walk-able neighborhood plan, such as this trail between Loch Ridge, and Loch Haven. The only alternative is risking life and limb on Rocky Ridge.  Surely there’s a safer and more friendly way to accomplish this?

Some of our older neighborhoods are very close to schools.  What if we could implement a plan to ensure that they have direct, walk-able, bike-able access to their local elementary school?  That would be a huge factor for many prospective new owners, and there are Federal dollars set aside to make these kinds of things happen.

Claytonpl-RRES

Right behind this woods on Clayton Place, peaking through the trees is the nationally recognized Rocky Ridge Elementary School. Over the years, some students (including those on Laurel View Ln/Rd and Teton Cir) have found ways to walk to school via trials. What if we could figure out a way to make this school accessible to the whole Laurel Ridge neighborhood and beyond?

old-hoover-parks

There are some really great parks in older Hoover. Such as Georgetown Lake and the Hoover Dog Park. They are well maintained and beautiful. Greater accessibility from the surrounding neighborhoods via bike and foot would be a huge plus for existing residents and potential homebuyers.

If you know where to find them, there are actually many small parks, gathering areas, and specialized activities in our older neighborhoods.  The city has done a pretty good job of putting these in place and making them good.  A walkable/bikeable neighborhood plan in these areas would greatly magnify the positive effect on all the neighborhoods.

Access to day-to-day retail is very important for both livability and property values.  Studies show the kinds of stores you put in place matter and some may have negative impact.  Specialty stores can have a very positive effect (some say it’s a symptom, others say it’s a cause.)  As a retail powerhouse, Hoover does a really good job at attracting some of these stores, and that effort should continue.

Anecdotally, during the 2008 downturn, the Lorna and Rocky Ridge area went from having 4 nearby grocery stores to 1.  There was a palpable disconnected feeling during this time.  Hard economic times don’t leave many options, but maintaining access to day-to-day retail should be priority.

This post could go on-and-on..but I think the point is clear.  When it comes to older neighborhoods, we need to:

  • Make the process striaghtforward for the city to address problem houses when there is a legitimate requirement
  • Establish programs and partnerships to help those in need maintain their homes
  • Upgrade infrastructure and amenities to more closely match new neighborhoods
  • Ensure there is an even distribution of parks, and larger entertainment venues

Most importantly, this effort should be part of a community driven plan— with specifications, budgeting, timetables, ordinances, and follow up.  It’s not enough to just have some good ideas, vote on them and move on.  This should be part of a community vision that is executed on a on-going basis for the long term.

We can do this, Hoover!  Vote on August 23rd!

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Leigh Williams says:

    We need side walks in Green Valley. It is very hard to go to Star Lake in the street!

  2. Bill Gilliland says:

    Excellent commentary. A major issue is the school system. It is important for the viability of our city to keep the schools strong. We have lived in Bluff Park for 44 years and have supported the school system’s development from infancy to an excellent system. But we have seen in recent years many disturbing issues develop that seemed to expose poor leadership, wrong priorities, and lack of support and guidance from the mayor and city council. Time for a change!

  3. C. Ponder says:

    A trail to RRES from the top on Clayton place would he useless. You have to go around the entire back of the school. Laurel view Ln. would be a better trail.

  4. Christine says:

    Amen Mike ! I have been preaching this for years. I live on Loch Haven Drive and over the years traffic has increased tremendously because of the park ( which I absolutely love , the park not the traffic !! ) and the only entrance for Vestavia Knolls residents because one is closed inside the complex ! ( which I was told it was closed because of too much traffic coming through their neighborhood ??!!!) We need sidewalks on this street pronto too , I walk almost everyday to the park and you are correct , it’s dangerous ! ( not to mention people speed all the time on our street ). I will support you in every way , I love my house and neighborhood ! ( We still have ice cream socials here in the summer ) We also need o address the drainage creek behind our houses that flows into the creek at the dog park ! The brush needs to be cleanded up in it and a retaining wall needs to be built on one side. ( years ago a wall was built on your side , Loch Ridge, but they stopped at that .). I called and Hoover said it was Jefferson County and Jefferson County said it was Hoover’s responsibility . ?? Anyway, I agree with you and your article ! I support you !

  5. Diann O. Barrett says:

    Bluff Park is a beautiful area, but we need some sidewalks!! Tale a look at Turtle Creek Drive where there are none and lots of kids play and adults walk. Maybe suggestions could be made for some areas like this to have HOA’s that could keep walkers and children safe and cats out of the street ( big problem). Some twin homes on upper Hawksberry are in severe disrepair. Again, cars are every where even in front yards. Lots of issues. I like the things you stand for and wonder if the mayor and council could remember our area also.

  6. Correct–this city obviously needs some long term planning. Even more big subdivisions are on the way in neighborhoods with only one real access point off major roads, shared by busy school traffic! We need continued growth, but smarter growth with a plan for future traffic would be nice. It would also be nice to see the city enforcing construction standards for developments close to creeks and waterways, instead of seeing failed silt fences and the continued degradation of the water quality after every big rain.
    I hope we get some younger folks with the perspective of having kids in the school system to serve on the city council.

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