Standing in Ellis Square yesterday evening, it was a little difficult to remember the ugly parking garage that occupied the square for decades. It was even harder to imagine more than 1,000 parking spaces below all the grass, trees and people having fun. And there were plenty of people having fun.
A ribbon cutting, staple of dedication ceremonies, followed remarks by Mayor Otis Johnson and other government officials. However, instead of sticking to the usual script in which the audience observes dignitaries cutting the ribbon, scissors were distributed to the crowd allowing the public to take part and producing hundreds of instant souvenirs of the event.
There’s a lot to like about the new Ellis Square, including the elements that make it “the most environmentally friendly of Savannah’s squares,” according to city officials. These include “water-efficient plants, energy-efficient lighting and HVAC system in the glass-walled visitors center, and a green roof on the public bathrooms.”
Truly, one of the best things going for Ellis Square is its location and the types of land uses nearby. In “The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” Jane Jacobs describes the neighborhoods surrounding Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square and how they influence the way the park is used:
“Does anything about the physical arrangement of the neighborhood affect the park physically? Yes. This mixture of uses of buildings directly produces for the park a mixture of users who enter and leave the park at different times…In short, Rittenhouse Square is fairly busy continuously for the same reason that a lively sidewalk is used continuously: because of the functional physical diversity among adjacent uses, and hence diversity among users and their schedules.”
The functional diversity of adjacent uses around Ellis Square is represented by shops, restaurants, office buildings, galleries, nightclubs and hotels. These attractors will bring Jacobs’ “mixture of users” into the square at different times of day. Contrast this with Savannah’s beautiful Forsyth Park, which most folks avoid after sundown, unless a concert or other event is scheduled.
Longtime Sustainable Savannah may remember my grumbling about the fact that most of the money spent on the project went toward the parking garage, with only a fraction remaining for the square itself. I’m still not happy with how much public money we spend to provide storage for private automobiles, but I am pleased with the wonderful new public space that citizens can now enjoy.