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About the Project

The Savannah Social project is centered around infrastructure, events, social life and social networks; we are working to develop a survey instrument to help capture social relationships in the built environment, specifically how infrastructure helps support relationships and helps create new relationships. We are conducting our survey in Savannah to help provide feedback for infrastructure use. Broadly, our social relationships are related to their quality of life and wellbeing, in terms of social capital, physical health, and mental health. We want to ensure that relationships of Savannah residents and visitors are supported by the city. Some relationships (parent-young child vs. coworkers vs. male friend group) have more options for activities in the city than others.


In the proposed work, our research question is: What recreational features and infrastructure (including community centers, churches, etc.) support which types of relationships? We are creating two major project elements: (1) a smart database with types of infrastructure in Savannah, and different raw numbers + rankings on how much they support: friendships, family, couples, corporate/professional ties, elderly, kids, teens (relationship types are sourced from sociology literature). We will also break these numbers into basic demographics. It will show who is being served the best, and what the city could to build to help support relationships + activity. (2) We will also produce social infrastructure maps that show where in the city people use this kind of infrastructure, who benefits, and where to put new infrastructure based on noted ‘holes’. The goal is to make these destinations more accessible and help make the city more equitable. A wider goal is to get people out of their homes, socializing, engaging in physical activity, and thriving in post-pandemic Savannah

It is rare for communities to conduct social infrastructure mapping in a way that explicitly connect the dots between things like swing sets + parent / young children relationships; dog park + neighbor relationships; baseball park + relationship w/ extended family, etc.’ We want to do so because it will illustrate who needs more support and how to activate parts of the social network that are dormant or lacking spaces to connect. This is a data-driven project, and we will be developing a smart database and Savannah can serve as an early case study for this novel method–we will also be sharing our work with the public through cartography and maps.


What is our plan?

First, we will survey the community to inventory the local infrastructural assets that they report as important for their social lives and relationship maintenance. With the Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition (CGIC), our team will deploy this survey to roughly 300 individuals across the Savannah area. We will recruit individuals to participate in the survey at a diverse set of public local events (parades, block parties, etc.) and public spaces such as libraries and community centers. The survey asks questions centered around: Where do you spend time with your children? Where do you spend time with your close relatives? Where do you spend time with your spouse/partner? Where and at what events do you meet new people, or get introduced to a friend of friend? What institutions (churches, community centers, schools) introduced you to non-kin ties? While the survey is being conducted, we will create a database of the kinds of ‘social’ infrastructure in Savannah, Georgia. This will include small elements such as picnic tables, grills, walking paths, park benches; etc.; medium infrastructure such as basketball courts and tennis courts; as well as larger infrastructure such as libraries, restaurants, community centers, etc.. This unified database will be at the polygon level so we can ascertain the areas of each of these elements and perform an accessibility analysis. An accessibility analysis will show how long it takes people at each address in Savannah to walk or drive to the location. These analyses also reveal if people from certain socio-economic groups can access amenities more easily than others. We will then attach our survey findings to the GIS database by linking the common places in the survey to the data. This will augment the spatial data indicators to provide numeric and qualitative values on how these features are serving the public. The data can show if some institutions and features may be under-used, while others may be more used than we originally thought. The database will be queryable and can be sustained and improved by soliciting new survey responses in the future to increase the sample size and keep the information up-to-date. Following, we will provide measurable, mappable data that can show (1) where people can meet new people and (2) where people spend time with their existing connections.


What comes next?

The best practices and methods developed in this research are likely to be useful for other communities. We will be sharing our experiences and the behind-the-scenes aspects of this project with other cities (e.g. Brunswick, Macon) in the knowledge-sharing portion of this project and work with them to outline the feasibility of repeating such a study in their locales, including instrumentation, database design, and potential pitfalls to be aware of. This technology will benefit the community because it will be used to provide improved spaces for social interaction. With this technology, planners will be able to more confidently choose amenities that are shown to encourage and support social interaction. The database will provide quantitative, actionable indicators of the following: how well citizens can access social infrastructure; what neighborhoods or areas may lack social infrastructure (through lack of proximity or lack of access); how to improve opportunities for community members to leave their homes for activities, events, and outings that are performed with others. The main goal for the public is to allow them to invite others out, make memories, have conversations, and spend time with people they care about. As the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming less of a threat to public spaces, this project is timely because it focuses on how people can use their surroundings to grow and strengthen their ties with others, and to meet new people. We will share this information with Savannah residents through online digital maps and we will potentially be able to reach out to organizations to let them know that they have been instrumental in supporting people’s social lives.


How will we know our project is successful?

We can see our project is successful if it is useful to the city planners, and eventually lead to informed changes in the built environment and the event programming in the city. We can also measure success if it is well-received by our knowledge-sharing communities (e.g. they follow up with us for more details regarding implementation). We will also gage success through manuscript publication in the peer-reviewed journals, integration of this method in GIS and planning classrooms (Andris and Lin are committed to integrating research into their teaching), and interest by local media outlets. This idea technologically is innovative because it uses new data to link social life and social network structures to geographic space, which is relatively rare practice in both academic and civic sectors. The research partners that will support the project are the Coastal Georgia Indicators Coalition, City of Savannah and Georgia Southern University-Armstrong.

Future Events

Future community events with Savannah residents will be walkarounds by the whole team to capture relationships in action through volunteered digital photos. The goal is to capture real-world examples of how relationships use Savannah. We will ask if people will allow us to take their picture doing something fun. We will also encourage people to share their Instagram/Facebook(Meta) photos and use a related hashtag (e.g. #SAVWithMy uncle, #SAVWithMy best friend) to show who they are with (my mom, my partner), and what they’re doing. This can help the Savannah Housing & Neighborhood Services Department build capacity for community input about the built environment and their relationship to it. This interaction will also help us informally get input from visitors and residents to help define our survey questions. This initiative will be publicized through the City’s Community Services Office.

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