Huntington, WV is the economic and cultural center of a mostly rural region that covers parts of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. Since taking office in 2013, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams has pushed his city to think big and aim high in its policies for everything from tackling the opioid crisis to spurring economic development. Empowered by the training and perspective he gained from attending the Mayors’ Institute on City Design (MICD), Mayor Williams follows a “make no little plans” mantra as he leads the planning and design efforts for his city.
Mayor Williams workshopped part of a bold revitalization plan at the South Regional Session of MICD in 2014. Three years of work led to the creation of the final Huntington Innovation Project (HIP) Plan, laying out a bold strategy to revitalize three distinct neighborhoods and link the city with high-speed gigabit internet access. The plan drew national attention in 2017 when Huntington won the $3 million grand prize of the America’s Best Communities competition. The city has since leveraged this award to secure over $9 million in additional funding, including a HUD Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant and Love Your Block funding.
When asked how his experience at MICD shaped his leadership and vision, Mayor Williams was enthusiastic. “MICD was the most enlightening experience I have had as mayor because of all the subject matter experts around the table. When you’re in the room with such smart people, it feels like magic starts to flow. I still have the napkin that one of the architects drew on to give us an idea for what we could do with the development.”
He added, “It opened my eyes. I am already the negotiator in chief of my city. After MICD I knew I was about to become the designer in chief. I know my design leadership is going to affect the city for the next 100 years.”
The recent awards and national recognition earned by the mayor’s vision for Huntington reinforce the city’s innovative spirit. Mayor Williams stresses the importance of being ambitious when planning for his city’s future and recognizing the leadership role it plays in the entire region. “Expect nothing less than what your city deserves. When we can do development and design at the level that would otherwise be reserved for larger metro areas, we find ourselves able to compete with anyone around the country. If we can do it, we can show to the rest of Appalachia that our region can do it too.”
Photo: City of Huntington