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City Talk: Nonprofit events shine spotlight on neighborhood vitality

Several hundred engaged citizens showed up at East Broad Street Elementary School on a recent Saturday afternoon for spoken word performances by 41 young authors from Deep Center’s Block by Block program.

The performances kicked off a block party that lasted into the evening.

If you’ve been living under a rock, Deep (http://www.deepkids.com) is a nonprofit that provides free writing workshops and leadership opportunities to public school students. In 2016, Deep’s Block by Block program was honored by Michelle Obama at the White House as one of six nationwide recipients of the Creativity Connects: National Demonstration Projects award.

In preparation for the most recent event, Block by Block participants engaged with the communities on Savannah’s east and west sides. According to the event program, students “hit the streets to interview community members and unearth hidden stories, hopes, barriers old and new, and dreams of change.”

Cynics about Savannah’s future should look more deeply into the work of Deep and other nonprofits that are actively engaged with young people.

In this column, I frequently write about Savannah’s built environment and the ways in which infrastructure can encourage or inhibit neighborhood vitality. Over the years, I’ve discussed a wide variety of ideas to forge stronger physical connections between downtown and neighborhoods to the east and west.

This column will continue focusing on such issues, but Deep’s work is a reminder of the valuable human capital — the richness of lived experience — that is vital to forging stronger bonds between Savannah’s diverse communities.

Deep’s success is also a reminder that sometimes it’s easier, cheaper and more impactful to invest in people than in buildings. Savannah voters have generally approved special purpose local option sales tax collections (SPLOST and ESPLOST) by wide margins, but those revenues by law can only be used for infrastructure projects and limited other uses.

We saw a similar focus on neighborhood vitality and human capital Saturday at Art Rise Savannah’s Art March Parade &Festival on Waters Avenue.

The parade and neighborhood festival were centered on the Waters Avenue Shopping Center at the northwest corner of 37th Street. I’ll probably have more about that event soon.

Much work remains to revitalize the Waters Avenue corridor by incentivizing commercial and residential investment, but Saturday’s art parade is primarily about connecting people and organizations.

Those connections should make it easier to deal with difficulties that lie ahead.

Savannah area labor market remains strong

According to recently released estimates from the Georgia Department of Labor, the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 179,700 payroll jobs in May, an increase of 1.9 percent compared to a year earlier.

Local job growth has been outpacing population growth for the past several years — an impressive run.

Over the year, most of the new positions were created in four broad sectors: professional and business services (1,400 additional jobs), education and health services (700 additional jobs), leisure and hospitality (600 additional jobs), and government (1,100 additional jobs).

The Savannah metro area unemployment rate was 4.4 percent in May, down from 4.7 percent in May 2016.

The unemployment rate declined even as the number of workers in the metro area labor force increased by more than 2 percent over the last year.

Other Georgia metro areas are seeing solid numbers, although most aren’t adding jobs as fast as we are in Savannah.

How close are we to so-called “full employment?”

In May 2007, the Savannah metro area unemployment rate was a mere 3.4 percent, which suggests that we might see unemployment fall even father.

On the other hand, the deep 2007-2009 recession produced some structural changes in the Savannah economy, so it might not be fair to expect further declines in the unemployment rate.

In fact, we’ll almost certainly see the usual seasonal uptick in the unemployment rate when the estimates for June are released. We might have to wait until fall to see if the current momentum is continuing.

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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