Urban Design Lesson One: Subdivide First, Buildings and Land Uses Come Later

People Place Purpose

This following was written by Richard Dagenhart.

When General James Oglethorpe climbed up Yamacraw Bluff and laid out Savannah, he didn’t know it, but he had learned my first lesson already. He subdivided first. Despite generations – and almost three centuries – of changes, Oglethorpe’s subdivision remains a framework for preserving and designing new streets, parks, buildings and land uses in Savannah. Oglethorpe got it right.

Other Georgia towns are different, but they all began with simple subdivision plats setting out lots, small blocks and dense networks of streets. Most have small rectangular blocks in a grid on top of a hill, like Athens, or parallel to a railroad, like Dublin, or along an existing highway, like Moultrie. These early subdivision plats remain and almost all of them followed my first lesson. They got it right, too.

Fixing the Mistakes

One challenge to urban design…

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