Friday, May 15, 2009

SAVANNAH: a paradigm of self-sufficiency

James Oglethorpe’s (1696-1785) interest in prison reform and social justice manifested a most amazing paradigm of sustainable urbanism for the future of this country. The City of Savannah rises among all of the Georgian colonies as a design archetype for self-sufficiency, beauty and sustainability and, it stands as a permanent landmark in the history of urban design.

A map dating from 1735 shows the general regional pattern of land settlement. The city proper is the small rectangle close to the river half-moon -shown divided into six parts. According to the commandments of the Savannah colony, “… a Commons was left round the town for convenience; adjoining to the commons, hath set out Garden Lotts of Five Acres each, and beyond such Garden Lotts hath set out Farms of Forty Four Acres and One Hundred and forty and one Pole each”. Although the commons does not show clearly on the map of 1735, the map shows a remarkable regional congruency between the city proper, the 5-acre garden lots, the 44-acre farms and the 500-acre states granted to persons of means who would immigrate to the colony at their own expense.

Peter Gordon’s view of Savannah of 1734 shows the precise intentions of the plan for its urban core. As depicted, it has the concept of “Wards” as its basic development unit, each having a unique name and each organized as a complete neighborhood. The wards consisted of forty house lots of approximately 60 feet by 90 feet distributed in four blocks (tythings) of ten lots each; a public square of about 315 feet by 270 feet was located at the center of each ward; four “Trust Lotts” flanked each square and were reserved for important buildings –churches, stores, places of assembly, etc. Main streets were 75 feet wide and minor streets, half that dimension, would complete the repertoire of thoroughfares; a small service lane of 22 feet was located in the rear of each housing lot.

Expansion of the city occurred by the orderly addition of ward units when supplementary accommodations were needed. The important sustainability lesson to understand is that, unlike our current suburban city extensions, each increment of urban development retained the concept of the original plan. Not until the 19th century did this system surrendered to speculation and the usual gridiron extensions bundled by economics and unrelieved public space.

Savannah can be considered as the country’s first example of planned urban growth on the basis of an agricultural economy; the type of agricultural urbanism providing self-sufficiency, independence, and economic reliability despite outer circumstances. This pattern of development and growth provides sufficient local food resources and creates an agricultural surplus for a potential exchange amongst regional communities.

The Savannah model of land distribution, as well as its location, is perhaps the greatest paradigm in the age of peak-oil production and climate change.

Choice or fate!

Note: the composite drawing of the City of Savannah, c.1898 was produced by students participating in the "New(est) New Urbanism Studio" at the University of Miami, under the direction of Professors Jaime Correa and Oscar Machado and with the sponsorship of Historical Concepts in Atlanta.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I wish the picture's you posted allowed user's to click them and see the entire picture in larger and better detail.