Signage: Less Will Surely Be More
By Tom McDermott
Why not remove all metal roadside signs and plant trees instead?
I generally only think about road signs when I’m lost or after a state elects a new governor. In the latter case, state governments have a wasteful habit of changing every “Welcome” sign to include the name of the new governor. “Welcome to Connecticut”, Governor Ned Lamont tells me regularly, one small reason why the Nutmeg State is out of nutmeg.
The practice of changing the governor’s name does not always mean buying an entire new sign. Sometimes a state makes a rectangular metal piece that replaces the name of the old gov with the new one. Still, thousands of dollars, maybe millions over the decades, just to tell us something we already knew or did not need to know? Please.
No more gov signs, I say. As part of regular sign maintenance, work crews should remove the gov names from all of the state welcome signs and just leave a simple, generic, apolitical “Howdy-do”.
But, why bring up this pet gripe now?
Because the City of Rye has a sign problem. The signs at the town’s entry and exit points proclaiming Rye High School athletic prowess have seen better days. Some are so washed out that you when you’re driving you will be in danger of having an accident if you strain your eyes to see which years Rye won the state championship in field hockey, soccer, or football. Safer to take a seat at Kelly’s bar and ask. Someone there will surely know.
Beyond the fact that many of the signs are unreadable, due to the ravages of nature over the last 15 years, there is the question of whether or not Rye should single out high school athletic achievement over other notable things about the community and its residents. “Boyhood Home of John Jay” they might read or “Home of Historic Playland”. And what about the high school students who excell in activities other than sports — music, theater, the sciences — or the achievements of Rye Country Day students?
Now, it happens that Rye’s Landmarks Advisory Committee has developed a solution to the problem you may not have noticed existed. They discussed the issue for a couple of years, engaged a designer, and made a reasonable proposal to the City Council for placing new, simplified, warmly colored and scripted signs at 13 entry/exit points where the old state champion signs currently stand. “Historic Rye…Founded 1660” declare the proposed signs.
The Council, as councils are wont to do, wished to cogitate and converse regarding the proposed signage upgrade and costs. Naturally, the land–markers would like the Council to approve their proposal, so that they can finally implement the plan.
On February 26, Steve Feeney, representing a Rye Garnet booster group, told the Council his group endorsed the new historic signs —with a catch. The catch is that they would like the athletic achievement signs replaced, at booster cost, and installed 20 yards away from the new signs. These would join the Lions and Rotary signs in some locations. In other words, there would be more, not fewer, signs by the side of the roads.
The Council wanted to cogitate further. Who could blame them?
Having considered the new, improved signs, which are a vast improvement over the old ones, although still a tad too large and a tad too brief; and, after contemplating the worn ones for many years, I have a modest proposal to make: Remove all metal road signs and plant trees instead.
Rye has an overriding need and desire for hundreds, even thousands of new trees. This seems like the perfect opportunity to choose 13 tree varieties, up to 26 trees (one on each side of the road where practical) for planting at entry/exit locations. What’s more welcoming than trees? Even when bare in winter, one tree is prettier than four or five signs in a row. And, there is a bonus: trees attract birds which can tweet and greet passing vehicles.
As a former trustee of Rye Historical Society, I salute the Landmarks Committee for their work. We can find places in town for their historical signs. As the father of former high school athletes – all three captains of their varsity teams – I commend all of Rye’s schools for their athletic prowess. By all means celebrate, but on or near school property.
Taking an organic approach honors history by bringing the landscape back to what it was like even before the formal founding of Rye in 1660. For Rye and its trees have always been here, before the first boat landed at Manursing, before the Square House, City Hall, and the first time Rye trounced Harrison.