In a recent column about the proposed Central Precinct in the Montgomery Street/Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard corridor, I said that the area would be gentrified in a generation.
What evidence is there that things are headed that way?
I realize that “gentrification” is a politically and racially charged word, but it conveys a certain reality of struggling urban neighborhoods that experience a surge of new investment, with wealthier new residents, often white, replacing poorer residents who are often black.
In the neighborhood between Forsyth Park and Victory Drive, the gentrification process has been much more complex than any single word can capture, and the population shift began at least 25 years ago with a steep decline in the total number of residents.
When I bought my modest Thomas Square house in 1996, it had been freshly renovated but had languished on the market for many months at less than $90,000.
At the time, the property immediately adjacent to mine sold used appliances. Some days it seemed like a mosquito farm.
Now that site has four vibrant enterprises at ground level: Natural Selections Café, Non-Fiction Gallery, La Terra Natural Oils and Henny Penny Art Space &Café. There are also three second-story residential condos. A Woof Gang Bakery flagship store has just opened at the same intersection, in a space that sat vacant for many years.
The development opportunities and pressures in this neighborhood, and in much of the downtown area, are moving from east to west and from north to south. The process has been slowed by the prevalence of street-level drug dealing and prostitution on some blocks, but my neighborhood continues to change, block by block.
The process will get some new momentum when the Savannah College of Art and Design moves into a former school building on 38th Street between Jefferson and Montgomery streets.
A few blocks north of SCAD’s new building, a lovely historic home with about 2,500 square feet is on the market for about $350,000. I don’t know if the sellers will be able to get full price, but they’re within 6 percent of the Zillow estimate.
That house is off Montgomery Street, just two blocks from the proposed Central Precinct.
The immediate neighborhood is dotted with vacant lots, unrenovated houses and underutilized commercial properties, but the trends are clear. Within the next generation, or maybe a whole lot sooner, the owners of all those properties will have the chance to cash in.
As I have previously pointed out in this column, we are overdue for an economic recession, but there is little reason to expect a repeat of the financial crisis and real estate bust of a decade ago. So a significant downturn could delay some of the development trends that we are seeing today, but the direction seems clear.
Ironically, by destroying more than 30 affordable housing units, the city of Savannah actually encouraged more rapid gentrification in the Montgomery/MLK corridor.
Of course, “rapid” is a relative term too, just like gentrification.
Warning, new lights
Beware the new warning lights at crosswalks near Forsyth Park.
City crews have installed new warning lights at several crosswalks on Drayton Street near Forsyth Park. The new signals will probably be good for the area, but they could also have the unintended effect of making pedestrians feel safer than they are.
After the new signals were turned on last week on the south side of the Park Avenue/Drayton Street intersection, I made a point of using them on a journey to Kroger.
On my first try, I pushed the button, and the warning lights began flashing, as I stood poised on the sidewalk in plain sight of a driver who was near Duffy Street. From that distance, the driver would simply have had to slow slightly to give me time to cross, but the car kept coming at its current speed.
Presumably, the driver would have slowed down if I had simply claimed the crosswalk, but that’s not a risk I’m prepared to take.
A little later, I had the exact same experience. I stood at the curb with grocery bags in hand and deployed the flashing lights, but an oncoming car more than a block away kept coming at its current pace. No surprise.
The problem is that many Savannah visitors are from cities where pedestrians are simply treated better than they are here. It’s entirely reasonable in many cities for pedestrians to enter a crosswalk if it’s obvious that they are in plain sight of drivers who have ample time to slow down.
But that’s not the road culture that we have in Savannah, and it will be interesting to see how drivers respond as more crosswalk warning lights are deployed.
City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.