In many communities across the country, commercial signage seems to be employed in a manner that appears more appropriate in Las Vegas, Times Square, or in this Radiohead video for the song Fake Plastic Trees, rather than on businesses fronting Main Street. Far too often, they are composed of fake plastic awnings/canopies, oversized structures that can be seen from Mars, or repetitive chain store logos that scream “Welcome to Nowhere.”
I think most of us can agree that such signage scenarios were most likely not the intent of planners across the land. Along urban streets and sidewalks, the signage should be designed at a human scale, it should fit the context of the surrounding area, and it should be aesthetically pleasing. To this planner, how signage is addressed locally is a strong indicator of the extent and strength of community pride of place.
One of the most frustrating signage trends in recent years has been the use of plastic canopies or awnings (see above) that not only detract from streetscape aesthetics, but detract and degrade the architectural heritage and context of the building(s) to which they are affixed. Such signs may fulfill the letter of the code, but certainly not the spirit.
By comparison, check out this photograph taken over the past weekend along Front Street in downtown Traverse City, Michigan. This is the way to make signage appropriate, and appealing. Kudos to Traverse City for so clearly demonstrating the benefits of elegantly designed signage that enhances the urban setting instead of detracting from it. Well done, TC. well done!