I spent the first two days of 2013 in the twin gems of historic southern urbanity, Savannah, GA and Charleston, SC. My trips there were short, just a few hours in each, but well worth the detours off I-95. Having never previously been to either, I was happy to finally see first hand the cities that were once America's 5th and 21st largest
We arrived in Savannah on the afternoon of New Year's day. Savannah is laid out like a classic river city, with an industrial downtown fronting on the water, and neighborhoods behind, all following a strict grid of streets. It looks much like what Philadelphia and Montreal must have, once upon a time.
The waterfront is a pedestrian promenade, with old warehouses converted to restaurants and shops. It's very tourist oriented.
These tracks carry a streetcar that's famous in transportation planning circles for being completely wireless. Alas, the streetcar is strictly a tourist operation and only runs a couple of days each week, so I didn't get to see it. The technology for wireless streetcars is still very rare, because it's only good for short stretches.
More from the waterfront:
The Talmadge Bridge, completed in 1990.
Immediately behind the waterfront the land slopes sharply uphill. There's a weird feature a block up called Factor's Walk, where there's a terrace between "street level" above and "street level" below. In this image, the waterfront is off to the left, and the rest of downtown is off to the right. People hoping to get from one to the other have to go up stairs. The bridges connect to the backs of buildings which front on the water, so you don't have to walk all the way down if you're entering those buildings from the upper part of downtown.
This is Bay Street, the first major street up the hill.
One of the things that makes Savannah famous is its collection of squares. Look at a map
of Savannah and they stand out immediately. Every couple of blocks, equally spaced throughout the grid, there's a park. In the center of the city you're never more than two blocks away from one. They make Savannah's urban park system one of the best anywhere, and the envy of much larger cities all over the world.
The first square I found was Ellis Square, which is one of the most unique. It was destroyed in the 20th Century to be turned into a parking lot, or something awful like that, and has only recently been converted back into a park. While most of the other squares retain their historic character, this one is undeniably modern.
Just off Ellis Square, Saint Julien Street is a short pedestrian mall.
From there I walked south into the neighborhoods, passing through the more historic Johnson Square, Wright Square, Chippewa Square, Madison Square, and Monterey Square. I'm not sure which picture is from which square.
The squares are superbly scaled. They are just exactly the right size. Big enough to offer an escape, but small enough that they don't feel empty if only a couple of people are in them. That's a difficult trick to pull off. And they make effective, functional, and beautiful use of furniture and art. Anyone interested in urban park design must visit Savannah.
The neighborhoods are quiet, but very walkable. Completely urban.
There are some apartment buildings, and plenty of detached townhouses, but rowhouses are more dominant.
Alley houses are abundant. More abundant than in most northern cities, even. They come in all shapes and sizes, from mundane...
... to almost luxurious.
There are a couple of bigger boulevards cutting through. The southern trees make them pretty unique.
Here's another square! They dominate the layout of the city. You pass through them every few minutes.
A mile or so inland from the waterfront lies Forsyth Park, Savannah's "Central Park". Vastly bigger than a square, it's a different sort of space entirely. However, the entry way into Forsyth Park is very like a square, with a walkway leading to a big central fountain.
Quite a fountain it is.
Past the fountain there's another walkway, through the arboretum section of the park, and back to its larger more open area.
There are playgrounds, monuments, open fields, performance areas, you name it.
Along the edges of the park: mansions.
Except some of them aren't mansions anymore. A building like this in a bigger / more prosperous city wouldn't be an animal hospital.
I thought this was funny.
One bad thing about Savannah was its transit. I saw a lot of tourist shuttles, but I never once saw an actual city transit bus. Literally not a single time. I did see a bus stop, obviously from decades ago.
Savannah is a natural biking city and I did see a lot of people biking. There weren't many bike lanes, but traffic was low, so maybe they aren't really necessary. Check out this bike route sign, though. Pennyfarthing, anyone?
Walking back towards downtown from Forsyth Park, I passed through more squares: Chatham, Pulaski, Orleans, and Telfair. Not sure which one this is:
It started to get dark as I headed back into downtown.
Check this out: Green brick. Not a common thing.
This was neat: a sports bar projecting the Rose Bowl (happening at the time) on a blank wall:
Also neat: This store's awning, which doubles as a map of the city. You can see the squares prominently.
Parting shot: Factor's Walk at night, back near the waterfront:
Keep your eyes peeled for Charleston, later today or tomorrow.