The Savannah Plan Celebrated in Print
John W. Reps, “Town Planning in Colonial Georgia,” The Town Planning Review, xxx, n.4 (Jan. 1960), p.273:
In this last of the colonies founded by England in the new World, the best planned community of all was to be established. In the capital city, Savannah, not only did the original plan possess distinctive qualities not found elsewhere, but the form and spirit of its original pattern were followed for more than a century during the city the city’s gradual expansion.
Turpin C. Bannister, “Oglethorpe’s Sources for the Savannah Plan,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1961), p.47:
In the history of city planning, Savannah holds a unique place. Alert visitors quickly discover that its grid of streets is delightfully relieved by twenty-four squares, most of which comprise embowered oases. Without its distinctive squares Savannah would still retain its rich history, but physically it would be only another monotonous and undistinguished checkerboard.
The mere presence of a square or squares did not of itself make Savannah unique. Many American colonial towns, such as New Haven, Charleston, and Williamsburg, received a central square. Philadelphia included not only a central plaza, but in addition a recreational park-square in each of its four quarters. Early nineteenth-century subdivides occasionally promoted sales appeal by introducing residential parks for the enjoyment of adjacent property owners, for example, New York’s Gramercy Park. In Savannah, however, it is the unrivalled series of squares that is remarkable.
Edmund Bacon, Design of Cities (New York, 1974), p. 219:
It is amazing that a colony, struggling against the most elemental problems of survival in a wilderness, should be able to produce a plan so exalted that it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence.
Stanford Anderson, “Savannah and the Issue of Precedent: City Plan as Resource,” Settlements in the Americas: Cross-Cultural Perspectives (ed. R. Bennett; Newark, DE, 1993), p. 110:
Within the study of city plans as resources, Savannah is especially rewarding for it is a particularly clear, and also a particularly positive, example.
A.E.J. Morris, History of Urban Form: Before the Industrial Revolutions, 2nd ed. (New York, 1994), p. 274-75:
Few American cities used the gridiron as more than an equitable expedient: Savannah is probably the most important exception and the orthogonal geometry of the urban mid-west might well have been less monotonously debasing under its influence had it not been isolated from the immigrant tide in a southern backwater. … Whatever its origins and whoever assisted him, Oglethorpe’s name coupled with that of Savannah merits a far higher position in urban history than hitherto accorded. Great credit is also due to those anonymous city fathers who refused, long after their planner’s death, to allow the design to be compromised.
Roger K. Lewis, “Circulating Through the Restored, Palpable Joy of Historic Savannah.” The Washington Post, April 19, 1997, pp. E3, E4, E5:
For architects and urban designers. Savannah represents one of America’s greatest town planning paradigms, a model of rational, geometric composition aesthetically vitalized by an extraordinary array of public squares—originally two dozen of them—that have become the city’s hallmark.
And as always, the city’s plan, so familiar as a two-dimensional drawing, seems richer when experienced as three-dimensional reality.
Italo Calvino, Hermit in Paris: Autobiographical Writings, trans. Martin McLaughlin (New York, 2003):
“Consequently, my impressions of the South would be very dark if I had not discovered
I stopped at Savannah, Georgia, to sleep and have a look at it, attracted only by its beautiful name and by some historical, literary or musical memory, but no one said I should go there, no one in any State of the United States. AND IT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY IN THE UNITED STATES. Absolutely, there is nothing to compare with it. I don’t know yet what Charleston, South Carolina, is like, where I will be going tomorrow and which is more famous. This is a town where nobody ever comes (despite having a top-class tourist infrastructure and knowing how to present its attractions — relating to both history and town planning — with a sophistication unknown elsewhere; but this is perhaps the secret of its charm, that internal American tourism, which is always so phoney, has not touched it). It is a town which has remained practically unchanged, just as it was in the prosperous days of the South at the start of the nineteenth century, in the heyday of cotton; and it is one of the only American cities to have been built with unique urban planning, of extreme rational regularity and variety and harmony: at every second intersection there is a small tree-lined square, all identical, but always different, because the pleasantness of the buildings which range from the colonial period to that of the Civil War. I stayed there spending the whole day going round from street to street, enjoying the forgotten pleasure of feeling a city, a city in which the expression of a civilization, and it is only in this way by seeing Savannah that you can understand what type of civilization the South was. …”
Bernard-Henri Lévy, “In the Footsteps of Teoqueville (Part IV): From the storm systems of Florida to those of Washington, D.C.,” trans. Charlotte Mandell. The Atlantic Monthly (October 2005), p.97:
I have seen so many unloved cities in America since this journey started. In my mind’s eye there are so many cities half destroyed, or simply disfigured, by vandalism and the indifference of their inhabitants. Buffalo … Detroit … Cleveland … Lackawanna … The cities die off, the great shattered cities of the American North and also the northern-style cities in the South. Savannah is the anti-model, then. Savannah—a rare but all the more precious case of metrophilia, or city-love, in America. The love in Savannah of this portion of intelligence and beauty that dies when cities die. The way time passes slowly in Savannah. The extraordinarily special, almost enclosed, space of Savannah. This feeling you have of walking around in a greenhouse, almost a bubble, a minuscule and fragile island protected from barbarian invasions. And also the enchantment of Savannah. And this other feeling that overwhelms you soon enough: that this unostentatious town is subtly poisonous, decadent. And then Savannah by night, even more enigmatic than it seems, less pure, bathed in a twofold light and exhaling the two habitually opposite flavors of flaunted austerity and secret liberty, of the most extreme puritanism and most concealed licentiousness: moral bewilderment, noxious spells, gardens of good and evil.
“The Squares of Savannah,” 2009 Great Places in America: Public Spaces, American Planning Association website [one of ten so designated]. <http://www.planning.org/greatplaces/spaces/2009/index.htm>
The original four squares of Savannah date to 1733 and were a distinctive part of James Oglethorpe’s plan for the city. Eventually squares were located in the center of each of the city’s 24 neighborhoods or “wards.” The foresight of Oglethorpe’s design continues to provide an extraordinary example of how public space provides a timeless and lasting amenity to a community. Very much used and beloved, the squares are essentially public “living rooms” where residents and visitors alike go for morning and evening strolls, afternoon games and activities, and special events and celebrations.
The Savannah urban plan appears within an exhibition called “Cerdà and the Barcelona of the Future: Reality versus Plan” at the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB).