1992 Finalist
City of Savannah, Georgia
Innovations in American Government Awards
Innovations in American Government Awards

In 1988, the City of Savannah, Georgia, established and funded the Neighborhood Services Department to assist neighborhood leaders with encouraging civic participation, coordinating neighborhood clean-ups, and monitoring and reporting problem conditions. The success of this initial effort led to the development of the Showcase Savannah Program, a comprehensive approach to neighborhood revitalization with the goal of eliminating blighting influences such as dilapidated buildings, drugs, litter, crime, inadequate lighting, and substandard infrastructure from the city's most impoverished neighborhoods. Moreover, Showcase Savannah seeks to remedy the underlying causes of this condition through job training, affordable housing, economic development, and coordinated social service delivery.

The Showcase Savannah Program begins with city planners and residents working together to determine the services and facilities which the neighborhood needs the most. Bureau chiefs and department heads attend neighborhood meetings to gain a better understanding of the neighborhood's concerns and neighborhood organizers work to develop a neighborhood association with a broad membership base and a strong, committed leadership. The residents are trained by city staff to conduct a field survey which identifies substandard conditions for housing, lighting, streets, sidewalks, litter, and derelict vehicles. Results are compiled and analyzed by city staff and a work program is then developed to include measurable objectives and strategies for achieving those goals.

The work program, along with the responsibilities of the residents, is incorporated into a "contract" between the city and the residents, symbolic of the commitment that both parties have toward lasting improvements to the quality of life in the neighborhood. Showcase Savannah neighborhoods are then targeted for infrastructure improvements, removal of dilapidated buildings and crack houses, home fire inspections, and continued neighborhood organizing activities. They are also targeted for programs aimed at housing rehabilitation and job training. A city employee serves as a social services coordinator, working with Showcase residents to ensure that necessary counseling and other service needs are met.

The most important measure of success is the degree to which residents of the neighborhoods participate in the process of revitalization. Participation is measured first in the number of residents attending monthly meetings and by the number of residents who attend neighborhood clean-ups. In 1990, the average number of residents in attendance at the regular meetings in Showcase I was 10; in 1991, this neighborhood averaged 17 residents in attendance. Showcase II meetings averaged 20 residents in 1990 and 33 residents in 1991.

Another program priority is to reduce the flow of drugs into the neighborhoods. In 1990, the number of drug corners and crack houses in Showcase II was reduced from 124 to 75. In 1991, this number was reduced to zero. An additional measure of the Showcase Savannah Program's effectiveness is the number of vacant and abandoned buildings that are either rehabilitated, secured, or demolished. In the Showcase neighborhoods in 1990, the city took action to secure 52 buildings and demolish 68 buildings. Those buildings which were demolished had been used by drug dealers or had recently experienced fire as a result of their easy access. The secured buildings are no longer a threat to the neighborhood from either drug dealers or fire. In 1991, 429 buildings were secured and 71 more demolished (the number of demolitions is projected to double in 1992).