• Gunn Meyerhoff Shay

The Sounds of Success

When traveling to other destinations—usually cities—one of the things I find most revealing are the sounds they make. Go to a public place where people gather, find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and listen carefully for a long while. Like movies, great places have “soundtracks” that are sometimes subtle compared to their sights, but equally important to the overall effect. If the images and sounds work in concert, then the experience can be sublime.


This is one of the reasons people love to visit Caribbean beaches. Recently back from Grand Cayman Island for some rest, I can report that the effect of listening to the soft susurrus of surf against a sandy beach, the sounds of children laughing and squealing with delight, and the sea breezes rustling through the giant palm trees creates an environment where I can actually sit still for an hour. The sights are equally grand—pale blue water, pleasure boats on the horizon, young people showing off—and the combination stimulates and relaxes at the same time.


Venice is called La Serinissima (the most serene) for this reason. When sitting in a piazza, eyes closed, one hears only the sounds of children laughing, birds singing, dogs chattering, and people talking in a dozen different languages. No cars, no trucks, no motorcycle engines whining. For a densely developed city, it is the best soundtrack imaginable!


For satisfying sounds, Savannah on a Sunday morning rivals any place you may travel, and attracts people in subliminal ways that draw them back again. Sitting on Factor’s Walk with a cup of French coffee, overlooking a ramp leading down to River Street, I close my eyes and listen to the sounds of hoot owls, doves, and seagulls singing; the low rumble of giant ships passing on the river; the wind gently moving the live oak leaves; people talking quietly as they pass by me. The sound of traffic on Bay Street seems faint compared to the rest of the concert.


These are the sweet sounds of success. Forty years ago, Savannah was just an industrial city, and there weren’t even crosswalks on Bay Street. People did not walk around downtown, except to find their car to get away. There were no pleasant sounds to mask the trucks grinding past, and the port was empty more often than not. Now we have one of the most successful urban environments in North America, and the crosswalks are so crowded with tourists that it takes forever to drive across town. The upside to that traffic is that the cars are going so slow they don’t make much noise.


Let’s not complain that Savannah greets so many visitors—perhaps they come here to enjoy what we forget to stop and hear… .

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©2018 Gunn Meyerhoff Shay Architects, PC 

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