Stealing from Savannah (ideas)

I took a short trip to Savannah Ga thanks to a large corporation in Dayton sending my girlfriend to a conference. It wasn’t much of a vacation for me, as I just ended up working from the hotel. But, I did take a lot of walks and met a lot of people.

  • Monument to the Hatians that fought in the Revolutionary War
    Monument to the Hatians that fought in the Revolutionary War
  • Bike racks and closed street
    The street is closed- with bike racks
  • Bike Post
    A small bike rack
  • Touch Screen info kiosk map
    A touch Screen info kiosk
  • SCAD Theater
    The SCAD Theater marquee
  • Step on in-ground trash can
    Step on trash can close up
  • Above and in-ground trash cans
    Above and in-ground trash cans
  • Info Map
    Info Map

There are some things about Savannah that stuck with me. There seems to be a shared sense of reverie for the history of the city- and more than one local told me something to the effect that it was the biggest or oldest planned city in America.

Everywhere you turn, there is a historical marker, or a plaque saluting the original owner, builder or famous occupant of a home. They don’t tear things down, or make excuses for why old buildings can’t be suitable for modern uses. The beating heart of the city is the Savannah College of Art and Design- or SCAD. The “campus” is the entire city. Old school buildings, diners, homes, office buildings, theaters- have all found utility for this internationally known institution. Unlike Sinclair with its unapproachable, monolithic architecture that screams fall-out shelter, without looking at the signs on the buildings, you’d be hard pressed to notice any of the buildings being different from the rest. Same goes for student housing- not obvious at all.

Scooters, bicycles, sharrows, and even Segways navigate the streets and park on sidewalks- attached to bike racks that are everywhere. The community is walkable- and to make it easy for locals and guests- there are info signs and large touch-screen kiosks to help you navigate your way around. Even the trash cans (once I realized what they were) were an interesting solution- in ground- with step-on iron covers. I first spotted them in a historic cemetery (Woodland are you listening?) where an above ground trash can would look out of place. Not only do they work as trash cans (although in snow, they may be a bit problematic) they also are a solution to the threat trash cans can be – with terrorists. Paris removed all standing trash cans long ago because terrorists were putting bombs in them. These would contain and direct the blast to minimize effect- yet, not be as worthless as the hoop and plastic bag solution Paris adopted.

A street had been closed off with bollards and bike racks- it was filled with galleries and cafes- something that would be easy to do in the Oregon. We don’t have to drive absolutely everywhere.

On one of my walks I came across a statue dedicated to the people of the island now known as Haiti who fought in the American Revolution. Something my history professors left out. Considering the current situation in Haiti- it’s nice that we are repaying a bit of their contribution to our country.

There was definitely a restaurant culture in Savannah- and yet, the two places that impressed me the most were a new little Italian place called “Leocis”  that had the best wild mushroom risotto that I’ve ever had. They also served some amazing olive oil with the fresh baked bread- I’ll be hunting down some Antica Olive Oil soon. The other was the “second oldest eatery” in Savannah- the Crystal Beer Parlor – if anyone can match their lamb burger in Dayton- please let me know.

The Savannah convention and visitors bureau also threw a great party for the conference– in an old building called “Trustee’s gardens”- with food and open bar. I’ll be investigating if Dayton does anything similar.

Of course, Greg has been to Savannah as well- and we decided to have a Dayton Grassroots Daily Show talk about it- so if you are interested in video to go along- here it is:

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16 Responses

  1. truddick February 11, 2010 / 10:50 am
    “We don’t have to drive everywhere.”

    No, David, but we have to drive many places.  Now, urban planning could promote walking and cycling. BTW, how’s the two-wheeler working for transportation this week?  Did you note that Savannah is in a warmer climate?

    Closing off several blocks of Fifth Street would create traffic jams in a city where we don’t seem capable of designing downtown for access and traffic flow.  Moreover, it would probably starve out the night spots in the center of the district during winter months when people will want to drive.  I guess it would be a boon to the Dublin Pub and Franco’s.

    Think it thru, Dave.  We don’t want to be Savannah.  Maybe we want to be Ann Arbor.

  2. Gene February 11, 2010 / 11:07 am
    Ann Arbor is a whore. Dayton does not need to be Ann Arbor.

    Savannah is great. You talk about “the history” which is great, but Dayton does not have that kind of history. Dayton is not as interesting, in terms of history, as Savannah. I propose the neiborhoods of Dayton be redifined two and three at a time, reworked, rebuilt, rehabbed. Once two or three sections are done, more to two or three more. Make neiborhood to neiborhood connections – make those walkable. DT Dayton is easy to navigate, it is linking the Centreal Business District to the closest neighborhoods and those neiborhoods with other neiborhoods. Dayton needs to focus on jobs then housing, and up-to-date housing, both new and rehab.

    The Oregon District (the entertainment part) is way too small. It needs to extend both east and west for two/three more blocks east and at least one west.  Maybe a little North as well, not just one street but several blocks. Add on and reconfiguare that to make it a true destination point, mixing old and new. Right now it is too small and to run down. It needs a mix of old and new. Again, Omaha NE is a great place to see for rehabs of old warehouses and building into shops, restaurants and such. Steal ideas from them, not Savannah.

  3. jstults February 11, 2010 / 12:12 pm
    Savannah has done a great job of marketing a combination of Old South romanticism and New South trendy (and it really is a fun city).  Greg’s point about relative sizes / races of working-class populations is a good one, what a convenient way to dodge white flight and urban blight.
  4. Will Brooks February 11, 2010 / 3:06 pm
    Perhaps there are things that can be emulated from Savannah in Dayton, but to me, it’s comparing apples to oranges. The geographical/cultural differences are vast and Savannah has amenities Dayton does not being a coastal town.
  5. Jeff of Louisville February 11, 2010 / 10:52 pm
    There seems to be a shared sense of reverie for the history of the city- and more than one local told me something to the effect that it was the biggest or oldest planned city in America.
     
    I thin you mean reverance?    But, yeah, in Dayton it’s old junk, and there is the “blame building for the people who live in them” mentality, too.  Anyway, most of the older stuff has already beeen torn down back in the 1960s and 70s, and they are finally getting around to the rest of the city.  Looking forward to those suburban patio homes on Burns…
     
     
     
     
  6. Mark February 12, 2010 / 5:21 pm
    Savannah is great . . . one of my favorite cities. Please keep in mind, though, that in the 50s and 60s, the city was going the way of many others, including Dayton . . . in the name of “urban renewal,” tear down the old and make way for the new or make parking lots. All this changed in the 70s when a group of determined preservationists, who also gained the ear of some powerful city business and civic leaders, changed the paradigm. The entire old city center, and later the periphery (Victorian district) became a historic district. Nothing, I mean nothing, in that town can be torn down without a good reason by the developer. SCAD has shown that a university can blend with a city and bring it back with trendy shops, design centers, restaurants, libraries and student dormitories. It is true that Oglethorpe made Savannah the earliest planned community in America with neighborhoods centered on 23 squares. (I think it’s 23). But in the 60s, they started tearing those squares apart! When I was there in November, I was happy to hear that the city was restoring a square downtown that had been eliminated thirty years ago; so you see, things can be set right.
    @Gene who said “You talk about ‘the history’ which is great, but Dayton does not have that kind of history. Dayton is not as interesting, in terms of history, as Savannah.” I disagree. Dayton has a great history, but it’s different. While Savannah has a history steeped in the Civil War (Think Sherman’s march to the sea), Dayton’s is a history of innovation and the industrial revolution. While much has been torn down in Dayton, I agree, there still remains quite a bit. The problem is that it hasn’t, as yet, been preserved and blended into the economic and/or social life of the present city as Savannah has been able to do. We have some great museums such as Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park and Dayton History. We also have wonderful historic neighborhoods such as South Park, McPherson Town, St. Anne’s Hill, and Wright-Dunbar, etc. But we need to start sprucing up more of our historic properties for contemporary uses while commerating what happened there with signage or other means, very much like what’s been going on in Europe for some time. Example: the St. Clair Lofts at the corner of Fourth Street and St. Clair is an old factory building that’s been restored for contemporary use; however, few know that this was the first DELCO building used by Kettering and Deeds to produce the electric self-starter for automobiles. Savannah does a good job of reusing their old structures for contemporary needs, but they also show what was significant about the structure in the first place.
  7. Gene February 12, 2010 / 6:16 pm
    Dayton does have history, but as Preventing Flight showed the history is only interesting to a certain amount of people. Dayton can hang it hat on this and that, but 99.7% of the people in this country could give a f*ck what our histroy is… Civil War history is appealing to a lot more people. Let’s not over estimate the value of Dayton history. The proof is in the pudding. No one, for the most part, cares. People here have to beg and plead and bang their fist to demand it’s history be heard and claim it’s important, but if no one cares then it does not matter folks. People like fake tits, they don’t care about electric starters or airplanes. That shit is for geeks.
  8. Mark W February 12, 2010 / 11:26 pm
    @Gene – As a backroads traveling buff, I agree that a lot of towns do overplay their historical signficance.  But in Dayton’s case, its role in our aviation history is rather substantial, and lots of folks have heard of the Wright Brothers.  With any luck, the Dayton region will come up with the resources to snag one of the decommissioned space shuttles.

    The city’s history as an invention center is a much lesser known story, and probably a lot less interesting to outsiders.  But I thought the city got off to a good start with its fun, informative and sometimes whimsical  invention-oriented sculptures along the river.  I’ve included photos of Dayton’s Boolean search engine sculpture in presentations I’ve made at search engine conferences.  Alas, in the case of the sculptures, it seems unfinished – one or two additions per year across downtown would have added nicely to the collection and give the “geeks” reason to return.

    Perhaps some 99.7% of the country won’t care, but that still leaves a million people.  That’s not a bad start. 

    Build a version of Stonehenge out of old Dayton-made Frigidaires, and you’ll start tapping into the next million.

  9. Gene February 13, 2010 / 9:09 am
    Creative ways to celebrate a cities history is always a good idea. But when we hosted Preventing Flight, a celebration of the Wright Brothers, no one showed up. True, the price tag was huge. But they expected to get out of towners, and they did not. It failed bc of management, but it also failed bc people did not really care. Kitty Hawk had a similar thing the same year. I am sure someone here knows if it succeeded, but my guess is they also over estimated what people think about powered flight. It is SUPER interesting, just not something that is celebrated. And Dayton has a lot more inventions, but again people don’t care (in masses.) Most everyone you talk to will say “wow, that is interesting” but are not willing to travel to Dayton to hear the story.

    Savannah ties it’s history into A) it’s convention business B) it’s party business C) it’s weather – that meaning it’s a vacation spot. There are little dots all over this country that have civil war shit, but no one goes bc it is not tied to conventions or vaction spots or whatever. Savannah would not have half of what they do if they had no convention business and were strict on their drinking/partying and were not located on water.  

    Dayton does not have that. If you want to do it, say the hell with the norm, create a convention business (something that is going away) and party business. City of Dayton – YOU CAN DRINK AT 18 YEARS OLD. Boom! You have people wanting to come here – and after time and many many hangovers these folks may stay and visit sights related to Dayton. It won’t work the other way. I mean WHO CARES where the Wright Bros lived?

    Sure, make it all nice and presentable. But no one will bother to say “hey, let’s go to Dayton and check out their history of inventions.” It does not work that way. And people that blog otherwise are just plain stupid. I love Dayton, I live here, and the locals don’t care. Why would anyone else?

  10. Mark W February 13, 2010 / 7:07 pm
    By “Preventing Flight” are you referring to the 2003 centennial of flight stuff?  If so…  I moved from Dayton to Seattle in 2002.  Seattle is Boeing country.  It oozes interest in flight, and even has its own Museum of Flight (and it hopes to snag a shuttle, btw).  Knowing about the centennial in 2003, I figured I’d probably see some “come to Dayton” marketing out here for the event as one of a handful of very obvious markets to target.  Never heard a word, neither targeting Seattle nor a more general national marketing campaign.  IMO someone blew a once in a lifetime marketing opportunity for Dayton.
    But there are in fact a number of geeks out there who do target historic sites.  I happen to be one of them.  And although most sites I visit are not overrun with tourist, I’m rarely the only one at these places when I visit, including some rather out of the way, gravel road-accessed places seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  There are some people interested in just about everything.
    Of course, history geeks are just a small fraction of the folks out there.   So although avaiation and invention-related sites can be a start, the region shouldn’t stop there.  But given that the region has a really good start with aviation and a small but nice start with invention, a relatively small investment to add to both each year (like a couple inventions sculptures added each year) over time will give the region a couple decent attractions to promote the Dayton region with without breaking the bank – after all Dayton doesn’t have much money to spare, and it doesn’t have a sugar daddy.
    Dayton and its attractions will never be a big draw, let alone a national draw.  But it doesn’t have to be to benefit from tourism and increased downtown foot traffic.

    btw, I return to the Dayton area regularly, staying in hotels across from the Dayton Mall when I do.  They have racks of brochures for various regional attractions (e.g., Greenville’s KitchenAid Experience Center, and places further away).  There are often few to no Dayton attaction brochures among them.  Increasing the visibility of the good stuff you’ve got is easier than trying to come up with more good stuff.
     
     

  11. Jeff of Dayton February 14, 2010 / 1:21 am
    Savannah metro area is about 200K population, around the same size as Lexington, KY.  Compared to the Dayton metro area, which is around 700K-800k.  Yet they are able to support this agressive preservation and re-use effort. 

    Maybe its because the city is so identified with its urban fabric, the pattern of streets and squares that give the city its identity and what its know for, what gives the city signifigance beyond someplace generic.   To lose that would be to lose the genus loci, the identity of Savannah.

    With Dayton the history, or historic value, is about technology and individual innovators (such as the Wrights and Kettering), not place.  Individual locations and structures are signfigant, but the city as a whole is irrelevant to this technological history.  The city, the urban fabric, is a throwaway compared to a place like Savannah.

  12. Gene February 14, 2010 / 10:36 am
    All that said Mark W it still must be noted before anything else that the people of this city, of this county, of this region, of this state did not attend Preventing Flight.
    They could have done a million things better. Better marketing would have helped, but the fact remains that the people who knew about it (Daytonians) did not show up. It would have been successful had every other person in the county showed up(560k – ish people in Mont Co, so 280k people would have been huge.)
    Mayor McHat got on TV and said “We are reducing the price of the ticket to make it more family friendly.” Now, for a minute, digest that………..
    THEY HAD A KIDDIE PARK WITH RIDES AND SHIT – so she saying that makes her the dumbest GD Mayor in the world. Did they set up the rides for adults? NO….
    Poor management was a problem, but more than anything no one gave a shit. 25k people over two weeks…. 50 k people over 2 weeks (BTW I have NO idea what the total was) is not enough. You needed 20k people a day, miniumum, for 14 days, and BOOM, that is your 280k people.
    Museums and landmarks and proper marketing help. But my point is all of that is a back drop when you go to a city. You go to a city for a hundred other reasons. My Savannah point is that people go there bc of the weather and converntion business and its liberal stance on drinking/partying. They preserve stuff, which is great, but only one out of a hundred people who visit Savannah really go bc of the history. Again, it is a back drop, something to do during the day, while nursing a hangover. It is an important part, but ask anyone who lives anywhere and they will give you 50 reason why people go to a city and history is low on that list. Flight history is boring to most, and people that live here did not care. That is my point, and that was the only point I was ever trying to make here. 
  13. Jeff of Louisville (and sometimes Dayton) February 14, 2010 / 7:20 pm
    Bon temps roulez Savannah, huh?  Louisville does that too, with that 4 AM last call or closing (and the proliferation of girly joints) ,  For Savannah  I don’t think the ocean is the big draw, though.  Sure, Tybee Island, but there are other nicer sea islands.

    My contention is still the specialness of the city is the attraction to some extent.  If not, it’s just another Tunica.

  14. David Lauri February 14, 2010 / 11:03 pm
    Flight history is boring to most, and people that live here did not care.
    That most people who live in the Dayton area don’t care about flight history I’ll grant, but flight history is indeed something the region is known for.  Just two weeks ago I ran into a man on a Costa Rican beach who lives in St. Louis and who, when he heard I live in Dayton, said, oh, yeah, the place with the cool Air Force museum.
  15. Gene February 15, 2010 / 12:04 am
    Wow… One person. I am talking about the not-so-well-attended Preventing Flight. Numbers don’t lie. Interesting yes, but not a festival/celebration type of deal, even after one hundred years.
  16. David Lauri June 10, 2010 / 10:06 pm
    Did you note that Savannah is in a warmer climate? Closing off several blocks of Fifth Street would create traffic jams in a city where we don’t seem capable of designing downtown for access and traffic flow.  Moreover, it would probably starve out the night spots in the center of the district during winter months when people will want to drive. … We don’t want to be Savannah.  Maybe we want to be Ann Arbor.
     
    Hmm, I’m in Charlottesville, Virginia tonight, and they have closed off six or seven blocks of their Main Street through their historic downtown, although you can still drive across Main Street provided you yield to pedestrians.  Charlottesville’s climate is warmer than Dayton, too, but significantly colder than Savannah’s.  And Charlottesville, like Ann Arbor, has lots of college students.
     
    Maybe it’s not Fifth Street in Dayton that should be turned into the pedestrian mall but rather Brown Street by UD.  There could still be the cross traffic, yielding to pedestrians, as on Main Street in Charlottesville.
     
    But, oh, yeah, Brown Street doesn’t need fixing.  And Dayton has The Greene if you want a walkable “downtown.”
     
    Never mind.

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