Savannah Morning News
Aug. 13, 2017
It’s exhausting to have a dog in every fight. Can I get an amen? And who knows? When it comes to approving a new apartment building (a hotel by any other name), taller than the trees on Forsyth Park (which this latest building will face), maybe our mayor and city aldermen have their finger on the pulse when last week they gave the 906 Drayton Street project the red light. That is their job, part-time as it is, looking out for us, the citizens. I don’t know: maybe we really do need more shops.
Maybe Vogue magazine, which just came out with a story about Savannah entitled “Is this Southern town the next Brooklyn?”, knows something we don’t know. Maybe this NYC-based magazine has the longer view although the last I checked friends who live in Brooklyn are thinking of moving to Queens or parts of Manhattan because rents in the once-affordable borough of Brooklyn are leaving them in the dust.
The rest of us? We just live here. We go about our lives. We pay our mortgages (or rents), shop for the best melon, try to beat the traffic to Tybee, read our book for the next book club meeting, try to keep our old dogs smelling nice, look out for potholes when we ride our bikes, try to remember which streets to avoid when there’s a flashflood. We visit the sick, remember to call the roofer after the last big rain, pick up trash in the streets (lottery tickets, plastic water bottles, smashed soda cans), mow the grass in the lane (a former city job), cull our bookshelves for books we never read and never will so we can take them to the free libraries in town.
We work to square the two worlds we live in – the haves, the have-nots. Every day I see someone wearing a polyester uniform of red and black or yellow and blue or something like that and one of those matching visors standing at a bus station, hoping their bus gets there in time so they can get to their fast-food job. Ten minutes later I’m buying a cup of coffee and staring at a tip jar with some snarky comment about not forgetting to tip. That’s when I think, “Tip? Tip for what? Was there a service I missed? Handing me a cup so I can get my own coffee? Really?” Try putting a tip jar in a McDonald’s or a Wendy’s where employees really do need a tip, a leg up, some kind of shot in the arm. These are the working poor. But isn’t that a contradiction? Should someone who is working – sometimes two jobs – be poor?
We try to stay afloat in the challenges of life, of health, of growing old. We applaud when we get a group text that reports, “The margins are clean.” We laugh when we overhear an exchange that goes like this:
“It’s good to see you.”
“Thanks. I’d rather be seen than viewed.”
And then we try to explain the meaning of being viewed – as in “viewing,” as in “viewing a body” – to someone born in China, who is learning our language, who wants to know our language.
And then we watch on television the arguments about the new big apartment building on Drayton and Bolton streets. Like I say, I really don’t have a dog in the fight. Yet. So I keep watching. I dish out a small bowl of ice cream and watch the City Council meeting. Neighbors in the affected area each get two minutes to present their views (“please don’t repeat what an earlier person said,” asked the mayor), followed by some explanations (longer than two minutes) from the developer who expressed his heartfelt concern for the neighbors. Then, before I had a chance to open the fridge for a second bowl of ice cream they are taking a vote. They couldn’t have waited a little while longer? They couldn’t have considered what was being said? Did it even matter? This is when people start to feel discouraged, dissed and unappreciated.
Finally, Tony Thomas asked the question of the proposed five-story, 114 unit building which is marketed for the “young professional” (not to be confused with the “working poor”): What will the rents be? Market –rate, we’re told. Somewhere between $1,400 for a studio and $1,875 for a one- or two- bedroom, although that sounds fluid.
That got Van Johnson’s attention.
. “I keep hearing young professional. I guess I’m an old professional,” said the alderman. “I couldn’t afford that.”
Who are these young professionals who can’t find housing? Maybe the puff piece in Vogue magazine can answer that. By the way, when I watch the City Council meeting I keep hoping something substantial will come up, maybe something about the poverty numbers or even this year’s version of employ-a-teenager-over-the-summer. Something other than hotels, developers, downtown and tourism. Can we talk about that?
A few weeks ago I listened to Christian Sottile speak to a standing-room-only crowd at the Massie School on, “A New Humanism: Where does architecture in Savannah go from here?”
The wonderfully articulate and thoughtful architect and SCAD professor likened buildings to people. He quoted Shakespeare: “What is a city but the people?” Then he paused to ask, “Can we recover the humanity in our city?” I don’t know. Can we?