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Huntsville, Alabama, was named the best place to live in the US. Here's what it's like to live there.

Leslie Walker   

Huntsville, Alabama, was named the best place to live in the US. Here's what it's like to live there.
  • US News & World Report named Huntsville, Alabama, as the best US city to live in its annual ranking.
  • I've lived there for over 50 years and have watched the city grow before my eyes.

My family has lived in Huntsville, Alabama, for six generations, setting down roots back when it was just a small rural farm town in the 1840s.

As a native of what's now Alabama's largest city, I've watched my hometown evolve before my eyes.

Now, the secret is officially out.

This year, Huntsville took home the top honors in US News & World Report's annual list of the best places to live in the US. The ranking is determined by an analysis of both public data and user opinions of the following five criteria: job market, housing affordability, quality of life, desirability, and migration patterns.

Here's what Huntsville is like, from someone born and raised there.

Huntsville has a rich history that's shaped it into the city it is today

Situated in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and nestled in the Tennessee Valley, Huntsville is the location of many of Alabama's historic firsts and brightest achievements.

It was the state's first city to integrate its public schools in 1963 and where scientists and engineers helped put the first man on the moon in 1969.

Eventually, decades of innovation in space exploration and rocket science in Huntsville led it to be coined "The Rocket City," a nickname many people know the city by today.

The cost of living is relatively low compared to some similarly sized cities, but home prices are still climbing

Huntsville has a metro population of 464,607 people, according to the report.

In comparison to similarly sized cities like Boulder, Colorado, which is ranked fourth on US News & World Report's list, and Portland, Maine, which is ranked eighth, the cost of living in Huntsville is relatively low.

Even so, it's been shocking to watch the meteoric rise in our city's home prices over the past few months.

My daughter was fortunate enough to purchase her first house in Huntsville in December 2021. The previous owners beat the Huntsville housing boom and paid $74 per square foot in 2017, per Zillow. As of June 2022, the home's value has increased to $188 per square foot.

According to US News & World Report, Huntsville's median home price is $192,667. And although I've seen the city's housing market take off firsthand, it's still considerably less than Boulder's $528,833 and Portland's $310,300, which makes me appreciate what Huntsville real estate has to offer.

Huntsville is known for being a hub for space exploration

Huntsville's tallest structure is a 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket for a reason: The city is a hub for space exploration.

The US Army selected Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal, a former World War II-era chemical munitions facility, to be the home of the Ordnance Guided Missile Center in 1950. These scientists and engineers marked the beginnings of the US space program and eventually NASA, which officially formed in 1958.

Huntsville teams went on to develop the technology for the Explorer 1, America's first satellite; the Saturn V for the Apollo Lunar Lander Program; the Space Shuttle; and the International Space Station.

The Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville still plays a critical role in missions, some of which include developing the Space Launch System and the Human Landing System Program, which aims to send people to the moon and Mars.

It has several tourist attractions that appeal to locals, too

Lest you think Huntsville is all work and no play, let's talk about the fun side of all this space history: Space Camp, a hands-on learning experience for all things space travel. Participants can simulate missions, launch model rockets, and learn what it's like to live in the International Space Station.

The camp's been open since 1982 and, over the years, almost one million people have graduated from the program. Among its alumni are several individuals who have gone on to become professional astronauts.

Many visitors and locals alike also enjoy visiting the adjoining US Space & Rocket Center museum, the home of the aforementioned Saturn V.

The famous rocket, which serves as the beacon of The Rocket City skyline, is actually a replica.

The real article, which is one of only three in the world and holds the title of National Historic Landmark, is located inside the Davidson Center for Space Exploration on the grounds of the US Space & Rocket Center.

Many people hold local conferences, awards dinners, and weddings by the iconic rocket.

Many of our entertainment venues are housed in repurposed old buildings

Huntsville has way more to offer than rockets. Adaptive reuse of historic or abandoned properties has led to some unique entertainment opportunities over the past few years.

Take, for instance, Lowe Mill ARTS & Entertainment, which originally opened as a cotton mill in 1901 and later served as a jungle-boot factory during the Vietnam War.

My father likes to say that as a young man he worked at Lowe Mill making boots and, six months later, he was wearing them.

Even more change has happened, as it's now the US's largest privately owned arts facility.

The beautiful building is home to over 150 studios and features pottery, painting, photography, a luthier, a local tea company, a small batch single-hand crafted whiskey distiller, and even an artisan chocolatier.

Just down the road, you'll find Campus No. 805, a former middle school with visible remnants of its past, like burnt-orange lockers and a former principal's office.

Now, this reimagined landmark houses an event space, Straight to Ale brewery and Yellowhammer Brewing, Ronnie Raygun's arcade, Offbeat Coffee Studio, Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza, and more.

There's also Stovehouse, a former stove factory that's been converted into a destination for date nights, family dinners, and lunch breaks.

As a mixed-use development, there are also a lot of offices there too. Stovehouse, for its part, describes itself as a space for "horsejackery," or "the act of slowing productivity and/or causing a commotion."

And there are plenty of opportunities for "horsejackery." Kamado Ramen, Taqueria El Cazador, Charlie Foster's coffee, and Bark & Barrel BBQ are just a few of the delicious dining options you can find there along with live music, a bar, event spaces, and shopping.

We also have wonderfully mild weather and direct access to tons of outdoor adventures

With an annual average high temperature of 74 degrees Fahrenheit and an annual average low temperature of 52 degrees Fahrenheit, Huntsville residents can enjoy outdoor activities pretty much year-round.

The Land Trust of North Alabama encompasses 9,000 acres of beautifully preserved land, with 73 miles of trails to explore, all of which are accessible within Huntsville and its surrounding area.

Also just minutes from downtown is Monte Sano State Park, which has its own 2,100 acres of preserved lands, 20 miles of hiking trails, and 14 miles of bike trails.

The southern edge of Huntsville, bordered by the Tennessee River, is where you'll find Ditto Landing Marina, equipped with not only boating, but also hiking, camping, cycling, and ample space for picnicking.

But in my opinion, Huntsville's most iconic outdoor space is Big Spring Park, located in the downtown area.

As a young adult, I remember downtown being a mostly quiet place with a smattering of bars and empty storefronts. In the evenings, the park primarily played host to local teenagers looking for something to do.

More recently, Tommy Battle, the mayor of Huntsville, referred to this special place as the city's "living room," and with good reason.

On sunny days, you'll find it full of folks feeding the ducks, grabbing a bite for lunch, or getting in their steps. At night and on weekends, Big Spring Park is often the location of festivals and concerts.

Huntsville's community has grown and evolved with the city

Huntsville's space program has drawn people from all over the world, creating a truly unique community through the decades.

According to the data from the US Census Bureau, Madison County, where Huntsville is located, had a population increase of 50,000 new residents between 2010 and 2020.

Some people come to support the space program, defense programs, and emerging biotechnology endeavors. Others are involved in industries like manufacturing or the arts.

According to the City of Huntsville, over 10% of its residents are natives of other countries, and more than 100 languages and dialects are spoken in the city.

This broad range of cultures and experiences is my favorite thing about living in this community. Huntsville is a place where ideas come to grow, and the ground here is fertile for innovation and creativity.

Having personally experienced more than 50 years of life in Huntsville, I would argue that the people are what make this city so special.

Individuals from all over the globe come together in Huntsville to develop new technologies, take on challenges never accomplished before, and leave their own legacy.

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