After yet another council debate about drafting a sign bylaw – the discussion has been going on for years – Woolwich’s position this week was as clear as mud.
Councillors certainly seem keen on regulating the growing number of signs littering roadways in the township. The easy answer is to ban them all, save for those put up by the municipality itself. That would do away with the clutter. But then the “buts” come into play. As in, “but what about farmers advertising produce for sale?” Well, of coursecouncillors are in favour of that. Then there are businesses with legitimate needs for directional signage – being located off a main street shouldn’t mean they’re penalized, some councillors conclude.
And how can the township not help out non-profit groups? As Coun. Sandy Shantz pointed out, some of those portable signs on the boulevard between Arthur Street and Industrial Drive in Elmira provide useful information, such as sports registration dates and times.
So even those tacky neon signs have a place on occasion.
In short, there’s a case to be made for almost every kind of sign. Putting the township back at square-one as it tries to make a list of what is prohibited and what is permitted.
Beautiful, or in this case tacky, is in the eye of the beholder. And if a sign is there when you need it, then it has proved useful. In that light, roadside signs are to drivers what junk food is to diners: not particularly good for us, but convenient to have around when needed.
Many of them, such as directional signs or advertisements, are eyesores … until they provide us with information we need or want. The clutter decried this week at Woolwich council is the byproduct of the fact that someone, somewhere, at some time, will find a particular sign to be of use.
But clutter it remains. Drive along any busy thoroughfare and you’ll be bombarded by countless images and messages – some, such as traffic signs, are completely necessary; others, not so much. Add in a streetscape filled with hydro and telephone poles, and the resultant spider’s web of wiring, and it’s easy to see how the landscape quickly becomes blighted.
More than just an occasional nuisance, signs and signage are a valid point of debate given the much larger issue of aesthetics in our urban environment – with Waterloo Region arguing the key to controlling growth is increasing densities in our cities, issues such as signs go right to the heart of how we perceive our built environment. Cheap, functional and garish sometimes rule the day, and not just with signs unfortunately – our architecture, the most compelling feature of any urban landscape, has fallen into that category.
Of course, this strays into territory not imagined by councillors when they called for a review of the sign bylaw – but it is an appropriate point to keep in the background, with signs being part of the larger stakes.