From Good Looks to Substance:

Savannah’s Numerous Attempts at Self-preservation

by

Udo Greinacher

Keywords

  • Savannah
  • historic preservation
  • gentrification
  • tourism
  • literature
  • film & education

For over a century, many American cities have turned their downtowns into derelict environments. These areas contain unique architectural features and have made huge investments in infrastructure that would be costly to recreate elsewhere. As a result, many organizations, individuals, and communities have tried to return historic downtowns to profitability by restoring their centers and preserving their city's heritage.

This essay analyzes the different strategies and practices used to preserve the historical center of Savannah, Georgia. It is a colorful history that begins with the civil disobedience of seven feisty elderly women in the 1950s. Several years later, the city's core received designation as a National Historic Landmark. Eventually, Hollywood producers gave it a starring role in John Berendt's Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Each of these attempts to marry heritage with urban revitalization eventually lost its effectiveness and led to calls for further action. Savannah's most recent attempt to transform itself into a college town has been the most successful solution thus far. This article introduces each strategy as well as the people and motivations behind it, traces the impact of each strategy's application on the physical and social fabric of the city, evaluates the relative success of each strategy, and discusses their applicability for the rejuvenation of other cities.