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Savannah’s Squares: a Model for Today’s Planners?

An AP reporter takes a trip to Savannah, Georgia, the historic city on the Atlantic coast and provides some background on the its famous network of public squares:

But the reason for those public spaces might surprise modern visitors: British General James Oglethorpe designed them as part of a military grid so his troops could set up camp and have shaded meeting spots. The soldiers were there to keep the Spanish from advancing north to the English colony in Charleston, S.C., and Oglethorpe’s statue faces south, as if still keeping a watchful eye on things.

Originally the city had 24 squares. It’s a remarkable feat of preservation that 22 are still in existence and one more is being restored.

Today the squares are home to great old Oaks, benches for people to sit, gardens, meandering pathways and attractive fountains that invite people in and make the city such a pleasant place to be.

Much of their success also has to do with the street layout, in which the squares usually occupy a square block and streets intersect but do not pass through — essentially encouraging through pedestrian traffic. (See figure below.) Via PPS, a submission on the squares quotes Allan Jacobs, author of the definitive book Great Streets, who wrote “. . . [T]he grid pattern of Savannah . . . is like no other we know in its fineness and its distinguishable squares. . . . [O]nce seen it is unforgettable, and it carries over into real life experience. See it . . ., in person, on the ground, and it is not difficult to draw. See it in plan, on a map, and you will recognize it on the ground.”

As cities have rebounded, and walkable urbanism has emerged again as a priority for planners, creating the day-to-day park experiences found in the pedestrian green spaces of Savannah is surely one model to consider.

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