I was going to think of some clever name to title this post. Perhaps Mary-Go-Around Park Signage or Chutes & Ladders & Billboards. But I decided to simply call it City Park Signage. Why? Because city park signage is boring. It’s not inventive and it has the same appearance in every city park in every city.
There are typically only 3 options for city park signage:
- The lack of inventive signage, thereby defaulting to the generic signage matching the Department of Transportation road signs.
- Everybody’s favorite: The MONUMENT SIGN. And no monument sign would be monumental enough without installing a stone base (or if you prefer Greek Orders, then a stone pedestal… plinth and cornice cap optional).
- The simple signpost: This will have logos or markings similar to nearby signage. However, if one wants to achieve a value-engineered monument sign, then eliminate the stone base and mount on two signposts.
The above image falls into category 3. This sign wants to be a monument sign, but due to budget constraints involving design, constructability, and installation the standard utilitarian sign was installed. I stole this image from a custom sign company that eloquently described the aforementioned sign as the following.
“These giant engraved signs are easy to read, cost efficient and will maintain their beauty regardless of the environmental exposure for many years. The routed lettering exposes the contrasting color core, making the text stand out. The aesthetics and outstanding durability make this type sign a great choice for playgrounds, city parks, golf courses or trail markers.”
That sounds like an amazing sign, and thus has probably influenced many city planners into thinking this is not only a suitable option but the ideal option. I also have another problem with the sign, and this involves park hours. Public parks should not dictate hours of use; this is obviously intended to “protect” our children, but will ultimately lead to increased after-hours debauchery by immoral miscreants.1 That is like telling recreationists, “Sorry, nature is closed from 11pm to 6am.”
Undoubtedly, I probably despise the monument sign the most. Some signs of this type can be designed well by incorporating multiple materials stacked within differing 3-dimensional layers. But rarely do they drift from the prototypical uninspired stone base sign.
This design has become so commonplace that it is the default sign installed whenever a city decides that they want a “nice” sign. Therefore, I have vowed to go around smashing any insipidly designed monument signs.
The atrocious sign shown below was near completion…
Until I smashed it!
This is a quote from The Collinsville News describing the incident:
“A sign welcoming citizens to the Collinsville City Park that was under construction on the east side of the park was vandalized Wednesday night… The sign was in the middle to late stage of construction and now has been moved backward to the beginning stage.”
Yes, that is correct, the sign was near completion. However, the beautiful concrete block wall toppled over, and now will have to be completely reconstructed. That will probably take them
I am not intentionally mocking city park signage, but when the City of Bozeman put out an RFP (Request for Proposal) for the “Design and Construction of City Park Entrance Signs” my mind was instantly piqued. Most cities have a default sign, and rarely allow artists or designers to help dictate a new direction for the city.
The original RFP proposal gave very little direction and formulates my ideas that government projects are rarely worth the effort. A plethora of government projects (in my opinion) have pre-determined contracts, yet are forced to issue false requests for bids from other public contractors in an illusionary attempt at fairness.
I am probably attempting to provide conspiracy theories, but the linked RFP had 3 glaring remarks that made it nearly impossible for anyone to submit a proposal.
- Each sign will need to comply with the City of Bozeman’s sign code.
I searched and searched, and could never find the City of Bozeman’s sign code. Perhaps it was in Appendix G of some document, but without providing a link it was impossible to find.
- Any submitting entity under this invitation to bid must sign and return the required affirmation stating that they will not discriminate on the basis of race, color…
No the required affirmation was not included in the issued RFP. Nor was it available easily on their website. However, in other RFP’s this was an attached document. I am assuming since most RFP’s are for contractors that this wording is probably copied and pasted from a boilerplate template, but still another bureaucratic hoop.
- The mailing and physical address is: City of Bozeman- Park and Recreation Department, Attn: “signs”- 415 N. Beall, Bozeman, MT, 59771
Beall Street runs east-west. Therefore, there is no North Beall Street. I feel sorry for anyone who actually attempted to mail to that address, because the actual address was impossible to locate. It was in a building (I assumed was abandoned) in Beall Park at 415 N. Bozeman St. – Understandably this was probably an oversight and just a typographical error, but I did find an updated RFP proposal while writing this blog post; which supposedly changed the deadline, and the address, yet they never updated the original RFP on their website.
I realize you might already be bored of this post but I only post once a week. So you can save the rest of the post until next Tuesday if you must get back to playing Minecraft.2
However, I thought I would try to be inventive and establish a thesis for what a city park sign should become.
All great design serves more than one purpose. If a component of the design not only serves its intended purpose but strives to serve multiple purposes, then that component will never be value-engineered away and will most likely become greater than the sum of its parts. People in business call this synergy. Where 1+1=3 and this is how design becomes great.
Therefore, before endeavoring into the RFP proposal I established a synergistic thesis for how city park signage needs to be designed.
- Park signage needs to be more inventive than the standard graphic telling you the name of the park. People3 believe that park signs need to have a defined look informing them that this is a park. However, every park I know has the name “Park” within it. Therefore, any distinctive looks in the past4 can be disregarded because literate people will be able to distinguish a park simply by reading the sign.
- New park signage should be unique to the community. However, I am not implying that every park should have a singular unique sign. If each sign is a singular entity, then it creates a lack of iconic symbolism for the community to embrace.
- The sign needs to be more than just a way-finding device. Parks are systematically designed for both recreation and respite;5 therefore, the sign needs to provide for these activities.
This was my mission for the proposal, but since I did not see the RFP until one day before the deadline, it is probably rushed and should not be criticized as a fully complete product.6
After establishing the thesis, I determined that my park sign submittal would need to be both a way-finding device and suitable as a bench. Many successful park benches are “sitting walls”, typically constructed of stone, and allow for signage to be placed on the front. I determined this was a suitable approach, but I wanted to further develop the material palette while also providing a sense of whimsy (it is a park after all).
Most city maintenance managers will attest that any fixture within a park needs to be nearly maintenance free and weather accordingly. Thus the bench consists of an industrial agriculture aesthetic suitable to the area: weathering steel, wood, and concrete.
Additionally, I intended for the the sign to be responsive to graffiti. Since some parks might exist in areas of high vandalism, the sign needs to act accordingly. Ideally, immaculately-conceived designs will be so awe-inspiring that nobody would dare destruct the sign by spray painting it. However, this is rarely achieved. Thus, one must either make the sign nearly graffiti resistant or (preferably) design the sign in a way that graffiti will not detract, but complement the aesthetics of the sign. Therefore, I water-jetted the letters out of a metal c-channel; thereby preventing graffiti paint from ever erasing or concealing the font.
The bench consists of 2 steel c-channels bolted to a concrete plinth. The street-facing c-channel will have the park letters water-jetted out (in Neutraface font) and the opposite c-channel is deliberately larger with the inside face powder-coat painted to allow the viewing angle of visitors to distinguish the font. I chose a bright green paint for this particular bench, but I think it would be marvelous if a wider color palette was chosen to distinguish parks in separate areas, or with separate functions. Parks that also serve as farmers markets: green. Parks that cater to sports: cyan. Parks that are open 24 hours: customized graffiti.
If you are a structural engineer you might be exclaiming: “that cantilever cannot be supported by (6) thru bolts!” And you are probably right, I should note that no structural engineer collaborated with me on this proposal, but I am confident if I were to be chosen, a complete project could be designed analogous to this proposal without too much deviation from the original design intent.
A few weeks later I did hear back from Thom White7, the Parks/Cemetery Superintendent:
We just got down evaluating proposals for the entrance signs- Your proposal was really neat, yet we went with a company that has produced park entrance signs in the past… Thanks for your interest in the signs and our community.”
I am fairly good at reading between the lines, and thus I will elaborate on the actual wording of this response:
- Thom thinks I am 12 years old, since my proposal was “neat”.
- Apparently the discipline of park signage requires experts with extensive past experience, since designing with cinder blocks and stone requires immense expertise.
- Working for the Parks/Cemetery department is a blast; when evaluating proposals they “get down.”
Overall, I am confident the winning park signage submission will be exciting and original, since people with prior experience will undoubtedly conquer new design frontiers in this exciting field of park signage design!
Or perhaps sarcasm often eludes the reader in the written word, thus I am actually convinced the new signs will be simple signposts with a mundane appearance. Consequently, I vow once the first sign is near completion I will go and smash it!8