Monthly Archives: December 2008


Regardless of your religious affiliation or lack thereof, it is difficult not to get wrapped up (pun intended) in this season of giving.  Lousy economy be damned – Giving is Good.  Since giving green is even better, I offer a short list of sustainable gift giving ideas . . .

Give Dough.  Once considered an impersonal gift, cold hard cash is making a big comeback in the year of worthless derivatives, tanking stock value and the latest, greatest ponzi scheme.  Money is also relatively more environmentally friendly than the typical gift (no packaging required! fewer trips to the store! reuse potential is huge!).  Bottom line: no one is disappointed with a bit more of it to save or spend on whatever their heart desires.

Give Hope.  Make a donation in someone’s name.  The following focus on programs that provide long-term, sustainable solutions . . .

Solar Cookers for Darfur refugees ($30)

Training and animal gifts (Chicks, Honeybees, Sheep, Trees, etc.) that help children and families around the world become self-reliant (starting at $10)

The Global Giving Green website lists sustainable projects (i.e., reforestation, sustainable agriculture, youth eco-business start-ups) in the USA and around the world.

Give Time.  Work in your community over the holidays and make a resolution to continue in the New Year.

Give Embodied Energy. Antiques, vintage clothing and other second-hand goodies are unique and green . . . Some favorite local vendors include:
Peddler Jim’s Antiques: 526 Turner Blvd.
Alex Raskin Antiques: 441 Bull Street
Maggies Antique Mall: 2819 Bull Street
Habersham Antiques: 2502 Habersham Street
Civvies: 20 E. Broughton
The Book Lady: 6 E. Liberty

Give Parks.  An annual membership to Georgia State Parks (starting at $25) helps sustain the park system and gets you outside

Give Food. The Market at Trustees Garden has local, organic edibles -produce, cheeses, nuts, honey- and is open from 4-7 on Christmas Eve.

Any other last-minute suggestions?

“Soured economy” offers another reason to rethink one-way streets

1148711700_df81593cb6.jpgThe front page of the Exchange section in today’s Savannah Morning News offered a grim assessment of the local economy, which probably won’t surprise many people. The headline: “A soured economy comes home to roost in 2008.” While the nation’s largest industries and colossal financial institutions are angling for government assistance, Mary Carr Mayle and Lauren Nardella’s article reminds us that “small businesses aren’t getting any bailouts” and that they will need to “get creative in order to survive.”

But there is something the local government could do to help some local businesses. Bill Dawers touched on it in his Dec. 9 “City Talk” column “Whitaker shops thrive.” He claims the “great shopping experience” available at stores in the “Downtown Design District” was likely lost on locals “who have never been in any of them.” Why? Dawers explains:

“… it’s hard to window shop when you’re driving 40 mph through the heart of an otherwise quiet neighborhood. The Downtown Design District is just one of many areas where traffic patterns have been created to save a few seconds for commuters but produce huge inconveniences for businesses, residents and pedestrians.”

I lived near the corner of Jones and Whitaker streets in the late 1990s, just a stone’s throw from the “Downtown Design District.” Then — just as it does today — Whitaker Street acted as a raceway that motorists used to make a quick escape to the Southside. Several years later I lived on the corner of Price and Gaston streets, which was even worse. The place was impossible to keep clean. Cars, buses and trucks flying down Price Street forced wave after wave of dust into the apartment.

I’m told Savannah Mayor Otis Johnson doesn’t have any interest in converting one-way streets to two-way, but perhaps a weakening economy could provide a new argument. Of course, the economic damage done by one-way streets is only one reason for doing away with them. In their paper “How One-Way Thinking is Hurting Historic Downtown Neighborhoods,” Matt Hanka John Gilderbloom of the Center for Sustainable Urban Neighborhoods at the University of Louisville offer a strong indictment of streets designed for cars, not people.

“… downtown one-way streets help kill neighborhoods and small businesses. We need to convert these one-way ghetto makers into two-way streets with parking, trees, and bike lanes to calm traffic and make neighborhoods more livable for families, young urban pioneers, and the elderly…These one-way streets also constitute a kind of ‘environmental racism,’ where speeding motorists on one-way streets increase the levels of exhaust, noise, and pollution.”

Hanka and Gilderbloom also suggest that one-way streets increase crime, decrease residential property values and generally degrade livability. What’s more, they suggest converting one-way streets to two-way will actually pay for itself as the cost “would easily be recaptured in increased taxes on homes and business growth.”

Photo by Russ Morris via Flickr.

Before absolute automobile dependency: “Carrying a tree home”

tree.pngLast night I saw a Subaru traveling down Northside Drive in Atlanta with a full array of blinking Christmas lights entwined in the roof rack. And I suspect I’ll be seeing plenty of Christmas trees tied to the roofs of cars and SUVs. But it wasn’t always so. Before daily car use became a requirement of full citizenship in most parts of the country, folks had to figure out other means for transporting Christmas trees and other bulky items. Some were simple, as illustrated in the 1951 greeting card illustration on the right, posted on Filckr by illtakeyourphoto!

Slumping car sales get Welch’s goat

picture-4.pngColorful local auto magnate O.C. Welch, who is known for including an image of a billy goat in his television commercials (can someone explain?) has made national news with his new series of radio spots. Apparently, some of the commercials blame consumers for Detroit’s current problems. A WTOC story provides an excerpt from one of the ads:

“One thing I wanna ask you, with those Japanese cars. Even when they are brand new, how come they don’t smell like a new car? They are rice ready, not road ready,” Welch says in the commercial.

Racist overtones aside, the commercials make Welch seem way out of touch. Is he unaware that cars of Asian manufacture and his own product line traded places in the quality hierarchy decades ago? I mean, when is the last time you can remember someone complaining about the poor quality of Japanese cars? Will one of his ads take a jab at the Yugo? Luckily for Welch, at least that vehicle is no longer a threat.

On the other hand, Welch does make slightly more sense in another commercial from the series. Again, WTOC provides the snip:

“When will you Wal-mart shoppers, you import buyers, when are you gonna wake up and do something for the United States of America,” Welch asks in “Wake Up America.”

picture-1.pngI’m all for the idea of buying products manufactured closer to home. Unfortunately, even if the “Wal-mart shoppers” and “import buyers” “wake up” and decide to do something for the US of A — as Welch commands — they will have trouble finding domestically manufactured products on the shelves of Wal-Mart or anywhere else. Except for, of course, for Welch’s dealership.

This is the core of the issue. U.S. automakers are, in a sense, a lagging indicator of a trend that’s seen this country get out of the business of making things. A retail outlet that holds acres and acres of domestically produced inventory on hand is something of an anomaly. That’s not to say there’s no place in today’s world for a Ford dealership. The issue is size. It’s important to remember that automobile dealerships haven’t always taken the form of sprawling campuses. A former automobile dealership in downtown Savannah, now adapted for reuse, provides a hint of an enterprise with a smaller footprint. Still, if Welch is uncomfortable operating on a smaller scale, perhaps he should consider offering vehicles that are selling at a brisk pace, at least in some parts of the world.

Datsun ad scan by John Lloyd via Flickr.

City debuts hybrid streetcar, reintroduces bicycle fleet with “Climate Action Parade”


mayor-johnson.jpgSavannah Mayor Otis Johnson and other city officials gathered on River Street today to show off North America’s first hybrid streetcar. The event also included  more traditional city vehicles that, like the street car, are running on biodiesel from Refuel Savannah. Also on display were bicycles from the city  fleet and an electric scooter used by city’s film office.

Elected officials including Jeff Felser, Mary Osborne, Mary Ellen Sprague and Tony Thomas took turns pumping biodiesel into the streetcar. Savannah Alderman Larry Stuber, who spoke at the press conference, serves on the National Executive Committee of Climate Communities.

 The press conference was followed by a “Climate Action Parade,”which included the bio diesel powered vehicles, bicycles and scooters. The event was a local recognition of International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives’ National Climate Week.

WTOC, WSAV and WJCL were on the scene, but as usual the most thoughtful and thorough coverage was provided by Mary Landers of the Savannah Morning News.

bike-tag.jpg riverfront.JPGCity Manger Michael Brown and Alderman Larry Stueber with a bicycle from the city’s fleet.cityhall.JPGsprague.JPG