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Savannah is an improbable place. It was founded by James Oglethorpe as a prison colony, built as a exclave of English civilization on the Indian frontier, a settled by adventurers and reprobates whose decedents comprise one of the last intact true hereditary aristocracies left in the New World.

It is a beautiful city without trying to be. Don’t get me wrong; folks in Savannah are particular about their aesthetics. But there seems to be no concern about anybody else’s. So there is no attempt to figure out what the “Savannah Aesthetic” is. We have clues. If you wanted to put up a modest LED sign in front of a downtown store, there would probably be a problem. But, if you want to build a 12′ by 10′ backlit bilboard featuring a cartoon pig dressed like Chef Boyardee, cheerfully preparing to self-immolate to promote your bar-b-q shack, the first question that comes to locals is “I might have to check out their pulled pork.” After all, its only a sign.

Generally, If someone wants to build something ugly, people complain. Then it either gets built or it doesn’t. And life goes on. As my wife pointed out, you can tell a real city from a “new urban” pet project by its occasional ill favored parking garage.

Savannah’s beauty, I think, is somehow tied to one of its greatest civic virtues: Discretion. Savannah spared itself the faithful lightning of Sherman’s terrible swift sword by seeing what had happened to indomitable Atlanta, considering their options, and surrendering before Sherman got their. The result? A Lost Cause and an Intact City. Also, one of the best war memorials in the country, offered in honor of Our Beloved Confederate Dead by a city that would rather quit than burn. The classically educated Southerners who have always run the show in Savannah knew about the transcendentals. Truth follows Beauty, and Beauty follows Truth. All true and beautiful things move toward order, as that order is a mirror of the mechanics of the universe, whose Prime Mover is the ultimate Truth. Civilization is orderly, and thus beautiful and true. Savannah’s beauty is the engine of its civilization. And you can’t have a civilization without a city.

They were right. New Atlanta may be built on the site of the razed city of that name, but it has never had much else in common with Old Atlanta. To this day, Atlanta booms, bustles, and roars along. It is crime ridden, expensive, and ornery. It has all of the problems of New York, except with nicer people, better food, and a warmer climate. Savannah, on the other hand, chose the better part, kept their city, and maintain their beautiful civilization to this day.

WAC

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