BY NOW you’ve probably read the recent Vogue article that compared our fair Southern city to the hippest borough in all the land, or at least seen the clicks and heard the clucks.
Channeling Carrie Bradshaw and presumably sitting in a sunny Williamsburg studio enjoying small-batch kombucha and a cronut, a certain “luxury lifestyle journalist” lit up lil’ Slowvannah by posing the question, “Is This Old Southern Town the Next Brooklyn?”
The answer from us folks who live here ought to be a resounding “oh hell no.”
It’s not that the comparison isn’t meant to be flattering. If we accept Brooklyn as the apogee of artistic innovation and success—and it seems that much of the world still does—then this glowing assessment of our creative class is a high compliment, though more than a little condescending.
The local artisans and businesses mentioned in the piece definitely deserve to be elevated into Vogue’s world-class realm, and Chia Chong’s crisp photographs absolutely belong in its pages.
No matter what your student debt tab, a deep curtsy to SCAD is requisite when discussing the historic preservation efforts that made all this prettiness possible, though the idea that anyone comes here to “sniff the azaleas” is dubious, as the kind that grow here literally have no scent.
But if the aim is to showcase artsy high achievers, the article misses out on many of our internationally recognized creatives, notably Graveface Records, the indie label basically reinventing the music industry, and Etsy darling Lovelane Designs, its hand-printed canvas superhero capes so renowned that Target appears to have ripped off the concept.
Other aspects of the piece are more problematic. The author arrived at the name drop party a little too fashionably late, as Marc Jacobs left his Broughton Street shop empty in 2015 and doesn’t appear to be bringing his sexy back anytime soon.
And who are these locals who have “long complained about the dearth of luxury accommodations” here and how can we help them build a new hotel in their front yard?
Some of the most egregious head-shakers come in the “Where to Eat” section. Leading with Charleston’s Sean Brock and his local iteration of Husk effectively eclipses the true geniuses of Savannah’s well-beyond-established food scene.(Besides, it won't be open for months, and the contractors were just fined $37,000 by the City for killing a century-old tree.)
For sure, to present The Grey as a “rehabbed bus station” and relegate Chef Mashama Bailey to a paltry third paragraph is either woeful oblivion or a calculated insult. (Maybe once upon a time someone couldn’t get a table at Prune?)
And with all due respect to my former Connect colleague Tim Rutherford, it’s kind of specious to present him as a “local food writer”—as homeboy moved to Asheville, NC over a year ago. (On a related note, I hereby pronounce Asheville as the Next Next Brooklyn.)
But what really got me all bothered is the quote describing Savannah as “authentically Southern with an edgier vibe”—edgy like a chronic 26 percent poverty rate and failing schools?—as well as referring to this storied, 300-year old city as the “New ‘It’ girl.”
Chile, Savannah is a grown-ass woman who doesn’t need your New York glitter sprinkles to validate her elegant beauty and creative capacities. What she does need is sensible zoning enforcement, more job opportunities and an engaged citizenry willing to hold its leadership to a definitive, democratic vision.
Because I’m pretty sure that last thing we want to be around here is the next Brooklyn.
Listen, I love New York City, too; adore it, wanna make out with it, can’t wait to visit again.
While most of my perception of living in today’s Brooklyn is gleaned from Lena Dunham and Girls, I do know from experience that there’s nothing like gourmet hot dogs delivered to a house party in Williamsburg at 3am.
But I’m old enough to remember when Brooklyn used to be the place where starving artist friends went to pout after they got priced out of the East Village, and the fact that millennials now mimic the style of old ladies in babushkas is kind of amusing.
The gentrification, not so much. (Google Spike Lee’s rant about how Fort Greene Park has turned into the rhymes-with-featherplucking Westminster Dog Show.)
Much like Savannah, the reclamation of Brooklyn’s urban spaces began in the 1990s, and carpet rezoning in the early 2000s made way for commercial and residential development that has all but driven out the African American, Puerto Rican, Jewish and other working class families that lived there for generations.
Native New Yorker Jeremiah Moss examines somberly this in his blog-turned-book, Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost its Soul, a sad chronicle of Ma-and-Pa outfits and provincial landmarks lost to corporate franchises and twee boutiques, the city’s essential character crushed under the heel of so many Louboutin boots.
Most of us already know there is a heavy price to pay when your beloved neighborhood becomes a place where people can actually afford bespoke shoes and $600 end tables.
Before we welcomed their gorgeous faces back home, Samita Wolfe and her beau Andrew Sovine moved to the hamlet of Bedford-Stuyvesant “in front of the wave,” only to find out quickly that the creative lifestyle required a Park Avenue patron or six or seven side hustles.
“All I did was work all the time to make rent,” laments Samita. “There was no chance to ever volunteer or give back to the community. I barely even had a social life.”
She did make a fortuitous business connection there and re-opened the formerly-of-South Brooklyn Film Biz Recycling prop house in Savannah earlier this year. As a touring musician Andrew can pretty much live anywhere, and the couple’s mortgage on a super cute bungalow on the eastside makes every gig’s paycheck go a lot further. It also allows them to be involved in various civic endeavors.
Tourist district nuttiness aside, Savannah’s still-reasonable living is what gives the artists time to create, the entrepreneurs space to experiment and the rest of us time and energy to build the community we want to be.
It also means enjoying $5 Greyhounds at a half-empty Pinkie Masters, just the kind of spot that would probably be full of insufferable Wall Street bros if it was in Bushwick.
If Savannah was the next Brooklyn, we’d be totally screwed, because it means we’re on the fast train to becoming preciously unaffordable, economically homogenous and pretentious as pluck. In terms of urban density, it’s also vital to note that our entire city’s population could fit into the 2.7 square miles of Bed-Stuy, so kiss the sky good-bye.
But unless we’re looking at ourselves through Vogue’s $500 Tom Ford glasses, I don’t think we have to worry.
“Savannah can’t be Brooklyn. There’s no good Chinese food here,” points out Andrew.
“And no Ethiopian food,” adds Samita. “Really, no good take-out at all.”
Plus, tons of trees grow here, not just that one.
So while the Vogue headline might spark a Twitter kerfuffle, the comparison just doesn’t fit. And the people who make Savannah exceptional are here because this place isn’t like anywhere else in the world.
And I don’t know any of them who want to live someplace where you can’t get breakfast for under $16, handcrafted cronuts be damned. cs