On Tuesday, August 25, Montgomery voters will go to the polls to elect their next mayor. Conservation Alabama submitted a brief questionnaire to all five declared candidates about their conservation priorities for the city. Two candidates, incumbent Mayor Todd Strange and challenger Artur Davis, responded. Their answers are below.
What do the outdoors and Alabama’s open spaces mean to you? As someone who has spent 44 years living in Alabama, I value the appeal of its outdoors and open spaces. I wish that Montgomery retained more of this outdoor character but appreciate what we do have: from Vaughn Park to the grounds of the Shakespeare Theater to Ida Belle Young Park, we actually do have a virtual green space triangle in what is now the actual median point of Montgomery.
How do you personally enjoy Alabama’s environment? My wife Tara and I like to walk (she much more briskly than me) and have enjoyed rediscovering some of Montgomery’s parks. Hopefully middle age will push us to be more adventurous.
What are your priorities for making Montgomery’s natural resources and open spaces more accessible to our community? Montgomery’s parks and open spaces are mostly suburban: there ought to be a genuine effort to create open space near Fairview and the Mobile Highway. It struck me the day we reenacted the end of the Selma to Montgomery March how little open space exists in this sector of the city. I think we would also do well to sponsor more programs to bring kids from distressed communities to our city’s best parks, for recreation and organized exercise.
What role do you believe accessible public spaces play in attracting new businesses and residents to Montgomery? If we had integrated open space design into the revamp of downtown, our tenant occupancy rates in the lofts would be more consistent. Open, walkable space has been the key to downtown growth in mid-size cities like Greenville SC and we would have been wise to pursue the same strategy in Montgomery. It’s not too late to think open space as we move toward what I hope is the next phase of downtown growth in the area near Union and Decatur Streets and as we think about continuing the remodeling of Dexter, Monroe and Lee Sts.
Which neighborhoods in Montgomery do you think could be made more walkable and bikeable? Cottage Hill comes to mind. So does Capitol Heights: historical preservation ought to include a commitment to walking/biking trails that highlight historic houses. But I would also love to see a strategy for crafting walkways in lower middle income communities like the Graetz areas, Ridgecrest, Sheridan Heights, Normandale, the areas near Virginia Loop Road. The scope of what is feasible is beyond my expertise but I would organize a task force on what infrastructure goals Montgomery should pursue by 2025 and green space construction would be high on their list.
What do the outdoors and Alabama’s open spaces mean to you? Alabama is blessed with so many natural resources. We have almost as much river volume as any state in America, and we have lakes, beaches, beautiful state parks and vast open lands with some of the best hunting in the country. We have tried to improve and expand parks and green spaces, and of course I love to golf!
How do you personally enjoy Alabama’s environment? I enjoy being outdoors in general. We have a patio I sit on when the weather’s nice, and I am actually home to enjoy it. We go to the beach down on the Gulf a good amount. My wife, Linda, enjoys that very much. It is her happy place. We go with friends to Lake Martin. I also like to bird hunt, and I enjoy “A good walk spoiled” a round of golf.
What are your priorities for making Montgomery’s natural resources and open spaces more accessible to our community? We have tried to expand parks and greenspaces, from the downtown farm, to Wright Brothers Park to The Environmental Park on Fairview which cleans up wastewater and runoff via an urban wetland ecopark, to renovating the Planetarium and Oak Park which surrounds it. And also developing The River Front. That is a great place to walk, enjoy the splash pad, and have good family fun. All of these are no or low cost outdoors options for our citizens, and those of the surrounding area.
What role do you believe accessible public spaces play in attracting new businesses and residents to Montgomery? If you don’t have nice places for people to enjoy nature, your argument for quality of life of workers is diminished. I have recruited hundreds of thousands of jobs in my time with ADO, The County Commission and as Mayor, and it always something we put in our pitch. Alabama is really an underrated outdoors hotspot. In Montgomery proper we have a first class public golf course at Gateway Park which has done a great deal to enhance our “curb appeal” to people driving to, or through Montgomery on I65. To that end we also have a Department of Urban Forestry which is charged with growing and maintaining healthy trees throughout the City for the public good. Their mission is to make Montgomery a more attractive and healthy environment in which to live. They do this by:
● regulating the planting, maintenance and removal of trees located on public property
● establishing and maintaining the maximum sustainable amount of tree cover on public
and private lands in the City
● maintaining City trees in a healthy and nonhazardous condition
● establishing and maintaining appropriate diversity in tree species and age classes to
provide a stable and sustainable urban forest
Which neighborhoods in Montgomery do you think could be made more walkable and bikeable? Most of the neighborhoods built in the early part of the century are very walkable, and that’s Cottage Hill, Cloverdale and Garden District and over to Capitol Heights. The areas around midtown are quite walkable, ample sidewalks, etc, and even as you pass over the Boulevard to Carriage Hills and Bellwood. That said many of those neighborhoods were built in a time when Montgomery’s leaders did not anticipate the growth we have experienced, and the roads connecting them are not conducive to putting in bike lines for the most part. But I drive through Vaughn Meadows, McGehee Estates on my way to and from work and I see a lot kids and families biking, running, walking and generally enjoying the safe environments that we provide. The neighborhoods out east are newer, and they have emphasized wide streets and family recreational activities.