Auburn is growing, and downtown should follow suit.
Census estimates from 2015 showed Auburn was the 20th fastest growing city in the U.S. and the fastest in Alabama as reported by the Auburn Villager. University enrollment numbers are also increasing.
This is good for Auburn. New residents bring in tax revenue and increase commerce in the economy, and an increasing student body helps fortify Auburn’s position as a leading educational institution.
But these trends create changes for Auburn – changes that need to be accepted and celebrated.
To make room for more convenient student living and more businesses, newer and taller buildings are coming to downtown. The skyline is changing from the familiar small town feel to what some feel is an obtrusive display of construction.
Members of the community complain that these additions take away the soul of the town, and fight to “Keep Auburn Lovely,” playing off of Auburn’s moniker of “Loveliest Village on the Plains.”
Critics of Auburn’s growth take issue with changing regulations over building heights and attend meetings of the Planning Commission to lobby for a smaller and standard height limit.
However, the growth they take a stand against brings benefits to students along with incentives for prospective students thinking of choosing Auburn for their college careers. It provides more downtown living options and lowers the cost of such residential options, thus making it possible for more students to live a walkable distance from campus.
More students with access to a walkable commute to campus brings down the number of cars on the road, alleviating traffic and lessening the pollution from exhaust and the noise that cars bring. It will begin to mitigate concerns over parking on campus as well.
Larger buildings can also be mixed-use, increasing the number of shops downtown and bringing in more commerce. Numerous boutiques, coffee shops and eateries have success operating downtown. More would be welcomed.
Further, more retail space creates an opportunity for a grocery store to open downtown. All grocery stores are located down main roads in Auburn. Placing one in the heart of downtown – like the boutique hotel project that failed in the summer of 2016 proposed to do – would add a walkable option for groceries to the downtown area.
There are still some worries with undertaking many construction projects, but these are mitigated. Many contractors who come in to construct larger projects come from out of state. However, they use local subcontractors and hire locally, creating jobs in the area.
The aesthetics of larger buildings can also be a concern. To address this, we call for an Architectural Review Board to be established to approve designs before construction and to maintain Auburn’s familiar appearance.
We believe Auburn’s growth benefits all residents – especially students. Students who have an interest in ensuring affordable, close-to-campus living and a walkable downtown should let their voices be heard to the City Council by writing letters and attending meetings.
Auburn has the opportunity to progress into a college town on the forefront, and that’s worth fighting for.