Savannah's Wards

Scott Gann of the Bold Cities Project shares the historical story behind the development of Savannah's Wards.

Article by Scott Gann and the Bold Cities Project

The purpose of the Bold Cities Project is to highlight innovations shaping our cities.

Savannah’s Wards

The block structure of “wards” was innovative for their time and to this day have proven to be a fantastic design element of the city of Savannah.

Savannah was a British colony founded in 1733 by General James Oglethorpe. This is important because he was responsible for planning the unique layout of the city. The building block of the city is called a “ward”. A ward contains tithing lots, trust lots, and most prominently, a central square. There are 20 tithing lots in each ward intended specifically for housing. Each quadrant of the ward has 5 lots. Two trust lots fill out the perimeter of the square, meant for other civic purposes like churches and schools.

Diagram demonstrating the typical layout of Oglethorpe’s wards

In the early days, the central square provided a place for the residents to socialize, garden, host open air markets, or just enjoy some nature! It also may be argued that the squares could be converted to shelter in case of an attack from the Spanish colonies in Florida or from the Native Americans. The city scaled up relatively easily as builders could simply copy and paste more wards to accommodate growth. Today, 22 of the 24 squares remain and are a beautiful part of the city. The trees have matured to provide tons of shade for all the locals and visitors that spend time in the squares. Downtown residents give up their personal yards in exchange for the public backyards these squares provide.

A tour guide showing off one of the main wards of the city with a statue of General James Oglethorpe in the center

Cars have worked themselves into the city in this day and age. Street parking and a handful of parking garages (some of which are underground) provide space for automobiles within the existing infrastructure, with only a handful of smaller surface parking lots. The central squares and the mix of street types serve to calm traffic and make it safer for pedestrians.

Restored in 2005, Ellis Square includes a large parking garage underneath

The efforts of the city and community to maintain the original historical design has been extremely valuable. These wards have provided a sense of identity for the medium-sized American city which has seen growth in tourism in recent years, and for good reason.

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Article by Scott Gann and the Bold Cities Project. Gann is a student at the University of Florida and lifelong Jacksonville resident