That’s what I thought yesterday, while spending a few minutes sitting in Orleans Square. Even with a horrendous piece of urban renewal on half of the square (the Savannah Civic Center), it still resonates as one of many wonderful oases of public space in this charming city.
Sidebar – has there ever been a building with the name “Civic Center” in it that wasn’t horrible?
And so, it occurred to me, as these random thoughts often do – shouldn’t this really be our goal for those of us in the professions of designing, building, developing? We certainly have to solve for the functional needs of today, and anticipate those of tomorrow. But – that’s not really the same as creating long-lasting beauty, is it? This particular square was planned over 250 years ago, as part of the ward system that General James Oglethorpe used in the Plan of Savannah. The Plan wasn’t concerned with being clever or “unique” in every ward. Instead, he developed a simple, beautiful (and functional) system, and repeated it. 24 times. And here, in 2012, a random citizen such as me can sit and ponder just how wonderful the square, in all its simplicity, is.
How is that for a career goal?
Most of us strive certainly to do our best, and to create the best places we can. But what if the standard instead was, “this is so damn beautiful?”
Steve Mouzon has written about this in regards to buildings, in a post called “Loveable Buildings”. I concur with Steve that we don’t talk enough about the inherent value of a place that people love. In fact, it’s not hard to argue (by virtue of the evidence of places people gravitate towards), that beauty is a powerful form of economic development. And yet – what do we do about it? Is it enough to call for walkable, sustainable, mixed-use communities? Will those standards alone truly feed our souls, or give us lovable places?
My answer is obvious. Beauty matters. If nothing else, it matters because in a beautiful place, we will walk farther, linger longer, and feel more uplifted. That’s certainly the case for me in Savannah. The sheer beauty of the streets, the squares and all the public spaces encourages me to walk distances that I would never consider in other cities. I referenced this notion in an earlier post, called “Cities are not Statistics.” Beauty in the end may be in the eyes of the beholder, but it’s also a powerful characteristic that moves us to action. So here’s to creating more places that are “so damn beautiful.”