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Street-Name Signs: Placemaking

By: Tom Davis Category: Placemaking, Signage

SNS MainAtWalkerCloseup1.jpgDowntown Houston’s place-making strategy is clearly seen in the use of specialized street name signs.  The specialization is at two levels. First is the dome extension at the top-center that sets the intersection in downtown apart from other locations. Secondly, in that dome part of the sign is the name of the “district” (i.e. Theatre, Retail, Skyline, etc.) of the intersection.

Typical Street Name Sign in Downtown with district locationThere is one exception in downtown to those signs and that is the street name signs used for Main Street. They have a black background with white letters so they stand out and were changed to that style when the light-rail train was put into service.  Those signs also contain a second location identifier.DT SNS blank.jpg

Following the example set by Downtown the adjacent Midtown Management District’s design was approved by the City of Houston and has been installed on major thoroughfares. Notice that it contains their logo graphic.

Upper Kirby Management District authorized customized street name signs on the major street. The signs contain the “Upper Kirby” text and continue the use of the red color of their old English phone booths strategically placed to communicate that you are in “Upper Kirby”.

Another example in the west Houston area is the distinctive sign used by the Westchase Management District. Their district is noted for its new office buildings and an architectural style that is relective of the current architectural trends. Appropriately the street name signs have a distinctive modern look as you can soon see here when the photo is found or I go there.SNS UKD2.JPG

Customize street name signs have been a very good local identifier.  The City of Houston will permit an separate entity to install the signs once the design is approved. That entity must sign a maintenance agreement.

Things to consider if you want to pursue this method of place-making are:

  • Consensus building among the stakeholders about the “look”;
  • What are the local authoritiy’s parameters for the sign? In other words how much latitude will your designer be allowed.
  • Someone must develop the list of messages and the unique block numbers for each sign. That list must correlate to a location map so the removal of the old sign and placement of the new occurs smoothly and the installing contractor–if you cannot get the City to do it for you–is not delayed.
  • Who will maintain them? If you are lucky someone will not run over the sign in the first week and present you with your first maintenance opportunity.  Consider having extra sign blanks bought with you first order when you will have quantity discounts. You will need them one day.
  • When you contract for the signs think about that bid having a section for maintenance services payable each year after the installation is accepted. That way you will have someone under contract that knows the installation and can repair it Monday morning when a weekend “party animal” takes one out.
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