SAVANNAH: A Wonderful City

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Fireworks every Friday night over the Historic District of Savannah.

SAVANNAH: A Wonderful City

Savannah, Georgia, settled in 1733, now has well over 12 million tourists per year.

Rated the No. 3 city in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2014.

Savannah’s MSA population, in 2013, was 366, 047. Hilton Head/Beaufort/Bluffton’s MSA population was 198,467. Suffice to say, it is a large growing population, although it is not considered a CSA at this time, which depends upon work commuting and trade statistics.

The city has exploded in international recognition on and is one of the most interesting medium-sized cities in the Sun Belt. Atlanta developer Ben Carter is spending $75 million on Broughton St, Savannah’s historic shopping street, including a H&M department store. Hotels have popped up like mushrooms in this city covered in art galleries, restaurants and museums.

It also has the 4th largest container port in the United States, which is growing rapidly partly due to its connection with the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International.

photo by Elvis Pépin on Flickr
City Hall on Bay Street in the historic district.
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SCAD Museum of Art
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Two of the many new hotels being built in Savannah.

Savannah spent many of its years in relative quietude from the 1930’s through the 1980’s, but after the New York Times best-seller novel and film, Midnight In the Garden Of Good and Evil, the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Games, Gulfstream Aerospace expansions, SCAD, and television exposure, Savannah has reached a Renaissance of major growth and prosperity.

Due to Savannah’s general uneasiness with– and many years of slow– growth, some Savannahians have not fully accepted that it will be a large city. Many Savannahians do not want it to grow, which is understandable. But, due to its own attractiveness and its location between Atlanta and Florida, it will continue to grow at a fast pace. Only a resident for a decade, a newcomer by Savannah standards, I can see that this city is on the edge of huge greatness.

Surely, it is already a great place. Lets just make sure it grows gracefully, not sprawled out over miles leaving its earlier suburbs to decay.

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Savannah leaders have focused only on making sure the historic districts are carefully maintained and grow properly. This is really GREAT, but while Savannah is focused on its Historic Districts, its citizens have moved to Bluffton, SC and Effingham County, GA — both away from the City of Savannah. This means city tax incomes are not increasing as much as they should be. And potentially great parts of the city and it’s citizens are being ignored.

It is time for city leaders to recognize Metro Savannah’s huge potential and to inject energy and funds to Midtown and Southside Savannah.  Sure, they are not Historic Savannah, but they are an important part of the real City of Savannah.

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Beautiful Ardsley Park, south of the Victorian historic district.
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Habersham Woods, one of Savannah’s jewel neighborhoods.

Savannah should support it’s very nice Midtown Savannah neighborhoods, promote nearby growth, prevent the demise of older suburban neighborhoods, and improve public transportation including streetcars and light rail to Midtown Savannah and commuter rail to the bedroom communities of Georgetown, Richmond Hill and Hinesville. Older suburban neighborhoods left uncared-for will spiral downward to create huge problems for a growing city, though few have truly gone bad.  But with nourishment they can become thriving, healthy beautiful places where people want to walk and live.

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This map shows areas ripe for development and redevelopment. The top (north) of the map shows the development of Hutchinson Island , the Westside (Canal District) and Eastside (Savannah Landing). The diagonal line is an existing railroad line which would make a great commuter rail to the Georgetown and Richmond Hill bedroom communities beyond the Southside.

The red line running north/south is my proposed streetcar through the heart of Savannah– the Victorian District, Ardsley Park, Kensington Park, Habersham Woods, and central Savannah. The potential of development in these areas, with a streetcar and commuter railroad is very nearly unlimited. The curving spine on the east is the Truman Parkway which is well underused, therefore can support much more residential and commercial development.

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Midtown & Southside, Savannah. On the left is Hunter Army Air Field, with proposed higher density commercial and residential district to the east beyond an extension of  Montgomery St. and the Central City Park.
The map above is a closer view of Midtown Savannah.

This area has the most important retail in the area between Charleston, SC and Jacksonville, FL. Existing already are fine local and national retail stores and restaurants. Yet there is plenty room for more: how about a Crate & Barrel, DSW, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Z Gallerie or a great open marketplace in Midtown?

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Abercorn Walk in Midtown Savannah

Unfortunately, this is a bottleneck for Savannah traffic. The US Army should sell 20 blocks of Hunter Army Air Field to the City of Savannah because it is the most precious real estate in central Savannah and would release the traffic bottleneck caused by the base. In return, Savannah can supply Streetcar transportation along the eastside of its campus and Commuter Rail along the westside of its base. This would benefit both Hunter Army Airfield and the City of Savannah greatly. Hunter would only have to rebuild a few low density areas of its base to encourage walking and public transportation.

Savannah’s Historic District is a much too valuable cultural asset to be used for the necessary dense commercial and residential hub of the city. The current swerve around Hunter Army Air Field is just too limiting on the city and its future growth. The Army’s land is underused and would benefit from this change.

The new land would provide space for higher density commercial office, retail, and residential needed in Savannah. The new commercial and transportation growth would attract new college graduates, Atlanta retirees, Savannah expats, and people from all over the world.  A Central City Park with an existing lake near the entrance to Hunter AAF would be a natural asset and community gathering place.

South of the thriving Oglethorpe Mall, the Kmart Plaza should be redeveloped in the New Urbanism style with condominiums or apartments over retail spaces. South again on Abercorn, the 1960’s ghettoized apartments should be demolished. A new round lake could span the space between Abercorn St and White Bluff Ave providing a visually pleasing gateway to Savannah. These are the headwaters of the Vernon River and need to become a protected park area connecting Montgomery Crossroad to the Vernon River in Paradise Park.

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The Vernon River Creek could become a stunning New Urbanism gateway to Savannah.

On the east, the areas around the Truman Parkway are ready for new intown upscale neighborhoods. Most citizens cannot afford the downtown Savannah historic district, so Savannah needs to promote nearby neighborhoods– otherwise, Savannahians will move out to Effingham County and Bluffton, SC, thus further diminishing Savannah’s tax base.

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Planned upper level highway above Abercorn through the Southside of Savannah.
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Macro map of the Savannah area, with I-75 on the left and Abercorn St in the middle through Georgetown, and going north through the Southside, Midtown, Ardsley Park, the Victorian District, and the Historic District. The white area above is Hutchinson Island– further north is Bluffton, South Carolina.

After the City of Savannah takes care of its all-too-important Midtown and Southside, it should then develop the north- Hutchison Island, east- Savannah River Landing, and West Savannah– all great real estate in one of America’s greatest future cities.

To see my proposal for Greater Savannah:

https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=ze1vGMHRPMiY.kWoX1bBfRUw4

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5 thoughts on “SAVANNAH: A Wonderful City

  1. Wayne:

    You did an excellent job with your renderings and suggestions and obviously put plenty of time and effort into it. Kudos to you and, although I’m not anybody special, I liked it.

    I grew up in Statesboro and trips to Savannah were few and mostly involved playing a ball game, attending converts at the Savannah Civic Center (sorry, couldn’t make it to see Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes) or driving through on the way to Tybee.

    It does have a charm and I guess the mixture of history, salt stuck in the air, oaks, and architecture makes one feel more alive. Maybe that sounds dumb. I’ve been looking at job opportunities in the area for several years but nothing has worked out. I have fleeting visions of buying that 944S2 Cabriolet, dropping the top, and cruising around soaking up the sun and getting used to sweating again after 25 years of running the A/C while stuck on 85 and 285 trying to get home to Gwinnett with all of the other rats.

    The concern that I’ve always had with Savannah was the crime. I can remember when it swapped places with Atlanta in the eighties for the highest per capita murder rate in the country. I’m guessing that was mostly drug-related.

    I believe the area around the Civic Center and due east had or has some higher crime pockets. Maybe it’s better now; I haven’t checked any stats out lately. I figured the police headquarters seemed to be located there for a reason.

    Anyway, thanks for the write-up and the work you’ve done.

    Regards,

    John

    Liked by 1 person

      1. This is very impressive.. My family is from Savannah, and I graduated from Georgia Southern University (#HailSouthern) in Statesboro, so I am very familiar with, and love Savannah’s historic charm that you just can’t find anywhere else. However, one thing that is well overdo is a bullet train stretching between Savannah and Atlanta.. or even between Jacksonville and Atlanta..

        Going to school in Statesboro, there was nothing worse than braving I-16 back and forth from Statesboro to Atlanta.. The best way to enhance commerce is to enhance the free movement of people. Bullet trains just aren’t overdo for the South, they are overdo for this country. While we were celebrating 50 years since the signing of the Civil Rights Act, Japan was celebrating 50 years since its iconic Shinkansen Bullet Train was built. The train connects Tokyo and Osaka; turning what used to be a 6-hour drive into a 2.5-hour ride. Japan’s fastest bullet train, the ‘Hyabusa’, can travel up to 199 miles per hour.

        Just think of the implications- you could be in Tybee from Atlanta before one could make to work in Marietta from his/her home in Gwinnett!

        source: http://www.businessinsider.com/shinkansen-bullet-train-now-50-years-old-2014-10

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      2. Great job on your article; I could not agree more that Savannah has tremendous untapped potential. The challenge is how do you open the flood gates of growth without compromising the graceful nature that defines this beautiful lady. I’m a native and have lived in many large metro areas both in the US and abroad. I have yet to see a metro area that did not lose itself during periods of exponential growth, that kind of growth naturally invites chaotic influence resulting in often times incongruent cultures. I do agree that Savannah will continue to grow but genuinely pray that it’s course will be slow and steady so that its character and culture can be perserved and expanded.

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