Monthly Archives: August 2009

Public Forum – Walkable Communities

Join local mobility leaders and Dan Burden in a discussion about creating walkable communities in Savannah.

Wednesday, September 2nd at 7 p.m.
Armstrong Center – 13040 Abercorn Street

For more information contact the City of Savannah’s Citizen Office 351-6527
Click HERE for more info about Dan Burden & Walkable Communities

Design for Sustainability

Verena Paepcke-Hjeltness (SCAD industrial design professor & Laraine Papa Montgomery (SCAD architecture professor) discuss SCAD’s new M.A. in Design for Sustainability at the August meeting of the USGBC – Savannah Chapter.  The event is August 25, 2009 from 5:45 p.m. – 7 p.m. on the 2nd floor of Wild Wing Cafe in City Market.

Solving parking, transportation problems requires “out-of-the-car thinking”

In his City Talk column in Sunday’s Savannah Morning News, Bill Dawers reports a common refrain from his readers: They’d come downtown more often if there was only more parking.

I have news for these folks: There’s never going to be enough parking to satisfy them. Never. Unless we are willing to destroy the very thing that makes Savannah a destination that’s worth the drive.

We’ve spent half a century and mountains of money trying to undo Gen. Oglethorpe’s masterful city plan and it make more convenient for cars. In the process we’ve come very close to turning the Historic District into a place that few people would go out of their way to visit, even with plentiful parking.

I generally agree with Dawers, who has a keen understanding of what makes cities work. His is an important and informed voice on critical community issues. However, I could not disagree with him more when he writes this:

“The reluctance to use garages is one of many reasons I’ve long advocated maximizing the number of on-street parking spaces.”

Let me get this straight. We spend millions and millions of public dollars and tear great big holes in the urban fabric to build parking garages, yet we should devote even more of our precious public space to accommodate people who refuse to use them? Talk about rewarding bad behavior.

Instead of making more room on the street for idle cars, we should be making room for more people. We should reclaim space  to stroll, shop, sit and socialize. For instance, imagine what would happen if we doubled the width of the sidewalks in front of Gallery Espresso or Six Pence Pub, where there’s usually vigorous competition for seats at sidewalk tables. Imagine how many people could use the space required to store just one automobile. Imagine how much money they would spend. On Sept. 8, people all over the world will demonstrate the possibilities. I hope someone will do so here.

Next, Dawers offers a misguided idea from a reader:

“Yet another reader suggested that a dramatic reduction or even elimination of downtown parking fees would ultimately lead to vast increases in economic activity.”

For this reader I prescribe Chapter One of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” by UCLA economist Donald Shoup. It can be downloaded (for free) in .pdf format here. Dawers characterizes this free parking scheme as “out-of-the-box thinking” and I suppose I’d have to agree. Suggesting that the cure for parking scarcity lies in encouraging more people to drive downtown (and thus increasing demand for parking) certainly represents an unorthodox approach.

Late in his column, Dawers makes this observation:

“In all this talk of transit and parking, it’s interesting that I did not hear any suggestions related to public buses or trolleys, bicycles, or any other alternate modes of transportation that could allow greater access to downtown.”

While Dawers finds it “interesting,” I think “tragic” is a better word. Our unrelenting fixation on cheap and easy driving has blinded us from recognizing this simple fact: More than five decades spent adding capacity is proof that increasing the parking supply will not solve the problem. We have to decrease demand.

Finally, Dawers acknowledges the difficulty of transportation planning and laments the fact that driving is the only easy option for many:

“I think such considerations are vital for the long-term, but in the short run we’re still dealing with a simple reality. Many area residents simply have no way of getting downtown easily other than their cars.”

While this is undoubtedly true, I would offer a trio of responses:

1. While there are residents who have no way of getting downtown easily other than by car, there are plenty of others who have other options. They just choose not to use them. Why should we incentivize the choice to drive by providing more and cheaper parking?

2. Many area residents have economic, medical or other issues that prevent them from driving downtown or anywhere else. While we’ve spent significant time and treasure making driving easier, we’ve failed to provide adequate transit and infrastructure for those who can’t drive. These are the people who deserve our sympathy and support. In the case of pedestrians and cyclists, our neglect of their needs has too often produced deadly results.

3. Dawers suggests that encouraging transit use, walking and bicycling are “vital for the long-term” and I agree. However, every moment and every penny we spend in the “short run” trying to sustain the unsustainable are minutes and money we will never get back. That’s the simple reality that confronts us. Short-term fixes that keep us car dependent move us further away from the long-term goal of viable transportation options.

Unfortunately we’ve come to regard suburban retail developments, with their acres of parking lots, as the norm. As a result, we insist that a convenient parking place should be waiting for us at the end of every car trip. How much longer will we try to satisfy such an unrealistic expectation? How much are we willing to sacrifice to perpetuate this fantasy? When will we realize how much we’ve already lost in this foolish pursuit?

Can herbs at the curbs ease Savannah’s tree lawn troubles?

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A recent story on National Public Radio, Not All Communities Welcome Urban Gardening, covered the controversy caused when a Wisconsin family decided to plant vegetables in the strip of soil between the sidewalk and the street. In the strange dialect spoken by inhabitants of Wisconsin, this piece of real estate is called a parkway. Around these parts, they are called tree lawns and they’ve been in the news recently, too.

Last month the city announced that tree lawn upkeep would become the responsibility of residents. According to this Savannah Morning News story, city crews were pulled off tree lawn detail because of budget cuts. Tree lawns around town are already looking a little shaggy.

It is true that some residents—especially in the National Landmark Historic District—took responsibility for tree lawns long ago with pleasing results. Elsewhere however, residents may be unsure what to do as the grass and weeds, no longer harassed by city mowers and trimmers, grow higher and higher. With tree lawn maintenance now back in the hands of residents, I wondered if a Wisconsin-style parkway poblano pepper patch would get a homeowner in hot water here. I turned to the City of Savannah’s Web site and found this:

Prior to planting, pick up a copy of the Tree Lawn Brochure from Park and Tree. The brochure outlines the necessary steps. Then contact the City’s Landscape Architect to discuss proposed plantings prior to submittal of a sketch plan for review and approval.

That sounded like an awful lot of picking up, contacting, discussing, sketching and submitting just to find out if tomatoes are allowed near sidewalks, so I called Park and Tree and asked
“the vegetable question.” I was promptly transferred to the streets maintenance department, where a helpful and friendly gentleman admitted he’d never been asked that question. I suggested others probably heard the NPR story and might be calling. Rosco Philbrick, street maintenance supervisor, was identified as the guy who’d have the answer. I left a message for him. He called back within five minutes and was just as friendly and helpful as the first guy.

The verdict: Tree lawn vegetable gardens are not allowed. Yet, there is good news. Philbrick was quick to add that planting herbs is OK, provided they are less than 36 inches tall.

So there you have it. Rosemary is an acceptable street-side crop, rutabagas not so much. Of course, you could always decide to go guerrilla on the tree lawn.