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The Economy of Walking

Some cities allow cars and trucks to dominate their economies. Citizens walk only short distances, from their parking spot to their destination, and straight back. They never wander, crossing streets in peril, and only looking out for danger. As a consequence, their walking gait is a trot, always ready to break into a gallop. They never make eye contact with strangers, or stop to study a storefront full of beautiful distractions. Their favorite kinds of retail are fast food, convenience stores, and wherever possible, a drive through window. Children and seniors get left behind.

Other cities, like Venice, have no cars or trucks at all. Citizens walk everywhere, and purposeful wandering (“la passagiata”) becomes a combination of sociology and sport. People stroll, amble, sashay, strut, wiggle, prance, bee-line, meander, and frequently stop, just because they can. Babies in strollers, children, teens and their grandparents all find ways to enjoy. Retailers, hungry for their attention, create wonderful and imaginative displays designed to delight. Each one tries to prove that they are unique and different from the other shops that line the “streets” tight as teeth. This creates a shopper’s paradise!

Savannah’s historic center city cannot afford to exclude automobiles like Venice. It has, however, survived the automotive era, and remains one of North America’s greatest ” walking cities”. The abundance of shade from our urban forest helps, as do our unique squares at the center of our wards. These reservoirs of civility slow the automobile traffic enough to give pedestrians a feeling of comfort and safety. But our greatest retail thoroughfare–Broughton Street–lies between these squares and the wide pavement remains dominated by automobiles.

I recently re-visited Rome, and observed how pedestrians and cars can co-exist. The old city accommodates automobiles, but functions more like Venice. The interconnected streets and piazzas make their bias toward pedestrians obvious. Many of the narrower streets allow only taxis and delivery trucks, as well as Vespa motor scooters and bicycles. The wider streets have parking but leave the best space for people to walk, so they are lined with retail shops and places to eat and drink. Drivers understand that they must slow down, and always yield to pedestrians. Many areas contain bollards and planters to segregate the cars and allow space for children to play safely, while their grandparents watch from shaded benches.

Broughton Street must become such a place! With the right combination of shade, lighting, trees, benches, bollards, parking, and safe intersections, we intend to create blocks of this street that function like “outdoor rooms” and provide great space for special events and imaginative retail. This will extend the shopping into the evening and increase revenues. Working with Ben Carter and the City of Savannah, we can create the best (and safest) shopping street in the South. Then we can have a place where all our citizens can come and enjoy. The automobiles can visit as “guests”, not dominate.

If you are interested in how we will solve this puzzle, please watch this website for more details in the future!


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