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Taking a Closer Look

On-Premise Sign Regulation

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When was the last time you really looked at the streets of your community? Drive out to the edge of town. Stop at the city limits. Now look at what you see. Is the scene pleasing? Does it make a good first impression on visitors, or is the scene ugly and cluttered?

Now, head downtown. Look at the streetscape along the way. Does your community appear attractive, interesting, unique? Or, does your town look like "Anyplace, USA?" Whatever your answer, you know that the physical appearance of your community is important. You should also recognize that sign control -- or the lack of sign control -- can have a significant impact on your community's appearance.

Sign regulation is one of the most powerful actions a community can take to make an immediate, visible change in its physical environment. Properly drafted and enforced, sign controls can reinforce the distinctive design quality of the entire community.

Sign regulation is one of the most powerful actions a community can take to make an immediate, visible change in its physical environment. Properly drafted and enforced, sign controls can reinforce the distinctive design quality of the entire community. And as I have noted in previous columns, a community's image and how it looks often correspond with its economic vitality. [See, e.g., Design Matters, in PCJ #21].

We need signs. We can't get along without them. They give us direction and necessary information. As a planned feature, a business sign can be colorful, decorative, even distinguished. So why talk about a sign problem? The answer is obvious: too often signs are misused, poorly planned, oversized, inappropriately lit, badly located, and altogether too numerous.

A good sign code is pro-business, since an attractive business district will attract more customers than an ugly one.

... A good sign code is pro-business, since an attractive business district will attract more customers than an ugly one. Moreover, when signs are controlled, merchants do a better job of selling, and at less cost. Indeed, studies on visual perception (like those detailed in Street Graphics & the Law, cited in the Resources sidebar) have shown that when the size and number of signs are reduced, the viewer actually sees more.

Sign control is especially important to areas that seek to increase tourism. Why? Because the more one town comes to look like every other, the less reason there is to visit. On the other hand, the more a community does to enhance its unique assets, the more tourists it will likely attract.

This article examines some of the key legal, political and practical aspects of on-premise sign regulation. ...

End of excerpt

photo of Ed McMahonEd McMahon is one of the country's most incisive analysts of planning and land use issues and trends. He holds the Charles Fraser Chair on Sustainable Development and is a Senior Resident Fellow at the Urban Land Institute in Washington, DC. McMahon is a frequent speaker at conferences on planning and land development.

Over the past 21 years, we've been pleased to have published more than two dozen articles by McMahon in the Planning Commissioners Journal, and now on PlannersWeb.com.

 

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