I’ll admit it, Fred Kent rocked my world. And last night, of all nights, was not the evening for me to be so impressed. Because at 6pm, when I should have been on my way to the pre-event wine and cheese reception, I instead rescued two black puppies from impending death and then had to figure out where the heck to stash them safely until I could dedicate more thought and resources to their well being. (Shameless plug: Will be available for adoption through Save-A-Life Pets!)
Ok, so let’s get down to business.
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The presentation commenced with a summary of the Destination Savannah Forward online survey results, which outlined the favorite and least favorite destinations and roadways in town. Among the favorite streets: River Street, Bull Street, Harry Truman Pkwy and Veterans Pkwy – streets loved for their beauty, as well as streets that take you where you need to go. Least favorite Savannah streets included Bay Street, Abercorn Street and DeRenne Avenue – streets known for their “unwalkability” and traffic congestion. (Full description of survey results listed below.)
The presentation of the survey findings was followed by Fred Kent himself, who came forth as an unassuming comrade, far more comforting and relaxing a speaker than his resume indicated. You felt like you’d known him for years. It was precisely this level of comfort that he works daily to convey, both through his spoken work and his physical, city-sized projects. For a city’s livability, he argued well during his time at the podium, has everything to do with a) moving people not cars and b) giving people a public space where they can feel comfortable.
In a highly entertaining yet thought-provoking lecture he showed the large audience slides and case studies of various cities and communities worldwide. One measure for comfort of a city’s public place, for example, included public displays of affection. If people are necking, Kent asserted, then they feel comfortable in a place. Images of Paris and young, passionate Parisians filled the screen. With chuckling grins and widening eyes, every person in the full auditorium (estimates for attendance round out at 325) became as enthralled as I in what Kent had to say. “It’s Placemaking people!” Well, duh. He defined Placemaking as two things:
- A dynamic human function: an act of liberation, of staking claim, and of beautification
- Turning a neighborhood, town, or city from a place you can’t wait to get through to a place you don’t want to leave
Last night was one of those special learning times for me when I could feel the restlessness stir in my belly. Now it may be one in twenty or thirty lectures/presentations that have such an affect, but when they do it’s impossible to sit still… because you’re are being so affected by what you’re taking in that you want to start realizing it. You want to get up out of your chair and leave the auditorium to start a revolution. I swear at that instant if Kent had asked me to come work for him for below minimum wage I would have. In the beat of a heart.
I’m going to get mushy on you, Savannah, and I am going to say that I have never been so proud to call a place ‘home’ as I was last night. There I was, amidst 324 of my fellow citizens, and we were there to take our city to a whole new level. Which is saying something because it’s already more than good enough. It’s more walkable than the average American city. It’s pretty. It’s full of public spaces. There’s alot about Savannah that would make people complacent about where they live, ’cause, hey, it ain’t bad! So to see THAT many people, on a cold Thursday night, come out in unison to make a statement, to make a commitment, was pretty awesome.
I also want to mention how many amazing forward-thinkers, exceedingly renown in their self-created schools of thought, have come to Savannah in the short while that I’ve lived here: Richard Florida, Charles Landry and, now, Fred Kent. In my mind, these gentlemen came here for one reason: we got potential, baby. This city has the foundation, the bones and the spirit of a city that could take the country, perhaps the world, by storm. The historic integrity, aesthetic beauty, quality of life, landscape and natural amenities, city planning and the people – the soul of the city – offer us so much potential to become a mecca of creative, comfortable, livable, thrivable, coolness in our everyday: live, work and play. The sky’s the limit and each and every one of these men has said so. How cool is that?
But. Let me stop this train on the dime. As one of the four esteemed panelists pointed out last night, we have to work to figure out how to make this community livable for ALL of the people who live here: black and white, rich, middle class and poor, young and old. It’s as important for an elderly woman to be able to walk down the street safely as it is for the folks living on the fringes of the downtown area to feel welcome in the center. If the people are the soul and spirit of a city, how do we reconcile the distance wedged between large percentages of our population.
There is an elephant in the figurative room that is Savannah. And there was that same elephant last night, as the topic of MLK was clumsily half-noted, when it failed to be mentioned that beloved downtown Savannah area is bookended by two large public housing projects that communicate only lack of opportunity, lack of true equality. They’re an eyesore for sure, and a barrier to true, committed integration of public spaces. But more than that, they’re nowhere to thrive. And we need to start talking about how to integrate ALL of our public spaces… how to help ALL our people thrive.
Last night’s lecture was more than applicable to the social and political climate of this beautiful community. But we, as a citizenry, need to get equally as passionate about the entrenched racial and socio-economic issues in this town. We need to figure out how to link everyone in an outdoor communal reality, not just a reality for those of us that live between River Street, DeRenne, Broad and MLK.
Thanks to all the folks who helped to put this on (Chatham County- Savannah Metropolitan Planning Commission, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Historic Savannah Foundation, Savannah Development and Renewal Authority, Savannah Morning News, Savannah Tree Foundation, and the Trustees Garden Club) and helped us to become inspired once more about what could be. But the buck doesn’t stop with the Creative Class, the Art of City Making and Projects for Public Space. Those are all tools in a toolchest available – more than available – to us. But they’re apart of a greater perspective. One that realizes equally aesthetics, lifestyle, economic prosperity, sustainability and humanity.
We will become the next generation with creative industry. We will become the next destination with urban innovation. We will become the next crime free society with a premium placed on education. We will become the next healthiest community with natural resources protection. We will become the next connected, walkable, livable, urban utopia with planned public spaces. Some of these are easier to acheive than other. But we will – ultimately – become none of those without dialogue representational of our community.
Destination Savannah Forward Survey Results (in a nutshell):
- Best Destinations: When asked what are the five best destinations in Savannah and Chatham County 18% of respondents mentioned the Historic District, 15% Tybee Island and 12% Forsyth Park. In the top ten responses, other downtown locations such as River Street, the museums, Broughton and City Market accounted for another 18% of responses and Fort Pulaski, Isle of Hope and Daffin accounted for another 10%. Since the question was open-ended we received not only places as a response, but also events such as St. Patricks Day and the SCAD film festival as well as retail locations. Interestingly, almost 29% of respondents specifically mentioned squares in their response.
- Worst Destinations: 22% of respondents mentioned Oglethorpe and Savannah Malls and the Southside as worst destinations. Bay Street and River Street received 16% of the vote and Abercorn rounded out the top five worst destinations with almost 5% of responses. West side, Downtown, the Civic Center, public housing and Derenne were also in the top ten responses.
- Greatest Opportunity: The question Which of the destinations- best or worst offers the greatest opportunity solicited many fewer responses that the previous two questions, perhaps indicating that our desire to leave questions open-ended might have backfired and led to confusion on the part of respondents; however 21 % suggested Downtown and 13% suggested River Street as areas offering opportunity. To round out the top five responses Tybee, Forsyth and Bay Street/West Savannah. Received almost 20% of the votes.
- Best Streets: In the top five response, there is a clear indication of two factors working in the response to the question Which five streets or roadways do you consider to be the best in Savannah and Chatham County? The top response was the Truman Parkway, receiving just over 10%, the next three responses were Victory, Bull and Washington Avenue, receiving together 24% of the votes. Veterans Parkway was the last response in the top five receiving just over 5% of the votes. The dichotomy between streets of beauty (Washington, Bull and Victory) versus streets to get you to your destination quickly (Truman and Veterans) show the broad cross section of opinion of those who took our survey.
- Worst Streets:Over 4 times more responses were received for the question Which five streets or roadways do you consider to be the worst in Savannah and Chatham County than the question about the best opportunity. The number of responses indicate that traffic flow patterns are of concern to our community. 30% of respondents choose Abercorn and Derenne as worst streets This kind of road only speaks to moving traffic and hopefully there is a more effective solution. Bay, Waters and Skidaway rounded out the top five.