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Bringing out the Best of Savannah
More murals, please!

WHAT YOU'VE got in your hot little mitts right now is a handbook of hipness, a manual nonpareil, a guide to all that is good in this sweet little city of ours.

We know the Best of Savannah issue has legs longer than a giraffe wearing a pair Louboutins, and its winners continue to be referenced long after its week on the stands. (A coincidence that this year’s Best Celebrity Sighting Channing Tatum sought out still-winning local chiropractor Dr. Chris Whelan after he tweaked his back on the set of Magic Mike XXL? Maybe, maybe not.)

It’s a huge job—and a high honor—to collect and present this compendium of cool. As we toiled over this very special edition of Connect this week (buoyed by iced chai lattes and the occasional spontaneous dance session), one question kept bouncing ‘round my brain like a half-rubber ball:

How else can we bring out the best of Savannah all year long?

A few ideas came to me as I was doing The Whip behind my desk chair:

BUY LOCAL. It’s not just a hipster battle cry; it’s smart economics. Studies show that dollars spent with our own artisans, farmers, shops and restaurants tend to keep circulating in our community—returning as much as three times the cash to our tax base than money spent at national chains. Purchasing from the source saves transportation costs and reduces pollution, and some Savannah businesses even offer a residential discount.

Also, no one, but no one, needs more cheap crap made in China.

GET THEE TO A GARDEN. Digging in the dirt has been proven to reduce stress, alleviate depression and, oh yeah, yield inexpensive and delicious food. There’s just no easier or cheaper way to grow a happier, healthier Savannah.

Those backyard blueberries and flowering basil plants also provide strategic offense in the fight to keep our environment balanced: Our nectar-loving friends need a diverse floral smorgasbord to survive, and we need bees more than ever to pollinate our local and global food supply.

The brave amongst ye may soon even be able keep your own apiaries within city limits if the revised Animal Control ordinance passes. (No nets necessary, Alderwoman Shabazz.)

In the meantime, every apartment balcony potted tomato plant helps. If you’re more inclined to share the labor, sign on with the flourishing Midtown Miracle Community Garden, Occugardens or of the free fertile plots available through the city’s Community Garden Program.

MEET THY NEIGHBOR. You don’t have to love them, in the biblical sense or otherwise. You don’t even have to like them.

But in a city with a downtown that takes less than 20 minutes to walk from its eastern border to its west (try it along State Street sometime; it’s lovely!), pretty much everyone is a neighbor.

If we’re really interested in solving the social problems plaguing our culture and country, we have to start by saying “hello” to each other. Neither bees nor bullets care a flick about voting districts and old grudges, and neither should we.

It can be as simple as a handshake and maybe a gift of your surplus sunburst squash. The Instagram-inclined can click aboard the Citizens Advocacy #MeetYourNeighbor campaign (smile, snap photo, upload, repeat.) Better yet, join your friendly neighborhood association—it’s one of the most direct routes to effecting the change that matters most to you. (Don’t have one or don’t know how to contact yours? The city’s Neighborhood Services Coordinator Ashley Helmholdt is delighted to help.)

MORE MURALS. We may have lost SeeSAW’s inaugural Muralcle at 34th Street to the bulldozers, but its legacy remains in the form of an officially-sanctioned public art policy. Any crew with cans can apply for permission to paint, and rumor has it that the MPC’s Site and Monument Commission really wants more to approve.

As we’ve seen in urban areas like Philadelphia and Miami, colorful walls can break down the other barriers that segregate us. Public art need not even require physical pigment, proved by the Matt Hebermehl/Bison Jack collaboration that projected illuminated poetry onto the big blank façade of Levy’s Jewelers a couple of weeks back.

Need more inspiration? Check out the new animaltastic panorama on Victory Drive by multidisciplinary maestro Jose Ray (this year’s Best Local Artist is also 2015’s Best Local Book Author!) Even the kids are doing it: This weekend the adorable smarties of Deep Center’s Block by Block completed a gorgeous canvas mural of their hopes and dreams for their city, currently hanging inside the almost-open Starlandia Creative Supply.

LET’S BE CITIZENS FIRST. The top one-percenters would like us to scurry around like good little consumers, buying up their sweatshop brands and stepping on anyone unfortunate enough to get in our way. That selfish mindset infects us on a local level when we become more obsessed about our tax pennies than the greater good they’re supposed to benefit.

“The difference between understanding oneself as a citizen and understanding oneself as a taxpayer is not merely wide; it is antagonistic,” novelist Toni Morrison admonished on a recent blog.

“A citizen thinks primarily about his or her community and is preoccupied with the safety of the neighborhood, the health of the elderly and disabled, the well-being of the young. A taxpayer thinks mostly about himself or herself.”

Listen, I’m all for better oversight of our tax coffers. And while I do believe that a good dance party could lighten things up, I’m not naïve enough to think we can solve our problems with a round of “Kumbaya.” (Although—fun fact—the campfire song everyone loves to hate is actually believed to be derived from our nearby Gullah communities.)

No doubt, there are some real dummies holding the checkbooks around here. And in spite of the efforts of some good people, our police situation and public school system are a giant clucking mess. Plus we’ve got almost 300 years of Southern legacy informing our institutions and our streets.

As Chief Lumpkin put it during a panel this weekend, “We have a history that we have to live with.”

If we choose to, we can divide ourselves by race, class, political affiliation and chicken sandwich preferences for time eternal—or until we implode. But we don’t have to be Ferguson or Baltimore. We can choose differently every day, in every interaction, in every smile to a stranger. We are citizens of Savannah, and we have much in common to protect and be proud of.

Speaking of pride, thank you for voting me Best Newspaper Columnist of 2015. It’s a title I work every week to earn, and The (Civil) Society Column remains my favorite vehicle for shining a light on Savannah’s people, places and issues. Congratulations to all of this year’s winners, and may we always bring out the best in each other.