Monthly Archives: November 2009

Focusing on a single goal will not mean success for Project DeRenne

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A summary presentation for the recent Project DeRenne charrette is scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. at 131 W. DeRenne Ave. The location, a former NAPA auto parts store, is fitting. The nearby intersection of DeRenne Avenue and Montgomery Street is—as one of the charrette facilitators from Kimley-Horne called it—one of the most caustic in Savannah. It certainly is scary to move through on a bicycle. This past Sunday a letter to the editor of the Savannah Morning News ponders some important questions:

Participants in the planning process as well as the affected commercial and residential neighborhoods need to be aware of measures of success of the proposed plan. Unless plans are tied to outcomes, there is no way to judge either the viability or the effectiveness of any particular part of Project DeRenne or the project as a whole.

I’m confident that city staff and citizens, who’ve been involved with Project DeRenne, understand that a  host of metrics must be used for selecting a design and that those same criteria can be used to evaluating its success.

However, I fear that many may be looking for only one result and that is increasing the street’s capacity to move more cars  at higher speeds. Viewing DeRenne Avenue through the windshield neglects the potential for the corridor and worse, ignores the negative effect the current situation is having on surrounding neighborhoods and the city as a whole. A solution aimed solely at shaving a couple seconds off a commuter’s return trip to Effingham County will surely be even more damaging.

What should the Project DeRenne plan accomplish? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Emergent Structures Project finds new uses for reclaimed building materials

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The links between historic preservation and sustainability are clear and make dandy bumper sticker slogans. Whether you prefer “Historic Preservation: The Ultimate Recycling” or “The Greenest Building is the One Already Built,” the point is the same. Rehabilitating historic structures harnesses the embodied energy of buildings.

It’s a fact, however, that historic structures are tragically demolished (even here in Savannah) and the salvage and sale of architectural antiques is a profitable business. But what happens when the doomed structure is from the more recent past? What can be done with building parts that are not likely to be displayed in an antique store?

Enter the Emergent Structures Project, which is finding new uses for the 1940s vintage houses of Strathmore Estates.

The goal is to coordinate the salvage, and distribution of as much of the building materials as possible, and to record the numerous innovative re-use projects that transpire over the ensuing year. Site-visits, interviews and photo documentation of individual projects will be conducted to record the process.

Picture 3A “Building Materials Harvest Day” was held Nov. 7, during which “Pioneer Harvesters” posed with signs that proclaimed their plans for the materials. Along with the “Offgrid Kitchen” idea on the right, harvesters also identified sculptural gardens, drafting tables and picture frames among the projects for which the materials would be used. Items reclaimed were described as “non-structural” and included shelves, cabinets, interior doors and loose lumber. Additional reclamation days are planned during, but have not yet been announced.

The project has been covered by the Savannah Morning News and SCAD’s student news organization and can be followed on the Emergent Structures blog, located here.

Charrette particpants asked to describe DeRenne Avenue now and in the future

DeRenne Charrette

As cars and trucks droned by outside, citizens streamed into a former auto parts store at the corner of DeRenne Avenue and Montgomery Street. The purpose of the gathering tonight was the launch of a week-long design charrette focused on the DeRenne Avenue corridor, arguably one of the most important yet troubled streets in the city. Factor in its use by commuters from outlying areas and its importance and troubles become regional in scope and severity.

Facilitators from Kimley-Horn and Associates described the work they had done in Phase One of the project and outlined the goals for Phase Two and, in particular, the schedule for the charrette. Before the presentations and during breaks, participants browsed maps and visual representations of the streets, buildings and other components of the DeRenne Avenue corridor.

In his remarks, KHA’s Stephen Stansbery repeated a mantra that came from the project advisory committee: “Doing nothing,” about the current state of DeRenne Avenue, “is just not acceptable.” Further, he suggested the widening of DeRenne, which has been floated as a cure for traffic congestion, is not the easy solution some imagine it to be. “Adding lanes,” he said. “is rarely the solution in an urban context.” Still, the audience was cautioned, moving automobile traffic must be a central part of the final product.

But what is to be done about DeRenne? Stansbery issued a challenge of sorts, referencing Savannah’s world famous streets, which attract millions of visitors from around the globe. “Why can’t we build a street today that’s great today and will be great 100 years from now?” He said doing so would take courage and vision.

As part of that vision, charrette attendees were given small sheets of paper and asked to complete two phrases:

Right now I think DeRenne Avenue is …

and

In the future, I visualize DeRenne Avenue as…

How would you answer each question? Respond in the comments section.

For more information and a complete schedule of the week’s events, visit the Project DeRenne Web site.