I’m driving to Swarthmore today.
Going to see my daughter.
And we’ll hang a bit with friends Howard, of blog-support fame, and Melissa.
Today is Tuesday, September 25, 2018
This is my 168th consecutive daily posting.
Time is 5.36am and the weather in Swarthmore, PA is 76* and raining.
I’ll be spending this Tuesday morning in Richmond, Va, breakfast at the Urban Market, and drive out at 10.30am to be easily on time to meet w Kat, my daughter, at 4pm.
On Sunday, I reported on a nice meal I had the Saturday night at Elizabeth’s on 37th Street.
Today, let’s do a world-class section of a city called Squares of Savannah that I toured on Sunday.
What are the Squares of Savannah?
Let’s ask Wiki.
The U.S. city of Savannah, Georgia was laid out in 1733 around four open squares, each surrounded by four residential blocks and four civic ("trust") blocks.
Once the four wards were developed in the mid-1730s, two additional wards were laid out.
The layout of a square and eight surrounding blocks was known as a "ward."
The original plan (now known as the Oglethorpe Plan) was part of a larger regional plan that included gardens, farms, and "out-lying villages."
While some authorities believe that the original plan allowed for growth of the city and thus expansion of the grid, the regional plan suggests otherwise: the ratio of town lots to country lots was in balance and growth of the urban grid would have destroyed that balance.
Oglethorpe's agrarian balance was abandoned after the Georgia Trustee period.
Additional squares were added during the late 18th and 19th centuries, and by 1851 there were 24 squares in the city.
In the 20th century, three of the squares were demolished or altered beyond recognition, leaving 21.
In 2010, one of the three "lost" squares, Ellis, was reclaimed.
Most of Savannah's squares are named in honor or in memory of a person, persons or historical event, and many contain monuments, markers, memorials, statues, plaques, and other tributes.
All of the squares measure approximately 200 feet from east to west, but they vary north to south from approximately 100 to 300 feet.
Typically, each square is intersected north-south and east-west by wide, two-way streets.
They are bounded to the west and east by the south- and north-bound lanes of the intersecting north-south street, and to the north and south by smaller one-way streets running east-to-west and west-to-east, respectively.
As a result, traffic flows one way—counterclockwise—around the squares, which thus function much like traffic circles.
Each square sits at the center of a ward, which often shares its name with its square.
The lots to the east and west of the squares, flanking the major east-west axis, were considered "trust lots" in the original city plan and intended for large public buildings such as churches, schools, or markets.
The remainder of the ward was divided into four areas, called tythings, each of which was further divided into ten residential lots.
This arrangement is illustrated in the 1770 Plan of Savannah, reproduced here, and remains readily visible in the modern aerial photograph above.
The distinction between trust lot and residential lot has always been fluid.
Some grand homes, such as the well-known Mercer House, stand on trust lots, while many of the residential lots have long hosted commercial properties.
All of the squares are a part of Savannah's historic district and fall within an area of less than one half square mile.
The five squares along Bull Street—Monterey, Madison, Chippewa, Wright, and Johnson—were intended to be grand monument spaces and have been called Savannah's "Crown Jewels."
Many of the other squares were designed more simply as commons or parks, although most serve as memorials as well.
Architect John Massengale has called Savannah's city plan "the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world", and Edmund Bacon wrote that "it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence."
The American Society of Civil Engineers has honored Oglethorpe's plan for Savannah as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, and in 1994 the plan was nominated for inclusion in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The squares are a major point of interest for millions of tourists visiting Savannah each year, and they have been credited with stabilizing once-deteriorating neighborhoods and revitalizing Savannah's downtown commercial district.
Sunday morning I posted the blog and headed out for coffee, about 6.30am.
Here are early morning scenes as I walked through the Squares of Savannah on my way to coffee at the reputed Collins Quarter on Bull St.
The top two from left are around the City Market, developed around the Squares of Savannah.
I post these adjacent streets to point out the plethora of small shops, boutiques, really, that imbue the sedate squares with city life.
This is a great city.
Lower left, the rear of the Telfair House, now a museum.
Then a shot of the landscaping typical of the parks.
Finally, Rebecca, who took really good care of me for the duration of my breakfast at Collins Quarter.
At Collins Quarter cafe I spent a most lovely two hours at an outside table overlooking one of the squares.
So quiet at 6.30am.
So nice that Rebecca was totally attentive.
And this is what the coffee experience is all about.
Well, truth is, there were flies. Slightly bothersome.
In first instant, I let them bother me.
But I’m reading Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage, a masterful historical account of the Lewis and Clark expedition to explore the West, to find a route to the Pacific, to encourage populations to move west to secure the lands against European claims. And there the Captains of the expedition talk about flies, stuffing themselves into eyes, nose, ears, mouths; stinging. Dark clouds of them swarming the corpsmen.
Still, pesky little buggers.
Thinking that the ‘hot; in coffee adds significantly to the experience.
Thinking that suddenly I had my fill of coffee.
Happens with alcohol too, wine or whiskey.
Suddenly I know to stop.
No more. My body won’t take anymore.
It does not want to be sick.
It’s a natural shut-off valve that I pay full and complete attention to.
Coffee over, I toured those squares.
I am not saying that Savannah is Paris.
I am saying that Savannah is more like Paris than any other city I’ve been to.
At least for the twenty-two squares that form Savannah’s historic district.
More like Paris because every time you turn a corner you find yourself admiring a quite lovely view.
Historic. The Squares of Savannah form one of the oldest residential community in the country.
Top left, one of the mansions.
Second from left, a piece of statuary. Every square has its own adornments.
Brian from Old Trolley Tours was a gracious help.
A scene from City Market.
Bottom left, a manicured square, then a mansion.
Another mansion, bottom, 2nd from right.
Finally, a corner.
Top left, a mansion.
2nd from left, a view from across the street.
And, after the Confederate Cemetery War Memorial, a breath of fresh air: a plaque describing Gen Sherman’s use of this home in Savannah as his HQ.
Lucky Savannaharians! He spared the city being burned to the ground.
Top far right, the mansion he used for the month he was there.
Bottom far left, a civic building, perhaps. And then two street shots showing what pedestrian-friendly means.
And finally, a theatre. I was there at 2.59pm on Sunday afternoon.
By coincidence, the show started at 3.00pm.
I paid a ticket (40.00) and went in.
What great fun.
Savannah. A city to hang out in.
I leave it to Howard.
The occasion for this meditation was seeing Dom's remark en passant about his visit to Dallas. He quite sensitively noted, and quite astutely observed in a questioning way, that the newest office buildings in Dallas apparently are dedicated to office space all the way to the ground level. By eschewing the opportunity for creating more retail capacity with street access Dallas seems to have turned its back on the potentiality for making it a more livable city. The converse of this point is made, obviously, in Dom’s survey of the merits and pleasures of spending some time in what appears to be a great city: Savannah GA.
By saying what he did about Dallas, Dom triggered me (as the kids say these days) concerning a very sensitive subject that has endured among my concerns for most of my adult life. That is, what is it that makes a city a city, that makes it vital? Other, no doubt better thinkers than I am have been pondering this question for millennia. I can say that, because I know we, as a civilization, are constantly unearthing the remains of entire bona fide cities, sometimes remarkably intact, sometimes in ruins that test the ingenuity of whole teams of archaeologists and other scientists as to speculating on the nature and function of the original entities. And they seem to be the preserves of progressively older settlements in all parts of the world.
One of the best of these theorists, and one of my heroes, was Jane Jacobs, essentially an economist, who wrote on the subjects of cities and economies virtually until the day she died at a respectable old age (she was 90, and she died in Toronto, a great city, in her native Canada). I discuss her, in this context, in the following brief essay.
The essay is about Cambridge, where, as I note, I lived for so long. I always liked Cambridge for many reasons, but not the least of them is that it, like all good Jacobean cities, is a city of neighborhoods. Much like Philadelphia, which I now call home (and which Dom is about to visit, yet again, for a second time in less than a month). Whatever the tangible qualities, and likely the even greater number of intangible qualities, that make a city vital, among the most effective and visible and palpable is the quality of having neighborhoods, each distinct, and distinguishable from one another, and each with a well-differentiated and attractive character.
But more importantly, as I hope the essay makes clear, what I have to say about Cambridge, and what Cambridge makes me think about with the assistance of the spirit of Ms. Jane Jacobs actually applies to all cities. Which I also think is something that Dom has been demonstrating all along.
A village no longer, Cambridge has struggled with its role as a city, and whatever that may mean. In the present day this seems to remain as obscure a fact (seem like simple questions: "what is a city? are we a city?") to the current residents, but especially those most and best endowed with educational attainment, social standing, and financial success. It is as if none of them have ever heard of Ms. Jane Jacobs and her seminal theory—generally, though not universally, accepted as definitive—about what makes a city and, concomitantly, what unmakes it: The Death and Life of Great American Cities.
Implicit in the behavior of some people is a state of mind that most benignly and efficiently can be called provincial — it occurred all the time in the minds of my neighbors when I lived in Cambridge, which I did for nearly 30 years. They gave every impression of believing they lived not in a city, but in a village. Unfortunately, they forgot that even in a village, if not especially so, everyone, and that includes institutions and organized entitities, must act mindfully of the lives of all neighbors. It’s not Animal Farm. Some are not more equal than others. It's not uncommon, still, in Cambridge, this most famous of cities on the world stage (but famous for what happens in the minds of its residents and inhabitants, not for what happens in its streets) to experience the daily manifestation of provincial thinking.
The great lesson of Jane Jacobs, if there is merely one lesson to be learned from this wise and thoughtful woman, it's that one thing and one thing only characterizes cities. A city changes. It's dynamic. This is how it stays alive.
Further, of course, she makes clear that our sense of cities, the sense that Americans hold as a cherished ideal (and it may, indeed, be an outmoded ideal, if not already archaic, sadly; dare I say, it might itself be provincial to think of cities in this way). It's an idea that nevertheless still holds, in practical and day-to-day terms and mainly for perfectly ordinary people who must live in cities.
I've never heard anyone argue convincingly otherwise than that a city neighborhood—perhaps one of many neighborhoods, if not hundreds, depending on the scope of the city—is a living thing, and its chief constituent is people, people who are there for many purposes: living, yes, but working as well, and providing services to those doing the living and the working, and finally those transporting people and goods into and out of the neighborhood. People constantly entering and leaving it; people seldom leaving it because it is their home.
For a city to sustain each of its several and (one hopes) distinctive neighborhoods, each neighborhood must sustain life within it on a round-the-clock daily basis, with no breaks necessarily for weekends or holidays. Neighborhoods need a mix of buildings, not just with regard to design, to size, and style, but with regard to function. The most vital neighborhoods, Ms. Jacobs averred, are those in which a variety of activities can occur at once. People live in neighborhoods. In the most fundamental terms, they sleep and gain sustenance in their homes. However, people must also be able to shop for the means of sustaining themselves within easy access of where they live. People must be able to seek respite in their neighborhoods. They must be able to recreate. They must, that is, some optimal percentage of them must, be able to earn a living through meaningful employment; employment of all levels of skill and degrees of training and tuition. All manner of activity, with – and it’s always been my experience to have this theory validated time and again, not only in urban milieus I’ve inhabited myself, but in the many cities in the world that I’ve visited more than superficially and grown to love with remarkable rapidity. The latter phenomenon of an endearing reaction to a place can only happen when the vitality of a city is not only apparent if you look not too hard, but it assertively and warmly welcomes you into its midst.—Howard Dinin, © 2018.