- Jon Waits/jwaitsphoto
WELCOME to our annual College Student Guide, our way of welcoming new students (and faculty!) to town with a focus on lifestyle and on the stuff you really need to know about this strange, interesting, and altogether unique place called Savannah.
This year we have some particularly awesome contributions from our roster of local all-star writers, as well as of course from our own stellar staff of scribes: Jessica Leigh Lebos, Anna Chandler, and Rachael Flora.
This year’s cover shoot features one of Savannah’s premier young Renaissance men, Andrew Jay Ripley.
Andrew is not only principal oboist in the amazing Savannah Philharmonic—which kicks off its 2015-2016 season this week—he’s a bartender/mixologist par excellence at one of Savannah’s newest hot spots, Cotton & Rye.
Andrew’s best John Belushi imitation was recorded for posterity by contributing photographer Jon Waits, himself an incredible local musician and man of many talents.
The shoot was coordinated—and this issue designed—by our epic production staff, Brandon Blatcher and Britt Scott.
SO if you’re new in town, the first thing on the List Of Things You Need To Know is:
1. You will never live in a place like this again. Ever.
Savannah is literally one-of-a-kind.
America’s second planned city (apparently New Haven, Connecticut, is first, booooo), we’re the only city in the world still featuring the prescient and groundbreaking city plan of our founder Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe, who stepped onto these shores in 1733.
(Brunswick, Ga., to our south, was also founded by Oglethorpe with the same design, but they totally jacked up their city plan decades ago.)
Savannah’s squares, the core element of Oglethorpe’s vision, form the bones of a city designed from the beginning as an inclusive place of sanctuary with a very liberal set of values by the standards of the time.
Oglethorpe eventually lost out on his bid to keep the scourge of slavery out of the new colony of Georgia. (He also lost out on his bid to keep hard liquor and lawyers out too.)
But his core vision—an open, welcoming, walkable city which encourages different pursuits, diverse intellectual, artistic, and commercial contribution, freedom of religion and expression, and yes, a city eager to have fun—remains to this day.
Savannah’s original commitment to individual freedom and liberty is one way we’re unlike most other cities in the deep South, surface similarities aside.
Perhaps the clearest example you’ll come to know if you’re 21 or over: Our remarkably liberal open container law, a living relic of a time when personal liberty was all-important and citizens were trusted to behave responsibly.
Way more expansive than any other open container law in the country, it might become so natural and engrained in your DNA that, like me, you’ll never again be completely comfortable going to other cities where you can’t take your cocktail out onto the sidewalk or saunter across the street with a beer whenever you want.
(But still not in your car please! Never in your car.)
There are plenty of Southern cities as friendly as Savannah: Charleston, Pensacola, and Columbia come to mind in my own experience.
There are plenty of Southern cities with more than a little eccentricity about them: New Orleans, Asheville, and Richmond, to name a few.
But no other city in the South, or the U.S. for that matter, combines our remarkable hospitality, our vibrant joy for life, and our quirky, offbeat whimsy and celebration of individual eccentricity.
2. We have a lot of problems other cities like us have, and some problems that seem to be unique to Savannah.
Savannah is old-fashioned. Shocker!
We’re usually at least 20 years behind the curve here. Some of us are proud of that, some not so much, but the fact remains.
For example, only this year is the City of Savannah considering allowing food trucks in City limits! I kid you not.
Also: Unlike basically every other city in America, we don’t yet have a mechanism for all-ages music shows. (Read more about that this issue.) But that seems to be changing, slowly but surely as is our way.
Another example: Though we have a significant and sizeable African American population, we were 20 years behind Atlanta in electing an African American mayor. Indeed, the generation of African American political leadership here is actually the first to gain power locally since the elimination of Jim Crow laws.
Like many other cities in the South, there’s tension between black and white here. Not as obvious as in places like Memphis or Birmingham, but questions of race, social justice, and wealth disparity are present in virtually every policy and business decision here in some way or another.
I’m not saying you have to like it—I don’t—but the sooner you realize that the sooner you will be able to deal with it, and maybe become part of the solution.
We have really sucky drivers here. Not too-fast drivers like Atlanta and not certifiably insane drivers like Miami, but just plain incompetent drivers who don’t know the rules of the road. (Tourists seem to quickly catch this same disease.)
It is what it is. Be careful out there.
We have one of the most perfect cities ever designed and built, but some of the most imperfect and most stubborn elected and bureaucratic leaders you’ll ever find.
This chasm between Savannah’s virtually limitless upside and our all-too-real downside can be incredibly frustrating at times, whether you’ve lived here most of your life, as I have, or if you just arrived.
Luckily you came to town just in time to vote in one of the most important elections this City has ever had. If you’re at least 18 as I assume almost all of you are, you have a month to register to vote to take part.
Check us out each week for more coverage of local politics and issues.
3. Whatever your interests, you will have plenty of opportunity to make an immediate and real impact.
Savannah likes to think of itself as the center of the universe, and as big and influential as New York City.
The truth is we’re a deceptively small city—only the country’s 100th largest media market, with less than half the population of metro Charleston. We would fill a tiny corner of metro Atlanta.
The great part about our intimate, incubator-like nature is if you’ve ever wanted to open an art gallery, become an artist, start a band, open a business (maybe even a food truck soon!), run for office, start a nonprofit, sit on a City advisory board, go to church, start a church, become a recognizable local celebrity of sorts or even just a widely known eccentric barfly...... you now have those opportunities!
It’s incredibly easy to get involved and make a difference here. All you have to do is take the first step, have that first conversation, buy someone that first beer if you’re old enough.
We’ll take care of the rest. We’re friendly here, and we like cool new people.