In previous sketches, we looked at Figure Ground and the city plans of Manhattan, Philadelphia, and Raleigh. Particularly, these cities were structured around parks and streets as public rooms.
Savannah was also structured around parks, but with one addition. In James Oglethorpe’s 1730 plan, the form was considered a replicating pattern of neighborhoods. It was not simply a finished, completed city plan. It was more than a simple, abstract grid.
Oglethorpe created wards as the fundamental unit in his plan of Savannah. Each was a central open square enclosed by a balance of public and private lots. This grouping of properties was linked to corresponding farming areas outside of the city so that agricultural sizes were directly associated with urban ones.
Within a single ward, tything lots of ten were arranged with houses facing the street, their back yards abutted along a small access alley. Each grouping of ten houses had a half-size trust lot intended for civic buildings. In this design, the basic proportion of park to private dwellings was approximately 1:4. As you can see in the diagram, the park was balanced to public property by their adjacency. This allowed adjustments to be made between the two without affecting the residential blocks.
Wards represented the city’s smallest unit of neighborhood. It was a clear visualization of relationships and interdepencies for help and defense. Oglethorpe aspired to a design that was equitable and egalitarian. The grid implied a democratic structure. But emphasizing the common person as a central building block within the grid meant that no governor could gain a higher advantage or position than anyone else.
Although Manhattan’s grid implied extensible growth, Savannah’s plan 180 years earlier added a higher order of organic, sustainable groupings without a theroetical limit. The result was smaller scale livable clusters that still hold charm today. From the original four, a total of 24 wards were eventually created, most of which are essentially visible in the map of Savannah today, almost 300 years later.
For more information, you can find several excellent articles on Wikipedia’s Oglethorpe Plan and Squares of Savannah, Georgia for more details. Plenty of diagrams for Savannah’s plan can be found through Google image search “savannah oglethorpe plan”
Next, we’ll take a look at the development of a third major city during the time of America’s founding.