New street and public space projects add to this Southern city’s charm

Savannah, known for the beauty of its squares and tree-canopied streets, conducted a recent survey inviting residents to name the city’s best and worst streets. The survey, which was conducted on behalf of Savannah Forward, a coalition of public and private institutions looking for ways to increase Savannah’s livability, drew four times as many responses for “worst” as for “best”.

One of Savannah’s “best” streets…

Following the survey, six citizens groups in organized a conference in February, 2009 focusing on how to transform the city’s car-oriented streets into pedestrian-friendly destinations, and how to create true gathering places in Savannah’s beautiful natural environment and historic squares.

They invited PPS president Fred Kent to speak at the conference and to comment on the results of the survey. The “worst” streets, according to the survey, promoted car traffic at the expense of everything else. Bay Street, for example, cuts off the city’s downtown from the riverfront. Kent urged the city to consider narrowing the roadway, widening the sidewalk, and adding attractions like sidewalk cafes to turn it into a gathering place.

…And one that could use improvement

The “good” streets identified by the public were split between convenient throughways and slow, tree-lined residential streets that maintained a balance in preserving the region’s character with easy accessibility to its destinations.

“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.”

Savannah’s historic squares could be enlivened with more uses and activites

Among the changes taking place in Savannah are the creation of a citywide Traffic Calming Task Force, the debut of the Blue Ocean Film Festival, and the first “meet and greet” for a group of citizens and local businesses seeking to improve the downtown Columbia Ward. That group plans to continue meeting in order to foster dialogue about using their community square creatively and starting a neighborhood watch program.

Public-private partnerships have been at the heart of Savannah’s most creative projects. The county government, the Historic Beach Neighborhood Association, and the Savannah Tree Foundation teamed up to restore and revitalize a local park. Plans are also underway to move the historic Mother Matilda Beasley House to the park, upgrade existing ball fields, and build a pavilion to serve as a community gathering place.