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'Tis the season to live up to the hype
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There are a lot of important issues these days: Health care, joblessness, Afghanistan, a terrifying rise in random shootings... and of course the state of Tiger Woods' marriage.

So it might seem silly, even irresponsible, for me to now focus on Christmas decorations downtown. But I think there's a larger point to be made about civic identity and what cities can do to market themselves in a competitive economy.

Case in point: This past weekend's "Holly Days" event on Broughton Street. If you didn't make it downtown, the setup is simple and ripe with potential: Barricade several blocks of Broughton, making it pedestrian-only, feature local vendors in the middle of the open street, have merchants stay open late, hold performances, and offer a fun form of ice-free ice skating (or plastic skating, I guess you'd have to call it).

To clarify: I totally support Holly Days and I think it's something that should be continued. I had a great time when I was there Friday night, and there was a good crowd, especially considering the frigid temperatures.

In short, Holly Days was a success, and I give full credit to all involved.

But... where was, you know, the actual holly? Where were the copious seasonal decorations that one would expect at an event like this, indeed, that one would expect were one to visit any other city holding a similar event?
Sure, there were a handful of lighted wreaths over one block of Broughton, and some small, cheap-looking bows tied to streetlights. But the dearth of decorations, banners, etc., contributed to a Mad Max feel, a sense that one was wandering the empty streets of a carless city.

That's the best we can do? In Savannah? Alleged Hostess City of the South, supposedly a place that knows how to put on a party?

Bows from Walmart?

Again, I bring this up not because I had a bad time at Holly Days. To reiterate, my family and I had a great time, as did many others.

I bring it up because this is part of a larger problem with Savannah, one I've written about before: For a city that rests on its laurels as a showcase for Southern beauty and hospitality, there usually aren't many laurels on display!

If we are actually this gorgeous gem of a city, this shining exemplar of urban design - as the marketing always reminds us - then the entire length of Broughton Street from East Broad to MLK should be absolutely festooned with seasonal decorations right now. The squares should be chock-a-block with seasonal decorations. Every church should be dressed to the nines. City Market should be an absolute scene.

It's Savannah, people. Let's live up to the hype. We should be doing more - a lot more - than depending on the Paula Deen gravy train to get us through this recession.

I realize many people in this town think the world ends at the border of Chatham County. It's nice to think that sometimes, but I assure you it doesn't.

There's a big, wide world out there, one in which savvy cities - like Austin, Miami, Boston, and yes our old rival Charleston - market themselves in the most time-honored and effective of ways: by prettying themselves up, by getting ready for the party.

This all sounds like a small thing, and it is. But insignificant as it is in and of itself, it does make a difference. And if it's such a small matter -- all the more reason to just get 'er done, right?

I was in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., recently, a tiny seaside town in the Panhandle. Their miniscule downtown area was attractively and vibrantly decorated for the holidays. As a visitor, it made a huge difference to me and couldn't have cost very much.

It's a tough economy, you say? No money for frivolous decorations, you say? Well, a lot of businesses do make that mistake, cutting advertising in bad times. And that's exactly what I'm talking about: Civic advertising.
But bad times are actually the worst times to cut advertising. It's a fool's gambit, I promise you. I've seen it a lot, and it always ends badly.

More to the point: We have an alphabet soup of organizations responsible for packaging and selling Savannah: SDRA, SEDA, DNA, CVB, Chamber of Commerce. Heck, even that other important acronym, SCAD.

Are we to believe that between all of these organizations, they cannot do as good a job as Fort Walton Beach?

If it really is such a dire, competitive economy - then we should by God compete, shouldn't we?