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.
Geoffrey Johnson is said to have the greenest thumb in the world, being able to grow just about anything. By volunteering for the E34 greenhouse, the Savannah Classical Academy, and a community garden he manages on the property of his Savannah State University fraternity, he educates people about the benefits in maintaining gardens. He understands that gardening can be self-sufficient as community members exchange produce with one another.
Geoffrey’s been living in Midtown for more than 18 years. He believes his neighborhood is best represented by St. Pius School, presently the Savannah Classical Academy. He believes that community embodies a sense of sharing, when people are involved with each other’s lives. His perspective on progress in community is very much related to safety and equity, where all people have equal opportunities for achieving the same things.
Katheryn Dillon has been living in Midtown for 6 years and hopes to revive the neighborhood as it used to be. “I’d like to see some trees put back where they were chopped down; you won’t get it, unless you ask,” she said. She knows there are many creative and talented people in Midtown whose voices need to be heard in the urban planning process.
Katheryn believes community is a “vital organization, group of people who take active interest in their community to improve it and improve their lifestyles at the same time.” She wants people to feel safer in the neighborhood. Her belief about community is if there is someone who is struggling with health issues, a neighbor can either be sitting there alone or they could lend a helping hand for a couple of hours a day. It is coming together as a community in order to help each other and foster a better neighborhood.
Elizabeth Rhaney was born and raised in Midtown. She believes in the power of art and the power of physical spaces in creating meaningful personal connections. “Street art is a voice of voiceless people.” Through street art abandoned buildings can be revived into community meeting places. Through the creation of informal public spaces, Elizabeth believes the city can become more walkable, which in turn leads to enhanced safety.
With the help of street art and graffiti, she would love to inspire and empower people by showing them their own individual power. And when they exercise it and use it in conjunction with other people, the collective power can change the system.
Katherine Milcarek has been with the City of Savannah for almost 2 years. As a Community Outreach Coordinator, she makes sure that city services are effectively provided to the neighborhood. If there’s something that needs to be taken care of she informs city services. If something looks unsafe or concerning, Katherine is the person with the connections and resources. She hopes the residents of the community—elders and newcomers alike—can come together, form as an association and generate new ideas..
Katherine mentioned there are several city programs and funding source to help Midtown residents with their home renovations. Many residents are unaware of this. Also, there is the Savannah Shines project which focuses on infrastructure upgrades such as sidewalks, lighting, and parks. Moreover, City of Savannah hosts a nonprofit development neighborhood leadership training for all neighborhood residents on how to become a nonprofit and how to apply for grants for neighborhoods.