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Lane Kendig writes a rebuttal of the Savannah Plan to Planning magazine this month, that I can't help but respond to. Here's his entire letter:

Pros and cons of Savannah Plan

Like Mr. Wilson and Mr. O'Shay, I admire the Oglethorpe Plan and Savannah ("Oglethorpe and Savannah," March). On occasion I, too, have thought about its potential application to modern urban design. However, the authors do not really address the concept's problems. First, it is grossly inefficient because it devotes too much land to circulation. A quick modeling of the plan shown in the article indicates that adding bounding streets results in 46 percent buildable land, eight open space, and 46 percent roads and alleys. If the roads were sized for automobiles, instead of preserving the original 37.5-foot widths, it would be even less efficient.

Only by increasing the ward size to approach a quarter-mile across can you achieve over 50 percent buildable land. Further, the authors err in asserting that the system easily adapts to environmental or topographic conditions. Finally, they neglect to discuss implementation, which would require an official street and park map that extends the plan over a large area. It would have been better had Wilson and O'Shay proposed modifications to Oglethorpe's design that would improve efficiency while still providing the open space and connectivity that contribute to Savannah's character and livability.

— Lane Kendig 
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin

First off, it's always fascinating to me that people can talk of something's "potential application to modern urban design" that is a real, living, breathing place. This is no academic exercise that needs a laboratory, nor is it a historical theme park. The downtown zip code has over 20,000 residents, a larger number of daily employees and about 30,000 visitors per day. Savannah is not Disney World. If Mr. Kendig then wants to use some data about percentages of public space and street widths, he need only also look at the whole realm of other data. For example, it would make sense to also look at property values, tax revenues & expenditures for public space and well, how about also human happiness? Wouldn't it be wise for a planner to do a thorough evaluation, instead of focusing on percentage of buildable land as the be-all, end-all?

Second, he states that the roads are not sized for automobiles. I honestly don't know what to say about this, since there are thousands and thousands of automobiles that use the streets every day. Except for a few special events, traffic is largely a non-issue. The streets also are filled with bicycles, pedestrians, a fleet of tour trolleys, horse-drawn carriages, segways, modern tour buses and more. Are those not vehicles? How on earth is it possible, dear reader, to accommodate such a variety of modes of travel if the streets are so substandard? Is he saying that only highways, with 14 foot lanes and shallow curves are designed for automobiles? Or, or, is perhaps this just the (all-too-common) mentality in planning and engineering that, "it's fine to make those narrower streets in a grid for an old city, but you just can't do that today." Hmm.

The whole letter is quite honestly, strange. For the life of me, I don't understand why an esteemed member of the planning profession would spend valuable time trying to negate one of the great successes of his own field. Savannah is a vital, thriving city, precisely because of its planning, from Oglethorpe and for many, many years afterwards. It appears he is advocating for taking something of greatness (which is rare) and making it mediocre. We have enough mediocrity in the world - we could stand to emulate greatness more often.

Connecting biking to walking

Friday: design matters

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