MONSTROUS lettering on top of buildings, revolving electric signs that affront and assault the senses, snipe signs with skinny metal legs poked into the ground, signs nailed to poles and stapled to trees advertising services by people you would never want to call on for those services because if they don’t respect majestic trees, what makes you think they would respect your modest property?
Nothing has downgraded the landscape of The Bahamas and the view we see on a daily basis more than the explosion of signage. It is long past time to get signage under control. Correcting the signage issue is the single easiest step we can take toward the creation of a prettier Nassau and bring dignity back to our streetscapes.
The timing is fortuitous.
Government has announced it is preparing to engage in a much-need clean-up campaign accompanied by an education campaign that dirt hurts and that those who help clean up are heroes of their community. The plan is to start with “white trash” – refrigerators, stoves, other appliances and equipment discarded indiscriminately. Next on the agenda is the collection of abandoned vehicles and derelict machinery, often hidden by bush or home to druggies and others down on their luck.
Given the commitment by both the Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira and the Minister of Public Works Desmond Bannister to clean up this very dirty city (which we all deplore and find ourselves apologizing for), this is the right time to appoint a select signage committee.
That committee should be mandated to assess existing signage and create a document outlining guidelines for specific areas. The committee must involve stakeholders, including representation by responsible sign manufacturers. It is not the intent to create policy that will cripple business, but rather allow for signage appropriate to the space in which it is located. Hundreds of cities have dealt with this successfully and their natural landscape is not marred by the desire to bombard the innocent with flashing lights and gaudy designs.
What happens in Times Square is part of the identity of Times Square, even part of the fun of Times Square. Those flashing lights and twinkling images would never be allowed in Savannah, Ga. or Charleston, S.C., two of the best preserved historic districts in the South and both immensely popular destinations in large part because of their beauty.
What happens in Historic Nassau should be representative of an historic district. We believe there is actually room for additional signage, including plaques on historic buildings. Directional, informational and cultural signage can add to the identity of a place. Signage must blend with its surroundings and when done correctly can enhance and inform.
What exists now is brash, in-your-face and too large for its space. Not every merchant or business downtown is at fault. Many of the signs show a sense of style and class. But far too many are just large, bawdy and gaudy. Flashing signage must be banned. The only place for flashing lights is emergency road warnings, traffic lights and emergency vehicles, not to advertise a restaurant or lock shop. The process for approval also must be improved. Today the process is cumbersome with every sign requiring an application to go before the Department of Physical Planning. That department is overwhelmed with other work. Signage ranks low so applications can linger. So persons who want to advertise their business, practice or service take matters into their own hands. They use everything from old cardboard to shocking lights that are the most offensive of all.
What is the message they are really sending? Is it a message that a business is so desperate to attract customers that it is willing to assault our eyes with a garish, glaring electric sign advertising its hours, services and phone number with revolving colours better suited for a children’s colouring contest than a landscape on East Shirley Street? Where is our sense of style and taste? When did we stop caring about the beauty of our streets or the preservation of our historic districts?
In short, we must raise our standards when it comes to signage. Think of the most beautiful avenues or streets in New Providence or roads in places like Cat Island. Picture them as they are with mature trees and blooming Jacaranda, Yellow Elder, Bougainvillea, then superimpose signs all along those roadways and see how the mental image deteriorates.
There is a reason why high-end residential neighbourhoods have very strict rules about signage. What signage exists is there only to provide information and direction, not to promote sales or services. Real estate signage and event signage have always had their own set of rules. Event signage is allowed to go up two weeks prior to an event and come down one week after.
We see torn banners still flying across busy streets months later. We have no problem with tasteful feather banners on a temporary basis so long as they do not block the view of oncoming or merging traffic. We can simplify the process with a set of standards applicable to specific locations with only those exceeding the size requiring an application.
Nothing detracts more immediately from the beauty of a street than ugly signage and nothing is easier to fix. The low-hanging fruit we have all been talking about is literally right before our eyes. Correcting the signage issue is one easy step to a prettier Nassau.