“My name is Christine Wacta and I am an architecture professor at SCAD. With some friends, I started a company called GeoGen just because we realized that there was a need to actually digitize everything in the city to actually be able to deal with resiliency.”
A lot of time you know we’ve had a lot of hurricane and what really we find out is that a lot of cities don’t have any record of their data. Being able to get those data from the blueprint to the GIS, which is actually a pen for information on who’ve become the really good, how do you say it, catalog or digital catalog for any city to be able to go on with.
CC: For folks who aren’t so familiar with that, why is that important? Why digitize all these things within the city as far as sort of put them all in once place?
CW: Many cities were built in the time where we didn’t have digital around. Now, we live in a world where we need history. Lately, we’ve been hit by hurricanes and natural disaster. A lot of times we really don’t know where it’s going to hit next so being able to catalog or to record some building make us actually have history of them if something like that happened.
We can understand how to use them because as you think, the city, you know, things are built on the land and we are by the water, a costal area, kind of make us really risky in whenever we have some flooding, Savannah has a lot of flood. The area of town that gets flooded faster than other, understanding where that will hit or where those area are might allow us to actually start recording those buildings so we could have the history of them rather than seeing them gone one day and not have any record of it.
Cities are becoming increasingly complex. Being able to digitize all of the information, all of the structure, allow us to do better design because now the city is already built. How do you design, how do you know that the new building wouldn’t hide the skyline of Savannah?
Also, just for real estate. Think about this, before you design a building, if you ever to view every single floor and see where the view would be, that could actually allow you to get users. Users to me means that makes people feel good at their work so my office is not all shaded and I have a view and I can actually perform better. It’s really about human performance, human living, designing for people rather than having people deal with design mistakes, you know? I think that the digital part really impacts how we live and make us have better lives because cities are becoming increasingly dense and there’s one thing we cannot do, stop people from moving to the city. One thing we can do is design better so that people can live better.
CC: Can you talk about what this all looks like, because wow. It’s so much information but also, how data is being used for multiple things.
CW: We used a lot of GS data and every city in the world has GS data. They have that, it’s how they actually record all of their information. One thing that strike me when we had hurricane Max here, that closed the city for what, two, three weeks? We didn’t have school for two, three weeks. Think about all of the loss that the city had for that hurricane and right up to the hurricane hit, I took my car and driving around Savannah. What I noticed was that a lot of damage, we’ll have water damage, there’s nothing you can do about that, you know where it’s going to hit and you just try to work with the area so you know what will be done or up but the physical damage, which was a tree falling on the house, we could have actually avoid those things.
We looked at the data from NOAA, who give you all of the hurricane and all of the wind speed and we were talking about you know, we could have generated a model and basically showed the impact of the wind, do a simulation of the impact of the wind with a question and you could see it 98 percent what building would be hit and what will not be hit.
Just think about it because I think that the hurricane, people just look at the damage. Think about the stress on family. Think about the displacement, think about fighting with insurance. If the city or anyone could actually look at the resiliency, look at tackling that that way, maybe insurance would then go to people and say, “This tree, it’s about to die, you need to trim it,” we know what direction is coming so we can save people’s lives, we can save people stress. We can make people keep their family and not have to move around and I think that that takes that type of digitizing and thinking ahead.
Today I don’t think that we can look afford, we had the luxury before to live with our eyes closed and blind. Today we don’t have that luxury. Look at how many people, look at everything that’s happening. It is right on our door and we need to act. That’s why we felt, with my friend, we felt that this was really the time to actually bring that out and it doesn’t take so much. It’s things that we have available, we just don’t know how to use it so we basically using that company to bring awareness and basically start doing little pilot programs.
Even for the city I’m thinking about the master planning of the city, you know? Thinking about what is where already and how you can actually impact it if only using those tools to actually make the environment, build a better environment for people and figure out where it’s safe and not working and then you know, understanding those.
CC: You’ve become a huge cheerleader. So many of the folks that we have sort of coming to us have also been looking at Savannah and they’re like, “Maybe, but I don’t know,” right? What would you say? Why Savannah for you? Why start your company here? Why teach at SCAD? Why do all these things that you really rooted yourself into the city?
Christine Wacta: Let me tell you one thing. I think for those people who are not quite sure, I was there. The day I landed into Savannah coming from Paris, having been in Minnesota, I was like, “Whoa, where did I come to?” In my mind I was like, “I’m not going to be here two years. I’m going to be gone,” to living into this city and understanding it, I think it’s just because when you don’t have this connection to the environment, you’re basically foreign to it so you don’t have to like it, you know?
When you learn to love it, you love the way of Savannah. I love the bolts of Savannah. It’s really not the prettiness, which is pretty, but that wasn’t what attracted me, you know? I think that what I love is really what Savannah is, its spirit, its soul, and it’s because I’ve been here long enough and understood it that I love it.
I came here to teach architecture and I’ve been doing that for the last 12 years. Just five years ago, I’ve been here 12 years, so it’s only five years ago that I started doing this data thing and that’s really when I fall in love. I mean, I’ve lived here for 10 or 15 years, just living and I think blindly living just like everybody, going to work, coming back, not really interacting. When I started dealing with the data where I was able to connect with a great city, the people of the city have been so amazing, of sharing the data with me, asking me, “What are you doing with it?” And they didn’t even understand. When I explained to them they’re like, “Wow,” you know?
I started looking at GS and all of the data of the city, even looking at the crime because a lot of times, people really do not understand crime, what crime is, because when I look at the crimes, I used to be just like everybody, “Don’t go there, it’s a crime zone.” Well, what is a crime zone? Crime is so complex and complicated, it’s as complicated as the city, you know? If you cannot understand it, just like if you cannot understand Savannah, how can you love it?
When you go into the crime you look at you know, loitering is crime, breaking in windows are crime, overdose is a crime. You cannot distill crime without understanding it. As a designer, when you start looking in, you see there are different types of pay and different type of wealth dealing with those.
The first thing that you need to remember about Savannah is that this city was built for people. It was built for people interacting the square.
I have never seen another place like this where you have the river at walking distance, you have the ocean, you can drift off the ocean, you have the green in the city and you don’t have to. I lived in Paris where basically you get out and it’s so hot and it’s just concrete all over and you randomly fall over trees.
The other thing was to have SCAD at the middle of the city. What SCAD has done I think is something that you don’t find anywhere else because what we have here and the way that they are spread out, where you have buildings all over the city, they basically embed themselves. It’s not a style like at other university who have a campus somewhere and then all they do, they style themselves. SCAD has actually started doing work you know, Jill design will be doing embedding itself into the whole city and making people be part of it.
One of the things that company’s have not understood that Jane Jacobs said in the 1950 is that people don’t understand that you know, if the seed is here, you cannot take it and plant it somewhere else. Yes, SCAD is number one in a lot of different majors. What company’s start doing, they come and pick the best student and take them to their company. Well, little do they know that that student was only best because of the context of Savannah, because of walking with this group of variety of people, local, in the historical context that is nowhere else. Yes, they might be bright, but they will not be as efficient in your company as they will be in the Savannah area because that’s where all of that happened. You cannot move a seed and just bring it somewhere else you know?
She talked about city and she was talking about, and that’s from her quote, where she said that, “Company don’t drive economy. It is the people.” It’s basically a place where you have people coming from all over who will actually mingle, meet, and then challenge each other and basically innovation comes out of that.
I think what company’s need to understand is that we have reached the point where you need to look at the fertilized soil and move your company there. You will get a boost in a way that you never had because how many people are you paying to go work for you and how many do you have to hire a year later, just bring them on. Savannah is that place. I don’t think that you can remove SCAD from here. Not if you remove the fact that it’s so embedded. It’s like pouring water in wine and telling someone to give you the water, it’s here. You cannot take it out. You might get a sip of it but you come back for more. Why don’t you just settle here?