Savannah: A City of Planning Contrasts

From a human-scales, plaza-anchored grid to suburban sprawl, the oldest planned city in the United States has seen wildly different development patterns.

1 minute read

March 12, 2024, 7:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Cobblestone street with streetcar line, row of vintage streetlights on left, and colorful restaurant and shop awnings on right on River Street in Savannah, Georgia.

River Street in Savannah, Georgia. | SeanPavonePhoto / Adobe Stock

In a piece for Strong Towns, Edward Erfurt describes some lessons for urbanists drawn from the oldest planned city in the United States, Savannah, Georgia.

As Erfurt explains, “Savannah’s streets and blocks are organized around a series of squares” that divide parcels for private development. In the mid-20th century, urban renewal led to the destruction of older communities in favor of larger developments, eliminating some of the city’s historic walkability and human-scaled spaces.

As a result of these rapid and destructive changes, Erfurt argues, “Savannah is a city stuck in regulatory amber. All of the dramatic and radical change the city has experienced has hardened the position of residents to reject change.”

For Erfurt, Savannah is a great example of a city with “the full extremes” on the development spectrum, with historic areas revealing small-scale development patterns and sprawling suburbs. But modern mistakes shouldn’t freeze development in place, Erfurt writes. “Cities that are not exempt from change allow for the natural pattern of development to begin while restricting radical change. Allowing for small incremental changes, at scale, dispersed throughout the city, will thicken the historic grid of the city and continue Savannah’s success into the next 300 years.”

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