Planning holidays, planning economies 

IT'S LIKELY that none of us will be writing “stimulate the local economy” on our December calendars, but in the next three weeks, that’s what we’ll be doing as we shop, attend holiday concerts, and plan parties for Christmas, Hanukah and New Year’s Eve. At least, that’s what the late Jane Jacobs might say.

This past fall, a group book discussion on Jane Jacobs’ book Death and Life of Great American Cities introduced some approaches to looking at cities that were either new or overlooked by most of us taking the course. We discussed Jacobs’ often confusing arguments, posited in the early 1960s, debating their validity and relevance.

One of Jacobs’ tenets is to think of cities as economic organisms rather than social or environmental entities. Yet her recommendations are based on looking at people and how they function in localized environments—particular streets, particular blocks, particular neighborhoods—as opposed to analyzing economic sectors.

Jacobs also suggests that we look within to find solutions to our cities’ economic problems; that we start small, identifying what works at specific locations and then cast our glance larger.

As the year wraps up, several downtown projects are coming online or are in development that seem to be following Jacobs’ lead. If they succeed, most will offer creative ways to move people around town, to work, spend their money and see Savannah more easily than has been possible in recent times.

The River Street Streetcar has arrived, and once online in the next few weeks will aid in moving tourists along the waterfront without adding congestion.

The Dot Fare Free Downtown Shuttle, established this year, hopes to move visitors and downtown workers easily around the historic district, with fewer stops than its companion CAT shuttle, also fare-free.

At a November City Council workshop, city staff presented to the mayor and aldermen a plan to reduce the City of Savannah’s institutional carbon footprint by fifteen percent in the next twelve years. Tucked into the plan is a strategy to offer city employees reduced-rate monthly CAT bus passes. Riding the bus for $25 a month seems a wiser purchase than $70 or more a month to park in most downtown garages, and may help compensate for the reduced convenience of CAT.

Looking larger and longer term, the streetcar idea is a good model for future travel to and from Tybee Island, alleviating traffic through the islands.

As Armstrong Atlantic and Savannah Techn continue to grow, replicating the Dot Shuttle on the southside would help ease the auto traffic they generate, including stops at nearby malls as well as the campuses. The city’s program for employee bus passes could serve as a test project for other downtown and midtown employers, as well as for SCAD, AASU, and Savannah Tech.

An effective sidewalk network has long been in place downtown. As mentioned last week, we should plan and build similar sidewalk systems around other community economic hubs, like the colleges, the malls, and hospitals.

Instead of casting the two midtown hospitals as villains as they expand, acknowledge their vital role and engage in a public-private partnership, similar to the nearly finished Ellis Square project, for mutually beneficial amenities.

These projects sound expensive, until you look at a spreadsheet. At $34 million, the Ellis Square Garage cost approximately $30,000 per parking space according to City documents. (To be fair, we’re also getting a smartly designed new square as part of that price tag.) By comparison, $250,000 was budgeted this year for sidewalks in Cann Park neighborhood—the equivalent of parking for eight cars in the new garage, probably occupied by one person per auto. I suspect many more than eight people per day will be served by those neighborhood sidewalks.

A key ingredient is the community will to move forward, and that seems to be growing, as forward-thinking city staff, open-minded elected officials, neighborhood and business leaders recognize the potential for mutual gain in these site-specific projects.

With a long term planning timeline like Ellis Square’s, that includes outside the box thinking for funding—environmental abatement funds, transportation grants, community development funds, bonds—the seeds being planted downtown to sustain and grow Savannah’s economy can sprout in other fertile ground around the metro area. cs


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Robin Wright Gunn

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