Parting Thoughts

In a few days, I am moving to Ithaca, New York to start a new position with Tompkins County’s Planning and Sustainability Department. Before I begin this journey, I’d like to reflect on my time living in Savannah.

I was tempted to title this post: Get Your (stuff) Together Savannah, but decided against it. Looking at the long list of things in need of attention in the city made me feel a bit hopeless. Instead, I’d like to focus on the efforts to improve this magical little city.

For the past three years I have called Savannah home. As a transplant here I’ve felt welcomed by many locals and other people who chose to live here. I have memories and friends here that I will never forget. Here are some worthwhile efforts to make Savannah a better place:

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The West

Observations from Seattle, Washington – where I attended the 25th Congress for New Urbanism.

  • Buses everywhere – Immediately upon landing in Seattle I was surrounded by a wealth of transit options. The Link light rail connected the airport to downtown and several intermediate points. However, the real surprise was the sheer quantity of bus transit. King County Metro operates the majority of bus service in the city. They operate a mixed fleet of diesel, hybrid, articulated, and trolleybuses. In the course of four days, I got around Seattle exclusively on foot, bus, streetcar, and light rail using the handy Orca Card for payments on each system.
  • Bike paradise – Once we exited the light rail station in Capitol Hill, we saw the first of several cycle tracks that the city of Seattle has installed. Each light rail station had two maps: a network map which showed your place on the rail line and a bicycle facility map which indicated the various bicycle facilities on the street network. 
  • It’s bigger on the inside – The enigmatic spaces around Pikes Place Market seemed to grow as we explored them. The famous market is much more than a couple of dudes pitching a salmon around for tourists. The 6-story building connects downtown Seattle to the waterfront through a series of winding, somewhat disorienting corridors. The alleys outside of Pikes Place also host a variety of businesses – including two restaurants I patronized for lunch. 
  • Rules of enclosure – Intimate public spaces such as Occidental Square showcase the importance of good urban form to creating useful public space. When I visited the square and the adjacent pedestrian street, a huge variety of people from all walks of life were utilizing the space. Kudos to the Seattle parks department for mixing active uses (basketball hoops, ping pong & foosball tables) passive uses (a violin player, cafe chairs & tables, benches, walking pathways), and food in delightful proportions. 
  • The Region of Boom – My college classmate told me that Seattle was in the midst of a construction surge. Indeed, wherever I looked I saw a crane (or three). The parcel of land next to his apartment was a case-in-point. On a space that appeared to be roughly 5 acres he said another 250 apartments would soon be available. The rapid pace of development has provided a crash course in urban planning for many locals. I found that Seattleites were very well informed about civic issues regarding housing affordability, public transit, and the environment.

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Studying New Urbanism in Seattle

Next week I will attend the 25th annual Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) in Seattle, Washington. Throughout the event I will share my thoughts and reactions on this website and twitter. The more I learn about CNU, the more I realize that it is a different sort of event altogether from the “traditional” professional convention.

First – unlike other groups that tend toward homogeneity, CNU attracts a relatively broad range of disciplines to its annual meeting including architects, planners, developers, and advocates.

Second – the event does not indulge in the trade show exhibition floor I’ve seen at other professional gatherings of this scale.

Third – events at CNU are scheduled at several locations around Seattle including the Seattle Art Museum, Benaroya Hall, and Moore Theater. By dispersing the venues across a few city blocks, congress attendees get the chance to experience the city more intimately. Walking a few hundred feet outdoors provides a first-hand demonstration on how the urban environment is working (or not working).

Finally –  unlike many conventions that treat their hosts as a pretty background for their panelists, CNU seeks to become a catalyst for change in its host city. Several “City as a Platform” sessions are scheduled to connect congress attendees and speakers with local challenges in the Seattle area.