Creativity, Squelchers, and Savannah’s future

In my City Talk column yesterday — Public art gives chance for community engagement — I mentioned Janes Jacobs’ use of the word “squelchers” while focusing on a handful of loud public objections to the recently removed “Before I Die” installation off Waters Avenue.

I put those few objections into the broader context of Savannah’s history of letting a very small number of objectors have a great deal of control over civic decisions they know amazingly little about:

A few squeaky wheels nearly killed the much-needed rezoning of Thomas Square, which was finally adopted in 2005.

A few years ago, there were fears that permitting wine service at a downtown café would turn the neighborhood into St. Patrick’s Day every day. A handful of worried folks pushed design modifications that severely limited the quality of the stage in Forsyth Park.

I could go on and on — and on and on — with similar examples.

I wrote about the design pressures on the stage in Forsyth in Good intentions + Conflicting agendas = Bad design.

Here’s Richard Florida from “Revenge of the Squelchers”:

What distinguishes thriving cities from those that stagnate and decline is a group of people [Jane Jacobs] calls the “squelchers.” Squelchers, she explains, are those political, business, and civic leaders that divert human creative energy by posing roadblocks and saying “no” to new ideas.

In his Savannah Morning News column today — Are we regulating ourselves into a corner? — Creative Coast director Jake Hodesh mentions some examples of squelchers at work:

• A battle over public art along the Waters Avenue corridor and how the complaints of a few can influence the opportunities and visions of many.

• Regulations plaguing an aspiring quadracycle entrepreneur and how government regulation could cause the demise of her business.

• Arguments against a $26 million-plus development along Victory Drive and how the ongoing battle could cause future developers to think twice about investing in Savannah.

Jake frames the column largely by thinking about needless regulation, but I’d add that those regulations and extra layers of bureaucracy are a direct result of a very small number of people who object loudly to the new, often irrationally, and who are given far too much power in decision-making.

Jake appropriately juxtaposes those examples with the entrepreneurial spirit at last Friday’s TEDxCreativeCoast and notes that Savannah’s prospects will be limited by such public battles that could frighten off investment and creativity.

The Savannah metro area has lost 2700 payrolls jobs since April 2011 and we’re still far off the 2007 peak of employment.

We are just shooting ourselves in both feet if we continue to do business as usual.