Outsiders with preconceived notions about what life’s like in Alabama (i.e., a slightly modernized episode of Hee-Haw) are invariably surprised by Huntsville. The truth is, you’ll come across a lot more brainiacs and cosmopolitan types than you will the Blue Collar Comedy crowd. All of the major U.S. missile defense/aerospace corporations (Boeing, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin, among others) operate within the city, while the Redstone Arsenal army base houses the Missile Defense Agency, the Marshall Space Flight Center, and the U.S. Army Material Command. So don’t be surprised to come across a hefty handful of military experts, government officials, and science nerds (we mean that in a nice way!) during your stay in Rocket City.
Huntsville is also, in many regards, a college town, with numerous universities, colleges, and satellite schools represented. It’s no surprise, then, that Huntsville ranks among the nation’s “smartest” cities: More than 36 percent of Huntsville residents hold advanced degrees, which is 17 percentage points higher than the average American community.
People don’t generally think of Alabama as a melting pot, but in Huntsville you’ll find a variety of backgrounds and cultures. Once a city consisting almost entirely of Caucasians and African-Americans, Huntsville’s population now includes considerable numbers of Asians (~3500) and Hispanics (~6600) as well. Some neighborhoods (Shady Lane, Camelot, and others) even house growing numbers of residents with Iranian, Armenian, Finnish, and Haitian ancestries.
Bottom line: Forget the Hee-Haw stigma. You won’t need your overalls, your straw hat, and your favorite cut-off NASCAR tee-shirt to blend in after all.
Are apartments readily available? What should I know before signing a lease?
Generally, yes, apartments are easy enough to find in Huntsville (renters make up 35 percent of the population), although availability differs from ‘hood to ‘hood. Certain neighborhoods (Meadow Mills, Meridianville, Chapman Heights) consist almost entirely of single-family, mortgaged homes, while residents of other areas (Northside Acres, Greenwycke Village) move so infrequently that rental units rarely become available. So save yourself the hassle and don’t bother seeking out apartments in these areas.
The good news is, because many students and aerospace professionals stay only temporarily, there’s a revolving door of tenants at many Huntsville apartment complexes. Waiting lists are nearly unheard of throughout much of the city, and most landlords offer both long-term and month-to-month leases.
When you’re ready to sign a lease, make sure you bring along the basics, including identification, rental history, proof of income, and banking info.
Also, don’t blow off the move-in checklist that most landlords in Huntsville ask leasers to fill out. Because the turnover rate at many properties is high, apartment managers don’t always have the chance to make sure every nook and cranny of your new pad is up to par. Make a note of any imperfection you notice (no matter how minor!), as you don’t want to lose your deposit over a blemish that was already there before you moved in.
So which neighborhood is right for me?
The good thing about Huntsville is that it’s diverse enough to offer something for everyone, from retirees and families with kids to penny-pinching college students and young urban sophisticates. Here’s a sampling of just a few of the neighborhoods that might prove ideal for some different demographics:
College Joes (and Janes): The Harvest neighborhood in the city’s northeast quadrant is a popular pick for Huntsville’s student population. The area is walker-friendly, generally safe, and serves up plenty of medium-sized, single family homes for rent in the $600-$700 range.
Retirees: The Jones Valley Estate neighborhood has emerged in recent years as a favorite hotspot for the city’s silver-haired sector. Although it’s mostly grandiose single family homes in this tranquil, scenic ‘hood, a few apartments and high rises are available as well. Homes are sometimes available for rent as well; just don’t plan to spend less than $3,000.
Families with Kids: Married couples with kids will find plenty of kindred souls and plenty of quality rentals in Whiteburg Estates. Apartments and condos generally go in the $700-$800 range and many units rank among the most spacious in Huntsville.
Young Urban Sophisticates: If you’ve got the right bankroll and want to live among your urbane, arts-and-theater-friendly brethren, check out the Willowbrook neighborhood. Prices on lofts and apartments can be found in the $900-$1100 range.
Budget-Conscious Renters: Apartment seekers with limited budgets can find a surplus of available apartments in West Huntsville. More than 20 percent of West Huntsville properties are vacant, and apartments can often be scored for less than 4 bills.
What about public transportation? And how’s the traffic situation?
What public transportation? And what traffic?
Huntsville is quite the anomaly in one regard: virtually all residents (97 percent) commute to work via car each morning, yet traffic is practically nonexistent. Parking is rarely a problem, either, and commuters average a meager 18-minute drive to work each morning. Apparently all it takes is a city full of rocket scientists to figure out how to avoid rush hour gridlock.
Unfortunately, public transportation is simply impractical in Huntsville, where shopping centers, banks, restaurants, and offices are so spread out that your only viable option is the good ole’ gas guzzler. Many parts of town lack adequate sidewalks as well, so plan your running routes accordingly.
How’s the nightlife?
In all honesty, many singles won’t find the after-hours scene worth going too bonkers about. There are a few hotspots, live music joints, and theater/concert venues, but most of the city’s must-see attractions are geared towards families, kids, and early risers. Sorry, club crowd: You’ll have to look elsewhere for your pulsating techno beats.
For those who prefer fun in the sun rather than madness under the moon, however, you won’t be disappointed. Huntsville boasts a variety of family-friendly museums (U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum, most notably), parks, rec centers, minor-league sports franchises, arts festivals, and golf courses.
Anything else I should know about?
We’ve said it a million times, and we’ll say it once more: crime is a fact of life in any modern city, and Huntsville is no different. Some of the lowest-rent districts in the inner city in particular can be a tad dicey, so be sure to visit your prospective future neighborhood in person before agreeing to a lease. And if you have any questions about life in Huntsville, don’t hesitate to ask the locals. Chances are, they’ll have a good answer for you. They are rocket scientists, after all.
Best of luck, and happy hunting in Huntsville!