A legacy of bold decisions, mostly good ones, in terms of land use

In the coming months, I hope to continue to develop posts for this blog about Savannah’s remarkable history in terms of land use, civic planning, and related matters.

This is a matter of history, certainly, but it’s also a matter of the future, as we are right now faced with a variety of major decisions about the shape of the city for the next century or so.

Over the next year or so, Savannahians will make a decision about the location for a new arena — a much larger and nicer one than the aging MLK Arena that is part of the current Civic Center. There is the possibility that the Johnny Mercer Theatre might be retained, but the current arena is almost certain to be torn down and replaced with one somewhere else. The city purchased land off West Gwinnett Street, just down the hill from the Historic District, but there are concerns that the site is not big enough — and that additional parcels cannot be obtained. So a committee has been formed to find a new location — and it won’t need to rush since funds for the new arena are not there.

I wrote about some of the history of the current site in a column last year: Picking an arena site: the questions.

It’s interesting especially to note the various sites that were considered decades ago for the current arena. Forsyth Park would have been a disastrous choice — Forsyth is one of the great urban parks in America these days. A spot just west of MLK would have probably been much better than the current site, in retrospect at least. The present location in the midst of the Historic District disrupted Savannah’s historic grid pattern, which is a great system for traffic dispersal even though that wasn’t on Oglethorpe’s mind in 1733, and there was an even worse effect: the choice prevented something more positive from being done with that prime land.

While the city made great historical choices regarding the layout of squares and the extension of its streets and neighborhoods beyond Victory Drive, some terrible decisions were made once the city grew south of Derenne. And there were other questionable choices in recent decades involving very large tracts of land. In a column last October, Major land use choices, lasting consequences, I discussed some of those major decisions.

That column contains brief takes on a number of those choices: Ellis Square, the I-16 flyover, Elba Island, and expansion areas like Savannah River Landing, New Hampstead, and Hutchinson Island.

So, no great conclusions or points in this post. Just laying some groundwork for some posts down the road that will be considerably more detailed than I have the space to be in my column.

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