For the last 112 weeks, I’ve written about local and state government, community groups, the arts, a dash of literature and a sprinkling of music. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.
When I joined the paper, it was the summer of the jaywalking scandal. Michael Brown was the city manager, Michael Berkow was the police chief, and folks were getting $200 tickets for crossing against the light.
It was a time of considerable public outrage, not unlike now, but the political players seemed impermeable; as if Brown would be city manager until the fourth horseman blew his horn, and Berkow would sit at his right hand (despite the fact that if even a fraction of the rumors about him were true, they’d be grounds for sanction or dismissal).
In 2009, there was a reality gap between “We, the People” and the fourth floor of city hall. The decisions being made just didn’t match up with what was going on outside — like cognitive dissonance on a massive scale — and the jaywalking incident was a perfect example.
The public could be as angry as they wanted, but there was nothing that would affect the outcomes. My first column for Connect outlined why it was, perhaps, time for the city to move beyond its strong manager/weak mayor system in the name of improving democracy and accountability.
How quickly things changed... and yet, how much they stayed the same.
Now, the public is still angry, but for different reasons: The mishandling of the city manager search, seemingly unlawful payments to Alderwoman Osborne, a reprimand by the state’s Attorney General, politicized threats to Chief Lovett... It’s been an unflattering year, to say the least.
The real shame is that the political bungling stands in such stark contrast to what has also been a remarkable period for the city culturally and economically.
Unemployment is lower than the state average, Broughton Street businesses seem to be thriving, the design district weathered the recession without serious casualties and new businesses began popping up in Thomas Square, among other neighborhoods.
Shortly after I started at Connect, A&E Editor Bill DeYoung wrote a piece asking whether local theater was taking its last gasp, and rightfully so. Two years later, there are few weekends that don’t have multiple productions running at any of several venues.
Likewise, the local music scene is as talented and diverse as it’s ever been in my time here — and a number of folks who got started here have begun branching out toward bigger and better things.
New events, too, have sprouted like mushrooms, bringing more music, movies, technology, ideas and people to revel in the Hostess City’s charms, including Stopover, Movies Savannah Missed, TEDx, Taste, the Record Fair, the Urban Arts Festival, Geekend and others – improving on the city’s well–established cultural calendar.
But while all these incredible things are happening, there are a lot of people who remain unimpressed or unaware; who falsely believe that they are unwelcome; or who refuse to look past their own all–encompassing pessimism.
It’s important not to let Savannah’s all–too–pervasive cynicism (political and otherwise) cloud the bigger picture — this is an incredible city.
It’s not Charleston, New Orleans or New York City, nor should it be. If you’re looking for one of those, you will find them exactly where they’ve been all along: Not here.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t some incredible opportunities to be found, and a little sweat (the kind you work for, not the kind you get from standing outside on a summer afternoon) will get you a long way.
It will only go so far though, if there isn’t support along the way; that’s one area where we consistently need to improve.
There are moments of brilliance — sold out shows, packed gallery openings — but still not the consistent turnouts that will help the city’s culture meaningfully build upon itself.
Why don’t we have a 500-seat venue or an art house movie theater? It’s certainly not because there is a shortage of people who would love to see such things take root.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Savannah’s long term success (beside Georgia Power’s regional monopoly on energy production) is the isolationist attitudes of so many people here.
In August 2004, I attended a business luncheon at the former Fairfield buffet, near what is now Abercorn Commons. I was brand-new to the area and focused on staying sufficiently hydrated in the new climate, but I’ll never forget a conversation I overheard there.
A woman told her companion that it was the first time in years that she’d ventured south of DeRenne Ave. in several years. The other woman replied that she hadn’t gone downtown in more than a decade.
To have witnessed the rare encounter of these two women, who supposedly hadn’t been in the same room since the Clinton administration, was telling, even if mildly hyperbolic (though subsequent experience has taught me they probably weren’t joking).
To allow oneself to be trapped within such a narrow strip of the city is unbelievable, but it is an incredibly pervasive mindset. I’ve since met any number of people who know very little about the city they call home, or who limit themselves to a very small geographical area.
But there are incredible experiences to be had all over this city – interesting restaurants and bars, undisturbed stretches of natural beauty, parks, people and activities.
You won’t get hit in the head if you go downtown, and likewise, not everything downtown is unrivaled by offerings outside the Landmark Historic District.
Until the city views itself as a whole rather than as an archipelago of neighborhoods held together by a political body that people seem perpetually displeased with, then the city won’t reach its full potential — not to be the next Charleston or Austin or Portland, but to be as awesome as Savannah should be.
I depart now to join the staff at the Ships of the Sea Museum, coordinating events and community development. I hope my name will not become foreign to these pages.
To everyone who has shared kind words with me after learning I was leaving the paper, or who has enjoyed something I’ve written in the last two years, thank you.
My departure is bittersweet to say the least. I leave my post as Community Editor not because I have any less regard for the community I’ve served, or for the dedication of my colleagues; just the opposite is true.
But I’ve heard that opportunity only knocks once, so I ran to the door before it had a chance to wander off. That’s life.
Stellar job Jim!
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