Maximizing public access to public places as a guiding principle of city management

In my City Talk column today, The importance of maximizing access to public spaces, I try to connect the dots of recent columns — and others dating back many years.

Casual readers might see my newspaper work as a series of isolated rants, but many of the issues fall under the crucial umbrella of accessibility. In the column, I mention various civic moves that have both increased access to public spaces (the Ellis Square project, the Price Street redesign) and decreased public access, including the recent and really misguided idea to try to force many St. Patrick’s Day drinkers to buy special wristbands to engage in the otherwise legal activity of drinking outdoors in portions of the Historic District.

Let me add a few more thoughts here.

When we’re talking about accessibility (including but not limited to handicap accessibility), we need to consider key elements:

  • architecture and other elements of the built environment — are they straightforward ways to get from here to there?
  • affordability — can people afford to go there? and afford to do something once they’re there?
  • security — do people feel safe?
  • esthetics — is the place pleasing to be in? does one really want to be there?
  • transportation — is the place accessible to people from a wide range of backgrounds utilizing a range of transportation options?

One project that I did not mention in the column is the planned but so far totally unfunded removal of the I-16 flyover. I’ve detailed in previous posts and columns some of the economic, historical, cultural, and even transportation-related reasons for the removal. That project is all about slightly restricting the speed with which inbound drivers can get into the city while at the same time improving accessibility for outbound drivers, for pedestrians, and for cyclists.

Part of the reason Savannah impresses so many for its walkability is the presence of such frequent streets in the grid originally established by James Oglethorpe — the so-called Oglethorpe Plan. The presence of frequent streets is also a bedrock of Jane Jacobs’ theories about effective urban planning. The grid system is wonderful for dispersing traffic, but more importantly it arms citizens using many forms of transportation with a plethora of choices. Those choices stimulate civic engagement. The places on the grid that we’ve most disrupted the pattern — around the Civic Center and Courthouse, around the I-16 flyover — are the most forbidding and most difficult areas to access in all of downtown.

For more detailed info, see my posts Restoring the Oglethorpe Plan as much as possible: the arguments aren’t just historical, The I-16 flyover removal and traffic flow, and Tom Wilson talks to GPB’s Orlando Montoya about the Oglethorpe Plan.

I’m sure I’ll keep returning to this theme as long as I’m writing columns and as long as I’m writing about urban issues.