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Savannah redesign to reshape streets in historic Southern city

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Two proposed design schemes part of street upgrade plan in city renowned for urban planning

Savannah Street Redesign
A rendering of EDSA’s coastal design scheme for River Street

Some of the South’s most historic streets are getting an upgrade.

EDSA, an international planning, landscape, and urban design firm, will be redesigning part of the streetscape of Savannah, Georgia, a Southern town known for its grid system and historic streets. Announced earlier this year, the initiative, which will reportedly cost $14 million, isn’t a huge facelift, but any change needs to reckon with the rich historic of Savannah urban design.

EDSA was chosen from a field of competing firms seeking to redesign portions of Broughton, Bay, and River streets, three important thoroughfares in the city with the most need for renovation. EDSA’s two concepts, a Coastal and Historic plan, were created to help encourage biking and walking throughout the city, building on the complete street concept.

Refined throughout a series of public meeting with Savannah residents, the two concepts won’t impact any of the city’s renowned fountains and squares, part of the celebrated grid system famously laid out by James Edward Oglethorpe in the 18th century.

“We approached the project by thinking, ‘what are the overarching themes we can reference to help make this a better public realm, while keeping in touch with the historic nature of Savannah?’” says John Torti, a landscape architect at EDSA.

Historic version of proposed Bay Street redesign

The Coastal concept includes planting a series of palm trees and adding more ground space for cafes. Historic Savannah calls for a redesign using street trees with an emphasis placed on widening roadways to accommodate a growing population.

EDSA will work with the city to refine these concepts over the course of the year, and fine-tune the final design for each roadway (for instance, River Street, near the water, is geared towards tourism, while Bay Street is a major arterial roadway with safety and accessibility issues, and Broughton overs a take on store-lined “Main Street America”). Designers are exploring way to incorporate art and installations into the plans.

Torti says they’re getting exceptional feedback from residents at public meetings, from 21-year-old students at the Savannah College of Art and Design to residents who have been here for decades.

“The demographics of this city are amazing,” says Torti. “Everybody has their own needs and agenda. But this feedback is what’s helping made this design authentic and unique, and really make it Savannah.”

The last public meeting is scheduled for this evening. City planners will then create a timeline and schedule for development. EDSA plans to refine these design concepts over the course of the year.