Resiliency in Savannah: Moving Forward

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.

After numerous interviews and plenty of secondary research we had collected thousands of data points. Based on our own findings in addition to select case studies we came up with four sacrificial concepts that could be implemented throughout Savannah to build empathy and ultimately resilience through story sharing, communication and community engagement. These concepts included a People’s Tour that would provide attendees a guided experience through a new Savannah neighborhood; a Community Board that could be shown in a public place using a projector to showcase local activism and personal stories; Humans of Savannah which consisted of interviewing people out and about then sharing their stories across digital platforms; and a Friend-o-matic which sets two individuals up in a physical structure in which they cannot see each other but are given a set of questions to ask each other to facilitate learning about one another.

Rather than choosing a single idea and trying to design it to perfection, our team decided to prototype all 4 concepts. With no time to waste, we broke into smaller more agile teams that would be able to swiftly carry out each design concept. We would then collect feedback, tally our results and present the findings gathered from each prototype.

The People’s Tour

For the Tour, we got in touch with the Woodville community and our tour guide, Tyrone explained the history of this now isolated Savannah neighborhood. He spoke about all the impactful people and ideas that had originated in the homes of Woodville that had greatly impacted the Civil Rights Movement. Passing through the neighborhood, one would never know the rich history it has provided not only Savannah, but the whole country. This was the intention of the Tour, to increase understand and appreciation between groups that might not otherwise never hear from one another.

The Community Board

The Community Board acted similarly to a billboard – a public information hub where facts and stories of locals could be shared to help activate the community, including pressing issues, learnings from Emergent Savannah’s Monday Means Community, nonprofit activities and local citizens sharing their stories and opinions. Our team projected the Community Board outside of Sulfur studios during a night time event which had passersby walking up and asking questions about the stories we shared and about the work of Emergent Savannah for the community. It was a large success as it fulfilled its intention to link between people from the neighborhood with the organizations working to impact change within the area. In the future we’d suggest incorporating some sort of live feed into the information as well as finding a way to have the installation stand alone.


The Friend-o-matic was installed on the Tybee Island beach one Saturday afternoon with the hope that happily satisfied beach-goers would feel more inclined to participate in such an involved social activity. The structure itself was built from PVC pipes with colorful sheets stretched between to form barriers from seeing each other which helped people open up more honestly. The questions were worded in such a way to spark a conversations that involved both participants, who often began asking their own follow up questions.

Humans of Savannah

The Humans of Savannah team tried to step outside of the typical geographic understanding of Savannah and interviewed people enjoying the day one Saturday afternoon. We got out to different parks as well as Oglethorpe Mall and found that while some people were apprehensive about being asked questions by strangers, those who agreed to participate seemed to enjoy the experience along with the interviewers. After collecting these stories we posted photos of our interviewees along with excerpts from their interviews to facebook and instagram.

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Each of our final concepts had its pitfalls and payoffs. Resiliency requires flexibility, and we found that each idea, whether it was the Friend-o-matic, the People’s Tour, Humans of Savannah-Chatham or the Community Board could outdo the others depending on which area and what context it was used in. All the models we created facilitated communication and empathy in some capacity, and those aspects are critical to a resilient community.

After prototyping these designs, we structured our findings into an instruction manual for parties in the future that wish to carry out the concepts themselves. We want the benefits of our research to extend beyond our project and last long into the future.

Our 10 weeks of research, conversations, participation, observations and discovery have shown that Savannah is a place with many faces. In order to move toward a future of resiliency, Savannahians must first see and acknowledge each other, commit to communication and collectively move forward in collaboration.

We agreed early on not to waste time trying to reinvent the wheel, while keeping in mind that the most effective designs are often the most simple. We explained and demonstrated our concepts and what we learned to community members in an informal party in Juliette Low Park just outside the gridded streets of Savannah. We didn’t want to present to our audience; we wanted to engage them. We shared how to carry out our concepts in the future and what we had learned from them in faith that our attendees would be inspired and committed to carrying the work forward.

We will not be in Savannah forever, so we did our best to impart all the insights we gained in order that the work can continue forward. We are a group of 14 designers from across the world with a plethora of experiences and degrees of our own. We spent 10 weeks researching and perfecting the direction of this project and ultimately chose to implement ideas that were simple, fun and effective.

Anyone can take these ideas and run with them, and in fact, we recommend that. Inertia is a powerful force and we have laid some groundwork for others out there to get working in their own communities. Even if our concepts aren’t favored by all, they’re a testament to the notion that as long as your mind is in the right place, it doesn’t always matter exactly how perfectly you do something; just get out there and do something.


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