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Bringing a vision for the revitalization of the City of Gadsden to life

April 2, 2024 · Community

Gadsden planning

GROW Gadsden is an ambitious planning effort that will define the future of the city for generations.

In early 2023, the City of Gadsden retained Goodwyn Mills Cawood (GMC) to develop the city’s first comprehensive plan in nearly 50 years – GROW Gadsden.  

Developed by GMC’s planning experts, the comprehensive plan is an action-oriented, strategic guide for the City of Gadsden that is shaped by the community’s values and establishes a collective vision, with short- and long-term actions to achieve that vision.

With the city’s recent successes and brightening economic outlook, this plan comes at the right time to harness new growth and channel it into positive changes that elevate the quality of life for everyone in Gadsden.

The specific goals and recommendations of this plan have been developed based on extensive input from the residents of Gadsden to work toward the overall vision established by the public.

The Natural City: Parks & Recreation + Riverfront
Parks & Recreation

One of Gadsden’s greatest strengths is its wealth of natural resources and unique landscape features. The city has a well-developed system of parks that highlight the area’s rich features and provide residents and visitors with a variety of recreational opportunities within minutes of downtown.

  1. Reinforce regional parks in the city for citizens and visitors
  2. Enhance a recreational riverfront experience that is better connected to the city
  3. Become a city of trails
  4. Improve neighborhood parks in an effort to revitalize areas
  5. Update the city’s parks and recreation branding
  6. Define administrative parks and recreation goals and success indicators

The Coosa River is Gadsden’s single-most underutilized asset. The proximity of the historic downtown to rivers, lakes and mountains puts Gadsden in a unique position to develop and link these assets for urban growth over several generations. One of the biggest missing links in this network is the lack of meaningful connectivity between downtown and the riverfront caused by the alignment of a four-lane divided highway along the western bank of the river.

Relocating US 41 from the banks of the Coosa will allow for creation of a mixed-use waterfront district that activates the area as an extension of downtown with shops, parks and residences. Continued improvements to the East Gadsden riverfront will ensure that the Coosa flourishes as a public asset for all parts of the city.

  1. Develop a downtown-adjacent riverfront district
  2. Expand the Riverwalk at Coosa Landing
  3. Improve and expand the community’s connectivity to Lake Gadsden
The Connected City: Mobility & Corridors + Arts & Culture
Mobility & Corridors

Transportation networks and development corridors play a fundamental role in shaping the livability and accessibility of the overall community. Highways, city streets, rail lines, waterways and trails are all part of a multi-modal network that supports the movement of people and goods throughout the area and undergirds the local economy.

Mobility networks are also a major equity concern as they connect residents to economic opportunity. A historic focus on moving as many cars through the area as quickly as possible has resulted in an unbalanced network with limited options and dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. Mobility and corridor projects in the city will focus on creating a more balanced transportation network for all modes while coordinating corridor land use to optimize development potential.

  1. Create balanced and safe streets
  2. Expand mobility options in the city
  3. Create corridors that exhibit the values of the city
Arts & Culture

Gadsden is a growing hub for arts and culture. With a growing number of murals, sculptures and other public art installations, the city should leverage its burgeoning art scene to become a destination for cultural tourism. In addition to communicating the unique history and identity of the city, public art enhances the sense of place and encourages stronger emotional connections and a sense of pride between people and the city.

Beyond promoting public installations and arts education, the arts and culture strategy for the city entails supporting spaces for local artists to grow the city’s creative industries, such as music venues and maker spaces. By investing in arts and culture, Gadsden will not only beautify its civic spaces but also cultivate innovation, celebrate its diversity of stories and draw new visitors to the city.

  1. Continue to increase support for existing arts and culture: places, programs and resources
  2. Commit to increase public art in the city
  3. Improve and expand performing arts in the city
  4. Protect and narrate Gadsden’s histories
The Growing City: Housing + Downtown + Land Use + City Administration + Economic Development

Where people live is one of the important questions a city needs to answer. There are many factors that affect the housing dynamic in cities, from supply to market forces that cannot be controlled. What cities can focus on, however, is the quality and diversity of housing to meet the needs of an ever-changing and diverse population.

Gadsden is uniquely positioned in the region to become a major hub for housing and has the opportunity to grow smartly. Because of the city’s history, there is a lot of land and existing infrastructure to capitalize on to increase housing density. This increase of density will not only attract a more diverse working class, but will also spur the development of more compact and walkable communities, further enhancing quality of life and promoting healthy lifestyles.

  1. Increase housing choice
  2. Revitalize existing neighborhoods
  3. Increase infill housing opportunities
  4. Preserve historic residential and transitional areas
  5. Provide more downtown housing options
  6. Encourage home ownership
  7. Strengthen the connection of housing to the city’s natural resources
  8. Strategically redevelop the city’s housing authority sites

Downtown is the heart of Gadsden. It symbolizes the community both internally and externally. With the health of a downtown comes health in tourism, job recruitment and all other localized measures of city vitality, bringing a new measurable breath to downtown Gadsden. Strategies for a revitalized downtown include a Broad Street update, a downtown hotel and creation of a potential Business Improvement District.

  1. Improve the downtown visitor experience
  2. Support greater density in the downtown area
  3. Reconnect downtown to the riverfront
  4. Create a more walkable downtown environment
  5. Foster a more active, mixed-use environment
Land Use

The City of Gadsden is blessed with rivers, lakes, mountains, historic development and beautiful neighborhoods. To protect the future of the city and its amenities, the city should proactively update its land use regulations and methodology based on updated community values and economic strategies. Strategies for the improvement of city-wide land use improvements begin with a zoning ordinance and map update based on this plan.

  1. Utilize plan maps to guide future development decisions
  2. Reform land bank authority
  3. Create a more walkable Gadsden
  4. Modernize the city’s zoning ordinance
  5. Preservation of green space
  6. Adopt land use policies that promote a healthy city
  7. Reuse of brownfields
  8. Retrofit patterns of suburban development
  9. Reimagine the city’s primary corridors
City Administration

City operations are complex organisms. Efficient operations are necessary for the smooth functioning of a city, and it is important to take into account the understanding of a city’s operation based on peer cities. Cities need to have efficient systems for the success of their future, the quality of life it offers, its services and the health of its citizens. This section highlights some potential improvements of the city’s operations in terms of facilities and the ability to measure the city’s operational integrity

  1. Continue to pursue a balanced municipal operation focused on level of service and efficiency
  2. Champion a cohesive approach to addressing the city’s unhoused population
Economic Development

Sustained for generations by a heavy manufacturing sector, the City of Gadsden has struggled in recent decades to successfully adapt to a post-industrial economic landscape. Although industry will remain an important factor in Gadsden’s economy, the city must balance its reliance on industry with growth in new sectors to diversify and fortify its well-being. Economic development initiatives in the city should focus on improving local quality of life in order to better attract a wider range of jobs and growth. These efforts should also leverage Gadsden’s quality of life offerings to promote growth in the knowledge-based economy.

  1. Downtown growth plan
  2. Industry recruitment
  3. Riverfront development plan
  4. Build and expand on tourism assets


This comprehensive plan is a living document and should be integrated into the operation of the city and the public. This plan is intended to guide both long-term and immediate policies and actions. Implementation of this plan should involve a host of city departments, boards and commissions, non-profits, businesses and citizens. This section provides guidance on how to use and manage the implementation of the city’s defined future and a summary list of the plan’s actions. As part of this process, it is important to develop a strong culture of thoughtful planning and strategic implementation with leaders who embrace collaborative implementation of this community’s vision.