Savannah is known for the beauty of its tree-canopied streets, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. Clearly, its citizens agree. A recent survey that invited people to name the city’s best and worst streets drew four times as many responses for “worst” as for “best.”
The survey was conducted on behalf of Savannah Forward, a coalition of public and private institutions — from the government, to the Downtown Neighborhood Association, to the morning news — all of whom are looking for ways to increase Savannah’s livability.
To that end, they invited PPS president Fred Kent to the city on February 5th to speak to a crowd of over 300 citizens interested in improving Savannah’s public realm. Kent tackled some of the “worst” streets — all of which, he noted, prioritize car traffic at the expense of everything else. Bay Street, for example, cuts off the city’s downtown from its riverfront, and is “the most obnoxious road you have,” Kent said. He urged the city to consider narrowing the roadway, widening the sidewalk, and adding attractions like sidewalk cafes to turn it into a gathering place.
The “good” examples submitted by the public were split between convenient throughways and slow, tree-lined residential streets. Which means, Kent suggested, that the right approach for Savannah will be one that balances the region’s character and ambience with easy accessibility to its destinations.
Savannah’s built form is also notable for the historic squares that checker its downtown. But “just because they’re beautiful doesn’t mean they’re well-used,” Kent pointed out. He encouraged the coalition to bring their squares to life, starting by scheduling activities in two or three squares to draw people there, like an interactive water feature, sitting steps, and a plaza for live performances.
“Mr. Kent inspired us to take action now,” said Theodora Gongaware and William Stuebe of Savannah Forward. And it’s a great time to act — not in spite of the economic downturn, but because of it. The lull in development offers “an excellent window of time to try new things,” they said.