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CITY TALK: Can we dent violent crime if we allow blatant street crime

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 9:00pm

On Sept. 24, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department released an impassioned plea for an end to violent crime.

In apparent response to criticism of the police and elected officials for responding more vigorously to the murder of a white resident than to murders of black residents, the SCMPD statement detailed numerous efforts made in recent months to combat violence.

Here’s one key paragraph: “While it is true that a vast majority of our overall shootings are the result of risky behavior; certainly this is not true for all shootings victims. Chief Lumpkin has said that publicly numerous times. He has also said that a family member who is group or gang involved may raise the risk to other family members by 900%! But the SCMPD does not blame victims!”

I applaud the efforts made under Chief Jack Lumpkin, who was hired about two years ago, but I find myself increasingly cynical. Sure, we might return to average levels of violence, but the average for Savannah would be horrifyingly high in many similar-sized cities across the country.

As a longtime observer of Savannah’s economic and cultural landscape, I was especially struck by this line in the recent SCMPD statement on violent crime: “The SCMPD does not determine police services along racial or economic lines.”

On my way to dinner one evening last week, I drove a few blocks in my neighborhood that I would avoid on foot, certainly after dark. At 8 p.m., a prostitute was walking openly in the street. On my way home two hours later, I saw two men dealing drugs on an adjacent block.

No surprise. Street prostitution and drug sales are routine on some streets in my neighborhood, as I’ve said often in this column. It’s also no surprise that those blocks see bursts of violence, including two separate incidents with more than one shooting victim in the last 10 months.

SCMPD leaders may not feel that they’re deploying police services along “racial or economic lines,” but it seems clear that there are institutional biases that have been in place for decades, probably longer than any current officers have been on the force.

After decades of inaction and distrust, the residents who live on blocks with such blatant street crime typically do not call the police. The crimes are happening so openly and often that residents assume that police, city officials and elected leaders must know what’s going on. Better to stay out of it, avoid “risky behaviors” and hope for the best.

I don’t see how we can reduce violence in a meaningful way while street level criminal activity is allowed to flourish. Something has to give.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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CITY TALK: Inside the numbers: Savannah poverty rate declined in 2014

Mon, 09/19/2016 - 11:59pm

Savannah’s high poverty rate became an important campaign issue in 2015, and I hope that we’ll continue to make poverty reduction one of our most important civic goals.

As I detailed in a column last year, it’s difficult to sort through poverty data, and there is a considerable lag between the gathering of raw numbers and the publication of the findings.

According to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census, Chatham County’s poverty rate spiked in the years after the recession, but then declined sharply in 2014 (the last year for which data are available).

As of 2014, Chatham County had a smaller percentage of people living in poverty than Georgia as a whole, but we were well above the statewide rate for children living in poverty.

That’s the summary. Let’s take a closer look at some key numbers.

The so-called “great recession” technically ended in 2009, but poverty in America continued to worsen until 2011 and 2012. Given the financial crisis, the sharp drop in property values, high rates of foreclosure and bankruptcy, plus other factors, it’s not surprising that poverty worsened even as the economy was growing slowly from 2009 to 2012.

According to the latest Census estimates, 15.5 percent of Americans were living in poverty in 2014. That’s down slightly from 15.9 percent in 2012.

In Georgia, 18.4 percent of residents were living in poverty in 2014, down from 19.2 percent in 2012.

In Chatham County, 17.9 percent of residents were living in poverty in 2014, down sharply from 22.5 percent in 2011.

Way back in 2007, Chatham County had a worse poverty rate than the state as a whole, but now the local rate is slightly better than the statewide rate.

I should note here that there is a significant margin for error in all this data, but the general trends seem clear.

The numbers above refer to all individuals, but the estimates are much grimmer if we’re considering the poverty rate for those under 18.

According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, the national poverty rate for those under 18 was 21.7 percent in 2014. In Georgia, the rate was 26.3 percent.

In Chatham County, 27.5 percent of those under 18 were living in poverty in 2014. That number is down from a staggering 34.6 percent in 2011, but that’s cold comfort.

Again, it’s worth noting that there is a large margin for error in all these estimates, and there isn’t one single way of measuring poverty.

And, of course, these are just numbers. Almost 17,000 children are living in poverty in Chatham County, and they all have individual stories.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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Topic: City Talk

City Talk: Lewis' legacy leads to rich food future for Savannah

Sat, 09/17/2016 - 11:58pm

Born in Virginia in 1916, Edna Lewis first learned to cook on her family’s farm. Years later, she opened Café Nicholson in New York City, which set her on the path to becoming one of the most influential chefs in American history.

Lewis wrote several important books about southern cooking, and in 1999 she became the first recipient of the James Beard Living Legend Award.

Lewis passed away in 2006, but her influence continues to grow. In 2014, the United States Postal Service put Lewis on a stamp, along with four other influential chefs.

The Edna Lewis Foundation was founded in 2012. From the beginning, the driving force of the foundation has been Chef Joe Randall, best known here in Savannah for his cooking school.

The foundation’s mission is “to revive, preserve and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America.”

On Sept. 12, The Grey, which hosted an Edna Lewis Foundation event earlier this year, held a major fundraiser for the nonprofit organization.

It was an appropriate setting, especially since Chef Mashama Bailey at The Grey was heavily influenced by Lewis.

Randall is still chairman of the organization, and he has now been joined on the board by Bailey; The Grey’s founding partner John O. Morisano; Jeral Mitchell, Director of Economic Development of Atlanta Beltline, Inc.; and Chris Poe, who was formerly president of The National Arts Club in New York City.

“Everything we do here at The Grey is touched by Edna Lewis,” Morisano told donors as the night began. (I donated at the $150 level.) Morisano noted that black chefs are still dramatically underrepresented in the restaurant industry and outlined some of the goals of the foundation, including a fundraising effort targeting corporations in the South.

Bailey and four visiting executive chefs — Bernard Camouche from Orlando, Benjamin BJ Dennis from Charleston, Paul Fehribach from Chicago and Duane Nutter from Mobile — prepared dishes, all of which were served at stations in The Grey’s expansive outdoor area.

As the night came to a close, Randall graciously honored the chefs on hand.

Over the years, I’ve written often about individual restaurants in this column, but I’ve also been covering the changing conceptions of Southern cooking.

We’ve seen chefs and restaurateurs return to the roots of Southern cooking, with a reliance on fresh, local and seasonal ingredients. That theme has been front and center in many City Talk columns about both new and longstanding restaurants and about a variety of other initiatives, including the Forsyth Farmers’ Market.

These broad trends have contributed to the evolution of Savannah’s culinary reputation. No, Savannah is not Charleston, but it now seems possible that our restaurant scene could one day rival the restaurant landscape there.

With Randall, Bailey and Morisano all based here, the Edna Lewis Foundation seems certain to attract additional attention to the Savannah scene. More importantly, a better funded and staffed organization can explore a variety of programs that offer more opportunities around the country for African American chefs and restaurateurs.

You can read more about the Edna Lewis Foundation at http://ednalewisfoundation.org.

 

Bay St. ‘experiment’ off to a bad start

As regular readers know, I was critical of the city of Savannah’s “experiment” on Bay Street before the changes were made.

Parking on the south side of the street was recently removed, and suddenly many folks have expressed concern about the proximity of high-speed traffic to pedestrians on the sidewalk. I hope business owners and members of the public will continue to complain about that new reality, but, let’s face it, we knew that the new traffic pattern would create that condition.

Why did city officials forge ahead with the change with the knowledge that we’d get higher speeds and less safe sidewalks? Simply put, our city bureaucracy is more interested in smooth, fast traffic flow than in improving conditions for those on foot.

In the opening days of the month-long experiment, the general public also became aware that there are significant drainage problems along the south edge of Bay Street. The ponding didn’t matter so much if the only effect was that cars had to park in a couple inches of water, but now on rainy days we have traffic flying through large puddles and quite literally splashing water all the way across the sidewalk.

City staffers obviously knew about the drainage problem in advance but plowed ahead with this experiment anyway.

Let’s hope the our new city manager establishes a new vision for downtown mobility.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. 

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CITY TALK: Parking on Bay is a bonus, not a plague

Mon, 09/12/2016 - 10:07pm

The sidewalk on the south side of Bay Street between Montgomery and Jefferson streets is only a few feet wide. There is just enough room for two people to walk shoulder to shoulder, so the space feels cramped and awkward if you have to pass someone.

In a city with so many tremendous public spaces and with a reputation for walkability, that stretch of sidewalk is not a success. The north side of Bay Street along that block has an equally unforgiving sidewalk.

The sidewalk on the south side runs alongside Club One and the Hilton Garden Inn. City Market is just a block away, but if a hotel guest planned to eat at any of the fine establishments on Bay Street — Moon River Brewing Company, Ruth’s Chris Steak House or Churchill’s Pub, to name a few nearby — the most direct route would obviously be to take Bay.

The narrow sidewalk in that block has long been problematic, but it hasn’t in the past necessarily felt dangerous because of a buffer of parked cars separating pedestrians from the travel lanes.

No more — or at least not for the next month.

Despite strong opposition from the public, which was detailed in a recent article by reporter Eric Curl, city officials have temporarily removed parking on the south side of Bay Street from East Broad Street to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. There is no doubt that the temporary measure will result in higher traffic speeds and bring fast-moving cars closer to pedestrians on the sidewalk.

I would suggest that the mayor, aldermen and top city officials spend some time walking along Bay Street in the next few months, but I honestly don’t want to put anyone in danger.

Of course, on-street parking provides more than a safety buffer for pedestrians.

I routinely advise folks who are driving into downtown to park in the Oglethorpe Avenue corridor rather than look for parking farther north.

But savvy locals know that it’s often easy to find parking on Bay Street on weekday evenings. Several times in recent months, I parked on Bay and then wandered down to River Street.

Downtown workers often utilize that parking on Bay Street as well. I’m not talking about the white collar professionals who work during the day, but the large contingent of service industry workers who need safe, close and relatively inexpensive parking.

As part of this month-long experiment, the city is providing a few dozen spaces east of East Broad Street. Seriously, does anyone think a server on West River Street — someone who works late and carries cash — would even consider parking way over there?

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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CITY TALK: Will city act to balance residential, tourism needs?

Sun, 09/11/2016 - 12:16am

In the recent New York Times op-ed “Can We Save Venice Before It’s Too Late?”, writer Salvatore Settis discussed the overwhelming pressures of mass tourism in the famed but fragile Italian city.

“Millions of tourists pour into Venice’s streets and canals each year, profoundly altering the population and the economy,” Settis argued, “as many native citizens are banished from the island city and those who remain have no choice but to serve in hotels, restaurants and shops selling glass souvenirs and carnival masks.”

Some heard echoes of Savannah in the piece, but if there are any echoes, they are almost vanishingly dim. But more on that in a moment.

In response to the piece by Settis, The Post and Courier – Charleston’s daily paper – published the editorial “Two cities with too many tourists,” comparing trends in Charleston to those in Venice. The editorial noted the impending closure of a Bi-Lo, which will leave the peninsula with just two large grocery stores, and argued for “the importance of protecting local and residential interests from too much tourism.”

It’s an interesting era. Many major tourist destinations are struggling with how to manage or even limit visitors, but the booming tourist industry shows no sign of slowing.

As the world population increases and standards of living rise, more people are going to be traveling. Sure, an economic recession or some other event could temporarily slow the pace of tourism in Savannah and elsewhere, but the long-term trend seems clear.

I occasionally hear folks claim that high crime rates will doom Savannah’s tourism industry, and I’m sure that some tourists make choices based on those dangers, especially if they’re in town visiting savvy full-time residents.

But I’ve seen no sign that crime rates are likely to make a dent in the tourism boom.

In 1999, at a time when tourism was growing significantly, a visitor from New York was shot during an attempted robbery in the heart of the Historic District. She died six weeks later. Media coverage was extensive, but the tourists kept coming.

And, yes, we have plenty of space to accommodate many more visitors than we have now. Several new hotels are in the works, and large properties in the downtown area will inevitably attract the interest of more hoteliers.

Venice is constrained by its geography, and tourism is overwhelming the local economy. Savannah has far fewer visitors and ample vacant land.

Sure, the city might have felt full of tourists on Labor Day weekend, but there are many days and nights throughout the year when we have far fewer visitors. In recent years, I’ve been on the road a lot in the summer, but this year I stuck close to home and spent many hours wandering downtown, often on virtually empty streets.

In other words, we have plenty of room for more tourists, and they’re on the way.

And as more tourists come to Savannah, we are almost certain to hear growing concerns about the impacts of “too much tourism.”

If we want to have a more balanced downtown economy, our best bet is to increase residential density, which will require some combination of specific policy changes.

We have seen considerable residential construction in recent years, but our outdated zoning ordinance still has significant restrictions on density. Metropolitan Planning Commission staff have had a new zoning ordinance in the works for nearly a decade, but city leaders have taken no action on it.

Also, there seems to be a growing consensus that Savannah’s short-term vacation rental ordinance is negatively impacting the residential character of downtown.

A number of large underutilized downtown properties are publicly owned, so we have direct control of future uses. For example, the current arena site will be available eventually, and city officials are currently considering the sale of the large parcel on Oglethorpe Avenue between Habersham and Price streets.

Some folks in the downtown area have expended a lot of energy over the years fighting against greater residential density, despite the fact that Savannah’s oldest neighborhoods have far fewer residents than they had a century ago. If private developers can’t make money on residential construction, they’ll keep looking to the tourist market.

In short, we have little choice but to embrace the tourism boom, and at the same time we have options for maintaining and strengthening the local, residential character of downtown neighborhoods. But we have to make better decisions, soon.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
  • The Fairfield Inn under construction on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Tourists in Monterey Square. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
  • Savannah Chatham Police Chief Joseph Lumpkin and Savannah residents at National Night Out 2016. (Josh Galemore/Savannah Morning News)
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: 15 years later, The Sentient Bean is still nurturing community

Tue, 09/06/2016 - 12:04am

From 6-9 p.m. Thursday, The Sentient Bean at 13 E. Park Ave. will celebrate 15 years.

September 2001 wasn’t the best time to launch a small business, but entrepreneurs have no control over world events. In that month, I wrote columns about the opening of both the Bean and Wright Square Café – two locally owned businesses that have delighted many thousands of customers over the years.

This column frequently notes the civic roles played by businesses like Wright Square Café and The Sentient Bean, and I’d argue that locally owned spots like these become even more important in an era of mass tourism and growing corporatization.

In the case of The Sentient Bean, it’s also worth recalling how the business contributed to the evolution of the entire neighborhood.

When the Bean opened in 2001, the south end of Forsyth Park was really quiet. Brighter Day Natural Foods was already a success story at the corner of Bull Street and Park Avenue, of course, but there were few other vibrant businesses in the immediate area.

The American Legion had not become a neighborhood hotspot, and Local 11 Ten didn’t open until 2007.

In 2001, apartments in the neighborhood south of Forsyth had not yet become especially popular with SCAD students.

For these and other reasons, there seemed no guarantee that a coffeehouse and café like the Bean would survive, especially since the indoor space was so much smaller than it is today.

But founders Kristin Russell and Kelli Pearson stuck to their plans, which included free trade coffee, a vegetarian menu, organic foods and support for community groups. Over the years, they welcomed artists motivated by social issues, local and touring musicians, spoken word performers and other unique programming, like the Psychotronic Film Society.

In recent months, I’ve covered several Emergent Savannah forums at the Bean.

But the impact has reached outside the Bean’s walls. For example, when the Bean opened, nearby residents began walking much more through the neighborhood.

The Bean has changed over time — Pearson moved on, Claren Jamerson become co-owner, the menu expanded, programming shifted, tourists started showing up, beer and wine were added to the mix — but some elements have remained constant, including the sense of welcome.

The Thursday open house will include performances by Dj José Ray, City Hotel and Jason Bible, plus free drinks and snacks. Fittingly, a raffle will benefit three nonprofits — the Forsyth Farmers’ Market, Loop It Up Savannah and Deep Center.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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CITY TALK: Will new policies impact longstanding crime problems?

Sat, 09/03/2016 - 11:53pm

On Aug. 22, in an official statement about a spate of recent violence, the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department said that they were “shifting resources” to a “historically violent corridor” of the Central Precinct.

“This corridor is the Metropolitan Neighborhood which includes Anderson to Victory Dr. and Bull to MLK,” the statement reads in part.

In my columns over the years about crime in Savannah, I have frequently referred to this area as the Jefferson Street corridor, since so much of the street-level drug dealing and prostitution was taking place on Jefferson itself.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to diagnose the problems, and I continue to be amazed that Savannah has tolerated such blatant criminality for so long. Given that the street-level crime so often contributes to violence and constantly degrades the neighborhood fabric, you’d think someone in a position of power would finally say, “Enough!”

There are many reasons why we’ve allowed crime to flourish in that area – including lack of resources, corruption and incompetence – but I’ll argue that the biggest issue has been cynicism. Officials and the public at large simply decided the area wasn’t worth the necessary investment.

Since Jack Lumpkin has been chief of the SCMPD, he has made numerous public statements citing the connection between street crime and more serious crime, but the sordid day-to-day business seems to have continued more or less as usual in that “historically violent corridor.”

I base that observation on my own experience. I’ve lived in the general neighborhood for 20 years.

All that said, it’s worth noting that the geographic area detailed in the SCMPD statement has been changing dramatically.

The black population has declined markedly, according to data from the 2000 and 2010 censuses, while the white population has increased. Many of those newcomers have been lured by low housing costs, in addition to other neighborhood qualities.

Many of the new residents are chasing cheap rents while others have purchased and renovated beautiful old homes.

Some of the neighborhood’s newcomers feel like they can live safely in the area as long as they don’t engage in “risky behaviors.” That term was used by the SCMPD in their recent statement.

Of course, residents who live in proximity to street crime like prostitution and drug sales cannot completely insulate themselves. There will always be a degradation to quality of life and the looming threat of worse crime.

The recent statement, which also discussed the recent series of robberies closer to Forsyth Park, noted that the SCMPD was “shifting resources” to address problems, but officials did not detail specific changes. A couple of the new enforcement strategies will be obvious to those who spend time in the area, but I’ll refrain from specifics too.

Is this a turning point?

It’s way too early to answer that question, but there are reasons to be optimistic. In particular, I hope that incoming city manager Rob Hernandez will signal early on that he has no patience for the cynicism that has plagued this “historically violent corridor” and other neighborhoods where street crime has flourished.

 

Blowin’ Smoke reopens

I’ll end this column with some good news.

Many Savannah restaurants shut down for a week or more in the summer. Sometimes restaurateurs just want to take a break, but many use the time to take care of repairs and renovations.

Blowin’ Smoke Southern Cantina at 1611 Habersham St. was closed for several weeks, but has now reopened with a transformed space. Previously, the reasonably priced restaurant, which specializes in BBQ and Southwestern influenced dishes like tacos, had a very small bar with room for only a handful of patrons.

The new Blowin’ Smoke has a large, comfortable U-shaped bar with room for about 20 that takes up much of the indoor dining area. I’ve made a couple of trips to the new space, and the bar has had more than a dozen patrons even at odd hours. Most have been both dining and drinking.

There are still plenty of tables, of course, and the restaurant has a variety of options for protecting the outdoor diners from unpleasant weather.

The changes should make Blowin’ Smoke much more of a gathering point for those in the immediate neighborhood and for those who don’t want to deal with the hassles of going to restaurants farther north.

If you’re going to Blowin’ Smoke for the first time, there is a parking lot in addition to ample on-street parking on Habersham. The listed hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday, but the business will be experimenting with extended weekend hours and a limited late-night menu.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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CITY TALK: Strong job growth continued in July

Mon, 08/29/2016 - 11:50pm

July can be a tricky month for employment. Many workers in the education sector might be between jobs, while many college students and recent high school grads might still be searching for hard-to-find summer gigs.

Because of these trends, mid-summer employment statistics can seem more volatile than the data released through much of the year.

For example, according to the Georgia Department of Labor, the number of initial claims for unemployment in Georgia was markedly higher in July than in June, but the July total was about the same as in July 2015.

In the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties), the number of unemployment claims in July was about 10 percent lower than in July 2015.

Payroll employment in the Savannah metro area declined slightly in July compared to June, but total payroll employment was 4.7 percent higher than in July 2015.

In other words, the year-over-year numbers continue to paint a rosy picture of the Savannah area economy.

Over the past year, we’ve seen especially strong job growth in manufacturing, professional and business services, retail trade and leisure and hospitality.

The latest numbers suggest that job growth in the Savannah metro area continues to outpace population growth.

The Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 5 percent in July, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. That’s down from 5.3 percent in June and down from 6 percent in July 2015.

In metro areas across the state, we saw an annual increase in the size of the labor force – adults either working or looking for work – but Savannah’s growth was especially impressive.

So, lots of good news in the latest data, but let me finish by echoing comments I’ve made in this space before.

First, we can’t expect to see such vigorous job growth indefinitely.

Historical patterns suggest that we should expect a nationwide recession in the next couple of years, although there doesn’t seem to be one on the immediate horizon. Even if the current economic expansion lasts longer than expected, we can’t sustain a job growth rate that is so much higher than the population growth rate.

Second, if you pay attention to local social media, you’ll likely hear lots of “sky is falling” commentary regarding the Savannah economy. High crime and low wages are important issues, for sure, but we’re continuing to add jobs at a rapid pace, including jobs in sectors that typically pay well.

Third, even though we continue to see impressive growth in employment, it’s clear that many Savannahians never really recovered from the nasty 2007-2009 recession, and too many young people have not developed the skills necessary to join the mainstream economy.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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CITY TALK: New seafood restaurant, rolled ice cream on Broughton

Sun, 08/28/2016 - 12:03am

The Savannah Seafood Shack and Below Zero Rolled Ice Cream opened last month at 116 E. Broughton St. in the space that had been occupied for many years by the downtown Sakura.

Sakura still has other locations around town, but I miss the funky downtown spot with its almost impossibly inexpensive dinner options, inexplicable menu changes, lightning fast service (except when it wasn’t) and the stream of pierced and inked servers.

If you were familiar with Sakura’s pleasantly outdated interior, you’ll notice the changes immediately when you enter the new restaurant and ice cream parlor. The comfortable booths along the western wall of the narrow space have been replaced by wooden tables, and the ice cream business has taken over the former raised seating area along Broughton Street.

The Savannah Seafood Shack and Below Zero Rolled Ice Cream are essentially two separate businesses, each with its own counter for placing orders.

I’ve made two recent trips to check out the seafood offerings.

On my first visit, I opted for the fried shrimp dinner with cole slaw ($9.95). I loved the flavor the shrimp, but they were smaller than I anticipated and looked underwhelming in the plastic basket.

On my second trip, I ordered a single serving of Lowcountry boil ($10.95), which I enjoyed tremendously.

I’m not generally a fan of Lowcountry boil, which can be rather bland in my experience. Sometimes the traditional dish is too salty, sometimes it doesn’t stay hot, sometimes the ingredients are unevenly cooked.

The Savannah Seafood Shack serves its individual servings of Lowcountry boil in plastic bags, which diners open for themselves and pour into the accompanying bowl.

My Lowcountry boil dinner had tons of flavorful shrimp and sausage, and the new potatoes were delicious. The corn on the cob was slightly overcooked but still really good. The entire dish had just the right amount of spice and stayed piping hot to the end.

I don’t typically associate seafood and ice cream, but, hey, why not?

The Thai-inspired process at Below Zero starts with flavored cream and ends with a heaping serving of ice cream rolls with a variety of toppings.

I opted for the ironically named “Health Nut,” which had avocado and pistachio flavoring, and my toppings included diced strawberries and Nutella. That might sound like a strange combination, but it was flat out delicious.

Since the seafood and ice cream counters are separate, things can seem a little chaotic at the front of the restaurant. Last Wednesday evening, the ice cream line grew to 20 patrons, and that doesn’t include another 10 passersby who had stopped on the sidewalk to watch the preparation of the ice cream rolls.

Leopold’s is just a block away, but it looks like there is ample demand for the rich concoctions at Below Zero.

 

What’s next for North Beach Grill?

I moved to Savannah in 1995, and within a few months I found several favorite restaurants.

Only a few of those restaurants are still open today. Vinnie Van Go-Go’s is still open, and so is the Crystal Beer Parlor, which has changed hands a couple of times over the last 20 years.

I also began dining regularly at the North Beach Grill. There wasn’t any social media, and the restaurant seemed to exist just under the radar. It was like a hot tip that you were lucky to hear.

Circumstances have prevented me from going to Tybee regularly for the past few years, but I have many vivid memories of the North Beach Grill and have been closely following the news about the Tybee Island city staff recommendation not to renew the restaurant’s expiring lease.

Sure, officials have the right, maybe even the obligation, to maximize the rental income of the city-owned property, but it seems like the North Beach Grill’s sheer longevity should weigh heavily in its favor. Co-owner George Spriggs, who might be Tybee’s most prominent black businessperson, has been there since the beginning.

Tybee officials pulled discussion of the North Beach Grill lease from their most recent city council agenda, but it’s unclear what will happen next. Things get complicated when governments become landlords, especially if maximizing rental income trumps other civic goals.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: New ordinances will help entrepreneurs

Mon, 08/22/2016 - 9:54pm

Last week brought some welcome news for some Savannah entrepreneurs.

Ending years of wrangling and lengthy bureaucratic delays, Savannah city council approved new alcohol and food truck ordinances at last week’s meeting.

There’s not anything cutting edge about the ordinances, but they give business owners and investors opportunities that exist in most other cities with which Savannah competes for new young residents and for visitors.

In 2011, as we were still struggling to recover from the recession, I expressed some doubts about the likelihood that food trucks would succeed in Savannah, but even then I joined many others in calling for a workable ordinance.

Now, in 2016, with the local economy in solid shape, we could develop a vibrant food truck culture with this new ordinance that provides a variety of options for finding success.

Our multi-faceted new alcohol ordinance could also pave the way for new investment and, more specifically, performance venues.

Consider Macon’s Cox Capitol Theatre, which a fair number of Savannah folks visited during the recent Bragg Jam. The old downtown movie theater can be configured with some reserved seating for live performances, but most shows offer general admission tickets with plenty of standing room in front of the stage.

The Cox, which has a capacity of 650, hosts a variety of public performances, including some that are open to all ages and some that are limited to patrons 18 and up. The venue serves alcohol but is not a restaurant.

In other words, the Cox has a straightforward, common sense business model, but that model is currently illegal in Savannah.

In addition to expanding the possibilities of new event venues, the new ordinance will give bars the option to allow patrons over 18 into live performances.

However, it’s not at all clear to me at this point how many bars will apply for the special permit. Adults aged 18 to 20 generate less revenue than older patrons, and some bar managers and owners might decide that their current business model is working just fine.

On the other hand, music promoters know when they’re dealing with acts with special appeal to 18- to 20-year olds, so we might see some venues apply for the special permit even if they only rarely book shows for people 18 and older.

So we’re finally out from under a decade of nightmarish city bureaucracy that unnecessarily limited the freedom of legal adults over 18 and hurt small businesses.

The adoption of the new food truck and alcohol ordinances is certainly good news for the city, and it’s also good news for incoming city manager Rob Hernandez, who will have two fewer things on his plate.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: What is a 'living wage' in Savannah?

Sun, 08/21/2016 - 12:00am
Throughout last year’s city elections and into 2016, we’ve seen considerable public debate about prevailing wages in Savannah, especially in the leisure and hospitality sector. You can find a Change.org petition calling for raising the local minimum wage to $15 an hour, but the petition had fewer than 100 signatures even after several days of social media sharing. As a practical matter, municipalities in Georgia are forbidden by state law from raising the minimum wage for private sector workers. The official state minimum wage is $5.15 an hour, although most workers at least make the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Recently, the small city of Clarkston in DeKalb County mandated a $15 minimum wage for its employees. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Clarkston’s new ordinance will only directly impact three city workers. Even if public officials can’t mandate higher private sector wages, they can perhaps move the dial, if only slightly. Economic development efforts can focus on companies that pay better wages, for example. Still, given current state law, there isn’t all that much that can be done at the local level to raise wages, so for this column I’m going to skirt the usual minimum wage debate and focus on the local “living wage.” How much do workers need to make per hour to live decently in Savannah? In exploring the answer to that question, I’ll be using a living wage calculator published by researchers at MIT (http://livingwage.mit.edu) that quantifies the typical expenses and wages for counties and metropolitan statistical areas across America. The MIT calculator uses a straightforward definition of living wage: “the hourly rate that an individual must earn to support their family, if they are the sole provider and are working full-time (2080 hours per year).” For one adult living alone, the MIT calculator pegs $10.87 an hour as a living wage in the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties). That estimate includes annual expenses of $3,011 for food, $2,111 for medical care, $7,596 for housing, $4,290 for transportation and $2,146 in other categories. So that one adult needs a pre-tax annual income of $22,602, which works out to $10.87 per hour. This does not suggest that a single adult could live comfortably on that income, and it’s easy to imagine how some sort of crisis could be financially devastating. I’m especially struck by the fact that the calculator assumes “other” expenses of less than $6 per day. On the other hand, a frugal person could find ways to reduce some of those typical expenses, especially transportation. It might be typical for adults to spend an average of nearly $12 per day on transportation, but that’s far more than I’ve spent on average over the last decade. Of course, in some individual years, I’ve spent more on transportation than is typical, but I’ve fortunately had credit and savings to cover expensive repairs and other transportation needs. A worker who is barely making a living wage might have no way of cushioning the shocks of one-time expenses. So far, I’ve just been talking about adults with no dependents, but when children are added to the picture, the local living wage rises dramatically. According to the MIT calculator, a single parent with one child would need to make $22.47 an hour to have a living wage in the Savannah metro area. If there are two adults who work full-time and have one child, the living wage falls to $12.42 an hour, which translates into a pre-tax household annual income of $51,672. These estimates for the Savannah area are almost identical to Georgia’s statewide averages, but there is significant variation among places within the state. For example, in the Atlanta metro area, the living wage for a single adult is $11.33 an hour, but in the Macon metro area the living wage for a single adult is $9.89 an hour. For now, arguments about raising the minimum wage in Georgia are purely hypothetical. Our elected state leaders are nowhere near serious consideration of changing anything, although it’s possible that we’ll see continued scrutiny of wages and an eventual shift in political will. I hope that we will see continued emphasis on the problems of poverty in Savannah. While it seems clear that many local residents will continue to qualify for government programs that supplement their incomes, we can still set higher goals for our community. One of those goals could be to get as many jobs as possible to pay $11 an hour, which is near the lower bound of the local living wage for a single full-time worker.   City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netFront headline: CITY TALK: What is a ‘living wage’ in Savannah?Section: BiS
  • Bill Dawers
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: New city manager seems a good fit

Mon, 08/15/2016 - 9:11pm

Nothing is official, but Savannah should have a new city manager on the job by early October.

If you follow the news, you already know that Mayor Eddie DeLoach and members of City Council announced last week their intention to hire Rob Hernandez, who has diverse work experience in Broward County, Fla., Fulton County, Ga. and other places.

Hernandez has an impressive resume and appears to have many areas of expertise. He certainly seems an impressive choice, and it was probably good news that the mayor and aldermen unanimously selected him as their top choice.

Hernandez’s work experience in the Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale areas has likely prepared him well for some of the challenges he will face in Savannah, including crime, poverty and tourism management. Hernandez also appears to know something about big projects, so he might be just the right person to oversee our daunting plans to build a new arena and redevelop the site of the existing arena.

There will be an obvious adjustment for Hernandez as he goes from deputy positions in very large metro areas to the top spot in Savannah, but that shouldn’t be difficult for such a seasoned professional.

On the other hand, Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale are very much the New South – if we can even count Florida as being in the South.

Savannah has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, but the city seems to have retained many of the elements of the Old South, for better and for worse.

The size of Savannah also encourages an echo chamber in which relatively small problems can seem like big ones.

All that said, I’m excited for Hernandez to get to work. Between now and then, city leadership will presumably get some lingering issues off the table, like long-proposed new ordinances governing food trucks and alcohol sales.

And maybe they’ll be able to steady the financial ship, which has been rocked by lengthy problems with water bills.

 

Goodbye Angel’s

Angel’s BBQ on West Oglethorpe Lane closed last weekend. The announcement was met with a wave of sadness and support from loyal customers who love the self-described “hole in the wall.”

Owners Andrew and Alieen Trice, who sold the building and needed to have more flexibility for family commitments, operated one of many “mom and pop” stores that still dot the downtown landscape.

I first wrote about Angel’s BBQ in April 2005, before the restaurant opened.

Even then, I noted that the place was “already chock-full of character and identity.”

Let’s hope the building finds a great new use and that local entrepreneurs continue to find success as they pursue their dreams.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. 

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

Checking out the new Broughton St. heavyweight H&M

Sat, 08/13/2016 - 6:28pm
As I wandered for the first time into H&M at 240 W. Broughton St., I was immediately struck by the number of shoppers.  More than a dozen people were waiting in line at the first floor registers. The layout of the new store is straightforward, with the first floor primarily devoted to women’s clothes and accessories, the second floor to more women’s clothes, the third floor to men’s clothes and the fourth floor to kids’ wear. I’ll confess that I had never even heard of H&M until their Broughton Street location was announced a couple of years ago, and last week’s visit to the new Savannah store was my first encounter with the Swedish retailer. Prices are low. I’m not much of a shopper, but there were a variety of casual shirts in the $10 to $25 range that caught my attention.  Interestingly, even though I wandered through the entire store, no one asked if I needed help. Of course, I didn’t actually need any help, as the busy salespeople could probably tell.  The store’s interior feels appropriately bright and airy at street level, but the design of the upper stories does not take full advantage of the natural light. As a consequence, H&M feels more cut off from the street than downtown retailers like Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie.   As for the exterior, regular readers know that I consistently objected to the demolition of a small historic building that allowed for the massive new store. The narrow parcels on streets like Broughton are part of the historic fabric of the city, and we set a troubling precedent if we allow lots to be combined. Still, the new building works fine within the context of Broughton Street, which was home for decades to large department stores that carried the latest fashions. Many folks around town continue to object to the presence of so many national and international retailers downtown, but the same standards are applied less often to the Southside and West Chatham. It’s worth noting that H&M replaced a vacant lot and that there are still many locally-owned shops on Broughton Street. H&M will generate considerable foot traffic, and savvy local business owners will find ways to lure those shoppers into their own stores.  And where can you park to go to H&M? I was out and about in my snazzy 1997 Avalon — the City Talk van recently gave up the ghost — when I decided to stop at H&M at 4:30 p.m. on a Tuesday.  I got greedy and looked for a parking space on Broughton Street very close to the store. As usual, there were plenty of spots east of Lincoln Street, but I thought I might be able to get even closer. Unfortunately, all the spaces between Barnard and Jefferson streets were taken, so I turned south on Jefferson and snagged a space directly behind Trinity United Methodist Church. That left me with approximately a two-minute walk to H&M. If I had not found the spot on Jefferson Street, I would easily have found one on Oglethorpe Avenue. I’m not detailing my boring trip simply to fill up column space. I continue to hear and read endless complaints about the impossibilities of parking downtown, but those complaints run directly counter to my own experience. If some of you are really spending 20 minutes looking for on-street parking, you are doing it wrong. If it’s all just hyperbole because folks are looking for something to complain about, that’s a different matter.  What would have happened if I had not turned south on Jefferson and had continued west on Broughton? Well, I wouldn’t have been able to turn south on Montgomery Street — we need to make that street two-way again — and I would have gotten caught up in the messy rush hour on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where on-street parking is limited. If I had turned north off Broughton Street, I would have been looking for a space around City Market, in the highest demand area in downtown.  Those traffic patterns are entirely predictable, however, and it’s hard to imagine anyone making those mistakes more than once. Drivers who are willing to look south of their destinations will almost always find spaces, and I fear that constant overstatements about downtown parking woes will lead us to unnecessarily restrictive and expensive new policies that will end up hurting businesses.   City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: Savannah Morning NewsSection: BiS
  • Customers line up for the opening of H&M on West Broughton Street. (Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News)
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Search for city manager winds down

Mon, 08/08/2016 - 6:50pm
Members of Savannah City Council met last week with four prospective candidates for city manager. If the number had been whittled to three, the mayor and aldermen would have been required to release the finalists’ names.   As much as we need transparency in local governance, I’m relieved that our elected officials have withheld so many details about the search process. No one seemed to benefit from the very public nature of the search process that resulted in the hiring of Rochelle Small-Toney a few years ago.    I don’t have any inside scoop on where the search now stands, but the city manager search committee meets at 5 p.m. today and the full council has called a meeting to discuss the issue for 5 p.m. Wednesday, both meetings are at City Hall.    No matter what happens, we should expect lots of scrutiny and second-guessing about the mayor and aldermen’s choice.    And, if the past is any indication, much of that criticism will be misplaced. It’s likely that our new chief city executive will have some blotches on his or her resume, possibly including fights with elected leaders in other cities and policy initiatives that failed.   City managers come and go, after all, and none of them are going to have spotless records. Still, it’s fine to scrutinize the past of our new choice, but it will be more important to scrutinize the work of a new city manager once she’s on the job.    New alcohol ordinance nearing adoption It’s been a unnecessarily long and contentious process, but the city of Savannah will soon have a new alcohol ordinance.    The proposed ordinance recently received its first reading before City Council, so the new rules might be in place by the end of the month. That gives business owners some time to sort out their business plans before renewing their state alcohol licenses at the end of the year.   The new ordinance covers a lot of necessary ground, including provisions for event venues and complementary service at some small businesses. Bars would be able to apply for special permits to allow 18 to 20-year olds into live performances just like in cities across the Southeast.    An earlier draft of the ordinance called for an expansion of the Savannah’s to-go cup zone into Forsyth Park, but the timid proposal was fraught with problems because businesses immediately adjacent to the park would not have benefited.    Citizens seem divided on the prospect of an expanded to-go cup zone. My argument here has been and will be that an expansion would encourage economic development in neighborhoods south of the current cutoff line.    I’ll return to that subject in a future column, after the new ordinance is in place.    City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.  By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiSLead photo: Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Newest Savannah bar Hitch hits the ground running

Sat, 08/06/2016 - 8:33pm

If you follow the downtown restaurant scene, you probably already know about Hitch, the new restaurant from the team at Treylor Park.

In fact, if you follow the downtown scene, there’s a good chance you’ve already eaten at Hitch, which seems to be doing brisk business in its first few weeks.

Treylor Park opened at 115 E. Bay St. in 2014, and it has been a big hit for a variety of reasons, including the inventive, reasonably priced menu and the restaurant’s two intimate spaces – the relatively small dining room and the comfortable patio off the lane.

Hitch opened last month at 300 Drayton St., but the entrance is on Liberty Street, across from Drayton Tower. The large space was briefly occupied by another restaurant. Before that, it had been divided into a couple of different retail stores.

Why so much turnover in that spot? There are obviously many reasons why businesses close, but the lack of visibility hasn’t helped. If you’re flying north on Drayton Street, you might not even notice Hitch.

Hitch is also just beyond the key tourist corridors. Scads of visitors walk along Bull and Abercorn streets, but comparatively few wander on nearby blocks of Drayton and Liberty streets.

None of that should be an impediment for Hitch, however, which has a strong appeal to locals and will eventually draw plenty of tourists once they start hearing about the menu, which is broadly similar to the one at Treylor Park.

Hitch has seating for dozens in the dining room and at the tables near the bar, but on all three of my visits I’ve opted to sit at the bar itself.

The Hitch menu has an array of categories, including shareable appetizers, wings, tacos, pizza, sliders, biscuits, egg rolls, salads and desserts. Most of those categories have just a few options, with many items priced $7 to $15.

I generally find that one dish isn’t quite enough for me, but two dishes can be too much, so I’d advise a party of two to order three items. You can always take the rest home.

My Hitch favorites so far have been the smoked salmon biscuit ($12), which has just the right amount of mascarpone, the sloppy Joe slider ($7) with ground venison and banana peppers and the scrumptious duck pot pie egg roll ($8).

Despite having three meals at Hitch, I haven’t dug all that deep into the menu – I haven’t yet sampled any of the wings, salads, desserts or pizzas.

According to Hitch’s Facebook page, which already has about 1,200 followers, the restaurant is open from noon to midnight Monday through Thursday and 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday and Sunday.

Despite what many Savannahians believe, you’ll generally find on-street parking within a few blocks of Hitch. Sure, you can try to park right in front of the restaurant, but you’ll likely be happier if you look for a spot to the south and east, somewhere near Lafayette, Troup or Calhoun squares.

Expect more collisions around Forsyth

Last week, in a 14-hour time span, I witnessed two car crashes on Drayton Street near the Mansion on Forsyth Park and the Café at Forsyth Park.

There did not appear to be any injuries, thank goodness, and the cars remained more or less in the roadway. One vehicle ended up facing south and very close to the heavily used path along Forsyth Park, but fortunately no pedestrians were close enough to be endangered.

One wreck seemed to be caused by a driver in the right lane who was easing into the left lane, apparently either unaware that higher-speed traffic was in the left lane or that Drayton is one-way.

We’re likely to see an increase in wrecks like these.

Forsyth Park seems to get busier all the time, and the new spray pool is luring lots of local kids. A hotel and a restaurant are slated for the underutilized stretch of Drayton Street between the Mansion and the Savannah Law School, so that means more drivers slowing down in the search for parking spaces and curb cuts.

In general, it’s a good development for urban environments when traffic slows down, but those slower cars will be increasingly in the way of drivers accustomed to using Drayton as a speedway.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401. 

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Area's labor force continues to grow

Mon, 08/01/2016 - 9:40pm

A recent City Talk column examined the latest payroll employment estimates for the Savannah metro area, so today we’re just looking at the Georgia Department of Labor’s more recently released data from the June household survey.

The payroll numbers are generally referenced when we discuss total employment, but the household data are used to estimate the unemployment rate and other characteristics of the labor force.

Before I get to the numbers, this might also be a good time for the occasional reminder that the Savannah metro area is comprised of Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties. I’m fairly scrupulous in this column about specifying when I’m referencing the metro area, Chatham County or just the city of Savannah.

The Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in June, up from 4.5 percent in May, but keep in mind that the Georgia Department of Labor does not adjust all the local data for seasonality. June is typically a down month for employment, largely because schools are not in session.

Georgia’s adjusted statewide unemployment rate fell from 5.3 percent in May to 5.1 percent in June, and we’d probably see a similar trend if seasonal adjustments were applied.

Also, it’s worth noting that the Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 6 percent in June 2015, so the 5.4 percent rate for June 2016 reinforces other positive trends we’ve been seeing in employment data.

I’m more interested, however, in the surge in the size of the local labor force. In June 2015, the Savannah metro area had 176,506 people either working or looking for work. For June 2016, that estimate leaped to 183,984.

That’s an annual increase of more than 4 percent, which is much faster than the rate of population increase.

In other words, many more local folks are looking for work this summer, and many more are finding work.

The estimates for the city of Savannah show similarly strong improvement. The city’s unadjusted unemployment rate was 7 percent in June 2015 but fell to 5.9 percent in June 2016, even as the size of the labor force increased by almost 4 percent.

The employment news might be rosy locally, but many nearby rural counties are in much rougher shape. In Screven County, which is just north of Effingham County along the Savannah River, the unemployment rate in June was 7.8 percent, and there has been no year-over-year increase in the size of the labor force.

The economic stagnation of much of rural Georgia deserves far more attention than it has been getting from state’s policymakers and press.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 East 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

Savannah left its mark on James Alan McPherson

Sat, 07/30/2016 - 5:29pm
James Alan McPherson Jr. passed away at age 72 last week in Iowa City, where he had lived for many years.  In 1978, McPherson became the first black author to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, for the collection of stories “Elbow Room.” Among other honors during his lifetime, he was awarded a so-called “genius grant” from the MacArthur Foundation. McPherson received a graduate degree from the prestigious Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa and subsequently taught in the program for more than 30 years. He also had a degree from Harvard Law School.  For what it’s worth, McPherson received a 900-word New York Times obituary, which is longer than this column. James Alan McPherson was also a native Savannahian. McPherson’s literary output was relatively small, but he wrote often of the South generally and Savannah specifically. But somehow we’ve lost the civic memory of McPherson’s deep connections to Savannah and the degree to which those connections influenced his work.  At a recent Emergent Savannah discussion at The Sentient Bean, a fascinating group of panelists discussed “Savannah’s Storied Landscape.” The focus was on the built environment of the city, but the discussion of remembrance and forgetting is relevant to this column. Panelist Richard Shinhoster shared especially compelling words about the literal destruction of a neighborhood to make way for the Interstate 16 flyover.  “The powers decided that entire area was expendable,” said Shinhoster, who owns Diaspora Marketplace on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.  The flyover was later named for Shinhoster’s late brother Earl T. Shinhoster, a civil rights activist who even served as executive director of the national NAACP, but Richard is nevertheless a strong advocate of removing the ramp and recreating the original street grid in the area. In his remarks, Shinhoster also noted that the cultural climate of the times encouraged many people to leave Savannah and make contributions elsewhere. In a short memoir “Going Up to Atlanta” — it’s easy to find a PDF online — McPherson talks with no bitterness about growing in poverty and about his fractured relationship with his father, who was repeatedly denied an official electrician’s license because of his race and who did several stints in prison.  Among many other subjects, McPherson also details delivering papers for the Savannah Morning News.  “When my bicycle was stolen, I carried (the newspapers) on my back,” McPherson writes. When McPherson’s family lived on East Henry Street, James Jr. discovered the Carnegie Library, which was less than a block away. He attended the historic Florance Street School, in addition to schools on West 36th and Paulsen streets.  In an especially telling vignette in “Going Up to Atlanta,” McPherson describes taking a first aid course and refusing to prove that he knew how to perform artificial respiration. “But during this time our mother was buying all our clothes from the Salvation Army, and there were holes in my shoes,” McPherson writes. “For this reason, I refused to kneel down and demonstrate how much I knew about artificial respiration. I knew that the other kids would laugh at the holes in my shoes. I did not want them to laugh. The teacher kept demanding that I kneel down. I kept refusing. I finally flunked the course.” In addition to East Henry Street, the young McPherson lived in a number of other places around town, including homes on West Waldburg, Montgomery, Bulloch and West Hall streets. “There is not one house where I lived as a child still standing,” McPherson says in “Going Up to Atlanta,” which was published almost 30 years ago.  We can still see the childhood homes of some incredibly influential Savannahians, including Juliette Gordon Low, Conrad Aiken, Johnny Mercer and Flannery O’Connor. Those buildings breathe constant new life into their occupants’ places in history. At the recent Emergent Savannah discussion, artist Jerome Meadows emphasized the need to tell the stories of black history and culture that so often get lost. In 2015, I wrote a few columns about the simmering controversy regarding the representation of African-American history in Savannah and its relationship to tourism. It’s clearly notable that Savannah was home to the first black writer to win the Pulitzer for fiction, but the lack of a clear physical connection hampers our ability to tell that story. McPherson himself, though he came back to Savannah regularly when his mother was alive and wrote eloquently about his youth, didn’t seek any recognition here. And why would he? In “Going Up to Atlanta,” Georgia’s capital city becomes a metaphor for moving on, both physically and emotionally. “Like all permanent exiles, I have learned to be at home inside myself,” writes McPherson near the end of the memoir. McPherson might have moved on, but it seems like a city that so honors its past would find ways to keep his story — and his stories — alive.   City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: Savannah Morning NewsSection: BiS
  • James Alan McPherson
  • James Alan McPherson
Topic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Bay Street 'experiment' will definitely hurt

Mon, 07/25/2016 - 9:15pm

“It wouldn’t hurt to try it,” City Manager Stephanie Cutter said last week during a city council workshop discussion of a proposed Bay Street “experiment,” which was later approved by council.

If you’re a regular reader of this column or if you follow the work of urban planners, you can probably think of several ways that the proposed experiment could — or will — hurt.

The mayor and aldermen seem to be under the illusion that the proposed changes will “calm” Bay Street traffic, but that won’t happen.

Yes, we’ve been averaging about 75 sideswipe accidents per year on Bay, according to data presented at last week’s workshop, and the proposal for widening the travel lanes will likely reduce the number of those types of crashes.

But we know that drivers go faster when lanes are wider, so we’ll see higher speeds. That’s a given.

We also know that drivers go faster when there is no on-street parking, which creates visual friction and forces drivers to be more vigilant.

So we might see fewer sideswipe accidents, but we’re more likely to see higher speed wrecks with injuries. We’ll likely have occasional wrecks, like those on streets like Whitaker, with cars careening into buildings.

The so-called experiment, which is scheduled for September, will remove 116 parking spaces. The perceived lack of parking is the single biggest complaint that I hear these days from local residents and downtown business owners, but we’re going to remove dozens from the heart of the city.

As I’ve noted here in the past, economists’ estimates differ regarding the value of on-street parking, but it’s clear that spaces are extremely valuable. The removal of so many spots would cost downtown businesses many millions per year.

The removal of parking spaces, the faster traffic and the increased traffic noise will also reduce property values. That impact won’t be felt immediately, but potential issues will begin as soon as the experiment is implemented, especially for property owners looking for buyers or tenants.

The removal of parking on the south side of Bay will also degrade the pedestrian experience because the eastbound travel lanes will be closer to the sidewalk. On Sunday morning, I sat along Bay Street on a bench while waiting for a table at B. Matthew’s Eatery, but you won’t find me sitting there in September, when speeding cars will be about 10 feet away.

Most importantly, let’s hope no one gets seriously injured during this experiment. That’s not being alarmist, just realistic. Moving faster traffic closer to pedestrians is a recipe for disaster.

 

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk

New spray pool in Forsyth a resounding success

Sat, 07/23/2016 - 7:36pm
At noon on Thursday, about 25 children were enjoying the spray pool next to the playground in Forsyth Park. The screaming and squealing kids were having a grand time as their parents and guardians wilted in the sun or sought refuge on the stage itself.   After lengthy delays, the spray pool opened earlier this summer, marking another step in the evolution of Forsyth Park, which many of us consider the crown jewel of Savannah’s amazing public spaces. The spray pool has certainly improved quality of life for the children who visit Forsyth on hot summer days. That includes young tourists as well as locals. Seriously, three cheers for the new play area, although it ought to stay open later than 6 p.m. Many Savannahians no doubt remember the previous attempt to install a decorative fountain with spray jets at its base. The water features were ill-conceived, inconsistently activated and badly marketed. The result was a mess, as children began playing in the fountain itself when the spray jets were turned off.  The city at first considered entirely getting rid of the fountains at the base of the stage. If we had done that, we could have dramatically enhanced performances by having a sort of bowl so that audiences could get much closer to the action. But, as things have played out, we’ve seen fewer and fewer performances on that stage.  Years ago, before the current so-called “band shell” was even constructed, Shakespeare in the Park took over Forsyth for one weekend every year. Until 2015, the Savannah Jazz Festival was using the current stage for several days each year, but organizers cut back to one day in Forsyth in 2015. We have numerous other music festivals in Savannah, but none of them have used the stage for several years. Yes, Savannah Pride uses the stage for one day each year, we still have Picnic in the Park, the Savannah College of Art and Design continues to use the park for its free New Alumni Concert on the night before spring commencement and there are a smattering of other uses throughout the year. But we had just as many public performances in Forsyth Park before we built the current stage as we have now.  The relative lack of use of the stage is a logical result of the poor choices made during the design phase, but at least we now have the spray pool, which is obviously a resounding success.   Local economy adding jobs at rapid pace The good economic news keeps rolling in. According to data released by the Georgia Department of Labor, the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 179,500 payroll jobs in June. That’s an increase of 4.1 percent over June 2015. As I’ve been noting for many months, the current pace of job growth is unsustainable. We can’t continue to add jobs at four times the rate of population growth forever. Two sectors accounted for more than half of the year-over-year jobs gains. According to the estimates, payroll employment in professional and business services increased by 1,900 between June 2015 and June 2016. That sector includes a wide range of professional, technical, scientific, managerial and administrative positions.   The leisure and hospitality sector added 2,200 jobs over the past year. That sector is primarily comprised of jobs in accommodation and food services. As has been discussed often around these parts, many of those leisure and hospitality jobs don’t pay well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly earnings in accommodation and food services is just under $14 an hour. I suspect that’s a higher wage than many would have guessed, but it’s pretty low as an average. On the other hand, it’s worth saying that many Savannah food servers and bartenders are making far more money per hour than that.  Also, it’s worth saying that the average work week in accommodation and food services is less than 27 hours. It’s a sector that appeals to workers who prefer limited hours and are sometimes satisfied with limited incomes. Still, it’s obviously reasonable to be concerned about the economic balance in the Savannah metro area. Statewide, approximately 10.7 percent of payroll jobs are in leisure and hospitality.  In Savannah, by contrast, leisure and hospitality comprises 15.9 percent of payroll jobs. In other words, about one in nine payroll jobs in Georgia are in leisure and hospitality, while in Savannah the number is one in six.    City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401. By: Bill DawersByline2: Savannah Morning NewsSection: BiSTopic: City Talk

CITY TALK: Will 'Pokemon Go' have lasting impacts on Savannah’s cultural landscape?

Sat, 07/16/2016 - 11:48pm

At 1:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday morning, I spotted a dozen people milling around the north end of Forsyth Park. They were smiling and laughing.

They were playing “Pokemon Go.”

A few nights later, a friend reported that she was enjoying a beautiful night in Forsyth Park. She wasn’t playing Pokemon Go, but the park was dotted with people who were, so she felt safe staying out after dark.

The “Pokemon Go” craze could crash fast, but there are obviously some interesting things happening if a game can so quickly change how Americans interact with public spaces.

We’ve seen a spike in armed robberies near Forsyth Park this year, so it’s notable that the park has been flooded with residents since the game’s release, even on blazing hot afternoons and very late at night when the park is technically “closed.”

After seeing so many people playing the game, I decided to download the free app and give it a try.

Really, who knew that my neighborhood was crawling with Rattatas, Weedles and Zubats?

On the most basic level, “Pokemon Go” is fun. It’s oddly satisfying, if a little embarrassing, to catch a Pidgey in the bread section of Kroger, but it only takes a moment.

No, I certainly didn’t need an “augmented reality” game to make me appreciate the beauty and history of the downtown Savannah area, but there’s no denying that “Pokemon Go” changes the way one navigates the city.

The game, which apparently uses geographic data from the game “Ingress,” has turned real life landmarks into locations where players can gather necessary items and even engage in battles at “gyms.”

Typically, players can access these features if they’re within half a block of the destinations.

As a longtime resident of the downtown area, I’m already familiar with many of the landmarks that are now “gyms” and so-called “Pokestops,” but the game steered me in directions I don’t usually go.

For example, I spent a few minutes last week sitting in Thomas Square, which is adjacent to the Bull Street Library. I’ve lived just a few blocks away for 20 years, but I had no idea how lovely and relaxing that space has become.

In the northeast quadrant of Forsyth Park, I was confronted with a poignant plaque next to a tree planted in 2000 to mark Savannah’s “Victory Over Violence.” I’d forgotten about that community-wide effort to reduce violence in the wake of a spike in violence in the late 1990s.

According to articles about “Victory Over Violence” in the Savannah Morning News archives, the movement was prompted by the 42 homicides in 1999. We had more homicides than that in 2015, and we’ll almost certainly have more in 2016, too.

I also had no idea that there was a Little Free Library in a community garden on W. 38th St., but “Pokemon Go” pointed me to it.

How many of the game’s players were previously aware of the importance of the Georgia Infirmary or Mother Matilda Beasley to African-American history? How many of us who live in the Bull Street corridor can rattle off the names of churches along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard?

“Pokemon Go” also leads users to neighborhood landmarks that may or may not endure. Within several blocks of my house, there are game locations at several hand-painted signs and murals, at least two of which no longer exist.

On my Pokemon-inspired walks, I’ve seen several impromptu interactions between game-playing strangers.

Certainly, there are hazards in all of this. Hanging out in Forsyth Park in the middle of the night probably isn’t advised, even if you’re with a dozen people. And we don’t need tourists spending even more time staring at their phones as they cross downtown streets.

On the other hand, while “Pokemon Go” might encourage more people to stare at their screens, it also encourages them to look up and study the built environment. It encourages exercise, engagement and civic knowledge.

For a variety of geeky reasons, I’m assuming that “Pokemon Go” will get less entertaining over time, but the stunning embrace of the game’s technology raises tantalizing questions and possibilities.

How might this game or a similar one impact tourism and commerce?

How does a fantasy world overlay impact the much-valued “authenticity” of historic sties?

Can a game that lures players outside in large numbers have a consistently positive impact on public safety?

“Pokemon Go” was released in the United States on July 6, so it’s way too early to understand the sociological implications.

But this feels like an important cultural moment to me, and I don’t just say that because I’m at Level 9 and ready to battle for control of the neighborhood.

 

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

By: Bill DawersByline2: City Talk billdawers@comcast.netSection: BiS
Topic: City Talk