• Midtown Sustainists: Combating Displacement with Resilience

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    By Stephen Langford

    It was almost seven weeks ago that our team came together and began our project in developing greater community cohesion and resilience in Midtown, Savannah. In Savannah as a whole, approximately 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line. However, in neighborhoods like Midtown where residents have been experiencing disinvestment and false hope for decades or even entire lifetimes, nearly 1 in 3 residents live below the poverty line.

    Lying immediately east of downtown Savannah, with no geographic barriers preventing encroachment of higher income individuals and families seeking more affordable housing in unique neighborhoods, Midtown is now the next logical area to be revitalized, developed, and swallowed up by the growth machine of urban renewal.


    As new residents with their own respective norms and values begin moving in buildings and spaces throughout the neighborhood both public and private start getting fixed up here and there. As the value of these individual properties increases, the the value of surrounding properties start to grow as well, which then leads to increased property taxes and higher rents for surrounding residents.

    Eventually, this leads to residents being priced out of the neighborhoods they were raised in and raised their families in. At best, their voices are drowned out by those who are more confident and secure in their economic and social standing, and the culture that they helped build is all but erased and forgotten.

    10 week project? No big deal – We got this…

    So while looking into how to best address these issues – how to best include not just the concerns and needs, but also the interests and values of as much of the community as possible – we came across a few frameworks that aligned well with the scope of this project. Please follow the links for each if you would like to read more. They’re all pretty awesome.


    Placemaking is based on the idea of re-imaging public spaces as the heart of the community while strengthening the connections between members of the community and the spaces they share. As a process, it focuses on engaging and collaborating with as many community members as possible to identify different needs and create both vibrant and diverse public spaces. One particular approach, Lighter, Quicker, Cheaper (LQC), emphasizes the use of less expensive and less labor intensive projects to bring energy and life into community spaces.

    Monday Means Community

    Monday Means Community is a monthly community event in Savannah, led by Emergent Savannah, that aims to facilitate conversation and awareness on issues that might not be paid adequate attention in today’s messy and fast-paced life. Each month, the folks at Emergent Savannah track down locals from all across the greater Savannah area, and even some out-of-towners, that might have some interesting perspectives on that month’s particular topic and bring them in to join in and lead the discussion as a panelist.

    Build A Better Block

    Build a Better Block is a non-profit that seeks to educate, equip, and empower communities and leaders to focus attention on the built environment to better promote the growth of healthy and vibrant neighborhoods. Better Block also places specific emphasis on thinking small. Their belief is that 100 small projects can be accomplished much more easily and more effectively than even attempting one large project, which will require significant time, money, and political traction.

    100 Resilient Cities

    100 Resilient Cities is an organization dedicated to helping cities build the resilient infrastructure needed to be able to withstand the dynamic shocks and stresses associated with dense populations, whether physical, social, and economic. Depending on the city, stresses might include high unemployment, an overtaxed or inefficient public transportation system, endemic violence, or chronic food and water shortages, and shocks might include earthquakes, fires, floods, etc. In addressing both stresses and shocks, a city becomes more capable of responding to adverse events, and therefore, is better to deliver basic functions in both good times and bad, to all people.

    Hester Street

    Hester Street is a non-profit design firm that was created in order to improve the physical environment of underserved communities in New York City. Through including residents of the communities from the get-go in a participatory planning and design process in order to transform public spaces in parks, schools, and affordable housing developments, Hester Street encourages community members to have a hands-on role in developing their own vibrant and diverse communities. With the success of their approach, Hester Street has now expanded in offering planning, design, and technical assistance to community-based organizations, governments, and other agencies throughout the U.S.

    Asset Based Community Development (ABCD)

    More of an overarching concept than a specific framework, ABCD is a bottom up approach to community development that focuses on a community’s assets and strengths rather than its deficits and problems. It focuses on recognizing what it is that makes a community unique, and encourages members of the community to not just recognize those strengths and abilities, but build on them. In order to do so, it requires an extensive interview process to identify assets, or access to and collaboration with a community leader who is already well connected with the community.

    To conclude, each of the above mentioned case studies involves engaging with as many community members as possible to have the best understanding of the issues and as many hands as possible working together to alleviate these issues. They focus on building stronger connections among community members, raising awareness, and the local residents who are building the community.

    * http://www.savannahnow.com/news/column/2017-06-10/city-talk-deeper-look-savannah-poverty-shows-trends

  • Midtown Sustainists: Community Spotlight

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    By Alex Fogleman and Natalya Amirova

    Throughout the process of learning about Savannah’s Midtown community, we’ve interviewed over 15 individuals directly involved in the neighborhood. This includes members of the city government and non-profit organizations, local business owners, Midtown residents, and board members of Emergent Savannah, an essential partner in the work that we’re doing this quarter. Included here is a small sample of the people we’ve come to know.

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  • Midtown Sustainists: Give a Person a Fish

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    By Varun Prabhu

    The word design was once reserved for the creation of pretty stuff: Stuff like tangible products, an intuitive bunch of pixels, or well-rounded services. Design was meant to increase the appeal of products and services to sell pretty things. Design, in other words, meant consumption. But what if that was just a start for design, rather than its only function?

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  • Resiliency in Savannah: Moving Forward

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    By Rachel Segrest

    We began our design process with the intention of building resiliency in Savannah, which for us would entail increasing the resiliency of the community. Our mission statement claimed, We are leveraging our collective skills to empower the people of Savannah to spark greater civic engagement and foster community resilience.

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  • Designing for Equitable Social Change

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    By Kaley Blask

    When we began our journey with the Savannah community this quarter in partnership with Emergent Savannah, one of the first resources we turned to was a report by Design Impact titled Metathemes: Designing for Equitable Social Change. We also had the great pleasure of interviewing the Metathemes authors at Design Impact via Skype in the early stages of our project. Design Impact is a non-profit social innovation firm based in Cincinnati, OH that specializes in collaborative problem solving through a design lens. What this means is that Design Impact works with community leaders, government officials, and nonprofit organizations to address complex problems (such as hunger, homelessness, and access to healthcare) with the help of the design process. Design Impact’s mission statement is this: “We collaborate with passionate people, bring design and innovation practice to the table, and work together to design a better world.”

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  • Building Community Resilience with Emergent Savannah

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    By Eliska Skarolkova and Jahnavi Gopal Mange

    Emergent Savannah came into existence in 2015 within the walls of a small studio apartment. A group of working citizens facing discomfort and frustration with the segregated community they witnessed in Savannah decided to join forces and form a collaboration to combat this divide. They are involved in a variety of community work, participatory research and information workshops throughout the city, the purpose of which is to bring citizens of Savannah from diverse cultural backgrounds and working environments to a single platform.

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  • Coming to Know Savannah

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    By Felipe Cuellar & Cosette Saliba

    Empathy is the capacity to step into other people’s shoes, to understand their lives, and start to solve problems from their perspectives. According with The Field Guide to Human-centered Design; “Human-centered design is premised on empathy, on the idea that the people you’re designing for are your roadmap to innovative solutions. All you have to do empathize, understand them, and bring them along with you in the design process.

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  • Three Cities that Savannah Should Look to for Inspiration When it Comes to Resilience

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    Let’s get inspired about what the city of Savannah could become.

    By Jenna Bowers

    Any successful research project begins with some in-depth secondary research. For us, that meant looking into case studies of cities that are doing it right. Because we are searching for a way to foster a more resilient Savannah, we found it appropriate to look into the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities. 100 Resilient Cities works with cities worldwide to build resilience to the growing social, economic, and physical challenges of the 21st century.

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  • What Will You ‘Leaf’ Behind?

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    Community members shared their stories – now they’re growing into new life in Savannah’s urban gardens.

    By Gabriela Valez

    Yes it’s a pun. But it’s a pun with good intentions.

    SA/GA is a project that aims to bring people together and foster resilience within the local community of Savannah. It encapsulates the spirit of Savannah’s rich cultural history, uniqueness, inclusiveness, and innovation through stories, relationships, and wisdom.

    These stories become the legacies of the citizens, and our team wanted to find out what those legacies might be. For the Savannah Earth Day Festival in Forsyth Park on April 15th, our team created an opportunity for citizens of Savannah to share their stories. We asked festival goers to “Tell us a story of when you felt close to your community.”

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  • Electrifying Change: Five City Buildings Take the Energy Challenge!

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    By Anaïs Cipriano and Rachel Segrest

    The City of Savannah is known for its beautiful natural elements, and the city’s Office of Environmental Services and Sustainability is doing its part to preserve that beauty. As one example of many, the department is exploring employee competitions, with the goal of creating a sustainability culture among the city work force. This platform was employed for the first time last year with a campaign to reduce recycling in 5 of the city’s buildings. The Thrive Five recycling campaign was a big success.

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