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Lessons from the Hostess City

My trip to the coast lasted a little bit longer than I anticipated. As I was beginning my trip back to Birmingham, one of my tires decided to extend my stay. What resulted was absolutely incredible, at least as far as I was concerned (though the cost of repairing the car is something I would rather not talk about). I won’t be able to post some of the pictures until tomorrow at the earliest, but let’s just say that it gave me a chance to enjoy developments in Savannah and enjoy them as a tourist, finally(sort of).

Caledonian Pub shot

There were townhouses built as infill, the old DFACS building is about to be converted into a mixed use development, only 1 block away from Forsyth Park, the city’s largest downtown green space. Throughout the Starland district, several pieces of infill construction respecting and celebrating the area’s past, but recognizing its current status as trendsetter, were in various stages of completion. The dog park was quite active as well, though I missed getting into Back in the Day Bakery. A long time rug store located along a main drag had been replaced by The Caledonian, a Scottish pub (luckily one that had Guinness and Boddingtons on tap). Another space was a former Krispy Chik franchise in the heart of the Victorian District that now served as a pretty cool Euro-cuisine style restaurant. And I haven’t even started talking about the new addition to the Telfair Museum of Art, designed by Moshe Safdie. Incidentally, I’d count meeting Mr. Safdie as one of those intangibles of working at a bed and breakfast while in Savannah. Those are the shots that I’ll hopefully have uploaded tomorrow since I took them using my old Minolta.

I borrowed John’s bike as a mode of transportation for the first part of the day. The bike ride took me past some of my old hang out spots and a great deal of new construction. I realized how much I missed using my bike as a regular form of transportation. Riding through the park, I was able to watch ultimate Frisbee, SCAD’s women’s lacrosse club team run drills and people just sitting and enjoying the space. The park has been around for a long time, with some of the land serving as former military grounds (the deed stipulates that military exercises can still take place on the “lawns” of the park. Bets and I were startled by the sounds of helicopters flying overhead as they made their final approach into the park several times that last year we were in town. Soon, it will be filled with the sounds of current SCAD students and alumni creating works of art with chalk. I eventually ended up becoming a pedestrian again, enjoying the tree lined streets and the sites and sounds of spring in Savannah. I was also enjoying a modified version of one of my old boss’ favorite economic development indicators: the dumpster test. The more dumpsters you saw, the more activity and redevelopment took place. Still works too.

One of the conversations that I had while in town was on Sunday morning at Café Ambrosia, across the street from the college’s library. I met up with friends Chris Miller, director of the Creative Coast Initiative, and Sean Brandon, Savannah’s Management and Financial Services Coordinator. We looked through the pages of one of the newest publications in the region, The South, going ooh and ah over the nighttime shots in the issue. Then, considering how the three of us are, talk eventually shifted to the infamous “solving all the problems of the urban world.” The great thing about these conversations over the years was that it was easy to realize and remind myself that every city thinks that its problems are the worst ever and that the cities that you may look to could be looking at you for assistance as well. We’ve had several of these conversations during my last few years living there. The ironic thing was that there was no organized movement to change things, at least not the way that most would think it would happen. It just happened that those that wanted to see change knew the others and decided to take it into their own hands. An interesting approach to say the least, but one that has seen extreme benefit for those that were patient enough to wait. It was a lot of fun having that conversation again while looking out at the vitality of the downtown area, though we realized that it could only be the beginning of more to come. It’s working for some though; I have a friend who’s been able to return to Savannah due to the availability of telecommuting. They liked the way you could live in town, just hadn’t been able to work in their field there, until now. More find ways to go back all of the time. The question inevitably came up about a pending return. I told them I think it’s going to be a while, even though we really do miss the beach and our friends. Plus, we’re getting to watch the beginnings of a similar movement in Birmingham and it’s too much fun to pass up being a part of it, at least right now.

So, while the gang’s hanging out in the park, catching up on what’s happening and figuring out how they’re getting into Jazz’d, Vinnie’s, or The Lady and Sons for dinner at the end of the month, I will most likely still be here in Birmingham, still trying to catch up from jury duty week. While it would be great to see everyone again for that event, it was a lot more fun to go back and see the town on a typical day, as I remembered; to enjoy its progress in that slow, relaxing way that the Hostess City of the South lends itself to. It was a great reminder that you can always find the best of what’s going on in any situation, and enjoy it. It’s also a great indicator of what is yet to come in many other parts of the Southeast, including Birmingham.

More tomorrow.


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