"In five years, if they don't do anything, it could become a ghetto." — Former Mayor Floyd Adams Jr. in 2003, on the Windsor Forest/Wilshire neighborhood
WITHIN DAYS of allegations that Savannah police may have deliberately underreported crime to improve their stats, a spate of shootings happened on the Southside.
Three in 36 hours, to be exact: 21–year–old Rebecca Foley, shot to death in her car; 17–year–old Evan Colquitt, shot on Sharondale Road and dying shortly after; and John Perry, 25, shot in the shoulder.
Foley's murder and Perry's wounding happened within shouting distance at two adjacent apartment complexes on White Bluff Road near Wilshire Boulevard.
Another irony lies in the fact that the shootings happened in the district of Tony Thomas, the alderman who just days before accused police of cooking the books.
Though I grew up on Wilmington Island and now live near Daffin Park, I have a long history with Savannah's Southside. Until the early 1960s my family owned a dairy farm off White Bluff Road; there's a Morekis Avenue behind WJCL–TV marking the rough location of the old farmhouse.
Hard to imagine now, but White Bluff once hosted several dairies. The pastureland was broken only by the runways of Hunter Army Airfield, a Strategic Air Command Air Force base back in the day. My relatives recall hearing the jet engines of the bombers spooling up at night, and having to put "blackout curtains" over the windows, supposedly to keep surprise–attacking Russian planes from seeing lights below.
My first home was on Montgomery Cross Road. (Nope, it's not "Crossroads." It's a "cross road" from White Bluff to Skidaway.) I was an infant, so I don't remember it. But I do see the old house when I get off the Truman and drive by today — a lonely ranch–style abode next to a rim store, and another victim of Southside zoning, or lack thereof.
Other neighborhoods, like Windsor Forest and Paradise Park, are a far cry from their glory days of the '70s, when they were among Savannah's most desirable addresses. In explaining his prophetic but then–infamous ghetto remark, Adams went on:
"You see the same trend. People are coming back downtown. The people in the subdivisions on the Southside are moving out... and all they are looking at is the property as a revenue source," Adams said, referring to the area's high percentage of rental property.
Downtown's upsurge is Southside's loss. Gentrification downtown forces non-affluent residents, black and white, south across DeRenne, traditional dividing line between old Savannah and new — though these days "new" Savannah is far more dilapidated than the old.
The reasons are multiple and for the most part pretty obvious, though that never spurred anyone to try and do much about it. We've already mentioned downtown gentrification, bad/no zoning, and very high rates of rental property. Here are some more:
1) Poor planning & design: Cul–de–sacs were all the rage in the '60s, but nowadays once-trendy suburban designs that discourage normal pedestrian access make perfect incubators for shady activity.
2) Highways: The Truman Parkway and other major road projects have made much of the Southside a sacrifice zone for Chatham County's transportation "needs." I feel sorry for people living next to these projects, and sorry for those who own this now nearly worthless property but still have to pay taxes on it. This syndrome is reflected in Armstrong Atlantic's recent quasi–redesign, essentially rotating the campus to face away from Abercorn instead of its traditional view towards it.
3) City missteps: A few years back the City purchased some properties in the Southside flood zone, supposedly to return to "greenspace." According to many neighbors, that was a euphemism for "neglect."
That's just a starter list. It's far too late to return the Southside to dairyland or anything close to it. But we can learn from a past generation's mistakes, stop repeating them, and apply those lessons to future projects in the Southside and beyond.