WE ARE about to enter the Roaring Twenties — again. The first time around, the Twenties were a time of great prosperity, changing cultural norms, and increasing unease with the rapid modernization of society. And so it will be again, it seems.
(Hopefully these Roaring Twenties aren’t also followed by a huge depression.)
Savannah is teetering on the edge of a major tipping point. The election of a new City Council, in many local eyes, didn’t come a minute too soon, as Savannah’s unprecedented prosperity has also led to unprecedented fear about the future.
Here is a quick local wish list for Savannah in 2020, in no particular order:
• Make rules and stick to them. I’d like to see local government have the conviction and confidence to stand behind existing rules and guidelines on developers, and not be afraid of passing more strict rules on them, such as tying in funding for affordable housing. Let’s talk about a real moratorium on new hotel development, without the excuse of, “well, all these projects were already in the pipeline when we got here.” If Savannah is as desirable as we’re always told, developers will still make a boatload of money here even if they’re forced to scale back some projects.
• Stop passing the buck on homelessness. One of the barriers to a comprehensive plan on fighting homelessness in Savannah is the constant “not my job” refrains from both City and County government, each accusing the other of not coming to the table with enough resources. Meanwhile, the problem only becomes more prevalent and that much harder to solve. The time has come for Savannah-Chatham to stop screwing around on this issue. The faith-based and nonprofit communities are making heroic efforts on this front, but they can only do so much without increased government support on this issue. To be frank, this might have to wait until a new Chatham County Commission is elected late in 2020.
• PLANT MORE TREES! I’m always telling people that Savannah is at Peak Tree Canopy right now, or a little past it. The grand old oak trees we take for granted, most of which were planted after the devastating hurricanes of the 1890s, are reaching the end of their natural lifespans in an urban environment. City funding cuts and shifting priorities mean that not enough money and staff time is given to planting new trees to replenish the scenic canopy for future generations. Keep in mind there is a direct economic benefit from our tree canopy. It brings tourists here, helps convince people to move here and open businesses here, and relieves the increasing effects of climate change. Plant more trees! There is literally no downside.
• Reverse the Waving Girl decision. If it’s true, as apparently seems so, that from the beginning the Waving Girl was always intended to be moved to Plant Riverside, that is all the more reason for the new Council to reverse the recent decision to move the iconic sculpture from its longtime home on the east end of River Street. In my opinion, in the new display place should go a newly commissioned sculpture that will celebrate the current arts community and add to the range of artistic expression already in place, rather than moving established monuments around. Is this the most pressing issue in town right now? No, not even close. But it is representative of a larger, more problematic issue that is indeed a pressing one.
• Put teeth in the new Archaeology Ordinance. Though the ink is still wet on the city’s new Archaeological Resource Ordinance, passed late last week, I’d like to see the new Council follow through on promises to expand it to include at least some private development, and to hire a staff archaeologist to oversee the effort to protect Savannah’s untold history beneath our feet. The lame duck City Council was about to award a million bucks to the Chamber of Commerce to control Savannah’s future strategic plan (the vote fortunately was tabled for now). So the argument that “we don’t have the money” to fund a new archaeology position is clearly false.