Posted by: David Giacalone | October 3, 2011

an embarrasment of banners

– too much of a good thing? 

 . . .

– four of the new “Welcome to Stockade Historic District” banners on S. Church St., seen heading out of the Stockade toward State St.

Click on a photo for a larger version

– 2 of the 3 banners placed on the south side of the short first block of Union St. looking east toward Church St. –

  . . . If you’ve driven or walked up Union or S. Church Streets lately, you’ve surely seen our banner crop of handsome Welcome to the Stockade banners.  With apologies to those who worked on and funded this project in an effort to improve the neighborhood, I feel compelled to say: there are far too many of them.

How many banners?   Thirty-one in total, I am told, located solely on Union St. and S. College St., corresponding with the geographic jurisdiction of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corporation [“DSIC”], which funded the project.  Every lamppost on Union St. from Erie Blvd. to Washington Avenue has a banner, and so do several other Union St. utility poles. Every lamppost on S. Church also has a Welcome Banner.  The block of Union St. from N. Ferry to College St. has a dozen or more Welcome banners, and there are two more at Union and Erie Blvd.   Even with the leaves still on our trees, there are many spots from which 4 or 6 or more of the banners are visible when looking in a single direction.  There are simply too many banners.

 . . .

– 6 or more banners can be seen from midblock on Union St., looking east toward College St. –

The Stockade is not a downtown commercial district, much less an amusement park, used car lot, or ongoing festival or special event.   It is a functioning, historic residential neighborhood, filled with people who love its historic charm and protected streetscape.   Although the banners have a good-looking design, the overabundance of banners is exactly the kind of visual clutter our neighborhood association should be vigorously fighting.  Instead, the Stockade Association has been working with DSIC to have the banners designed, made and installed — using DSIC “beautification” funds.

. . .  It does indeed make sense to have a welcome banner at the various entryways to the Historic District, aimed at both intentional visitors to the district, and accidental or inadvertent visitors or through-farers.  But, it’s rather difficult for me to fathom why anyone would want these banners on virtually every lamppost of our high-traffic blocks once you’ve entered the Stockade — unless, perhaps, you truly believe the banners do “beautify” our neighborhood; or, with a bit of irony, that they might help remind some scofflaw homeowners this is indeed a specially-protected historic district.  And, what will the banners look like after they’ve been through a couple years of our weather extremes?

Legal Authority to Place the Signs?

update on the legal issue (3 PM, Oct. 4, 2011):  It appears that the City has informally decided to let DSIC place signs on utility poles, so long as they receive permission from National Grid to do so.   After speaking with the appropriate city official in the Signal department, I’ll follow-up further.

The legality of the placement of the signs is another concern that I have.  The Welcome Banners have all been appended to utility poles by DSIC.  Banners are, of course, included in the City’s very broad definition of “signs” in the Sign Regulations section of Schenectady’s Zoning Ordinance [Article X, §264-60(J)(3)].  Under that Ordinance, no signs may be erected on trees or utility poles [§264-62(C)].   Although any sign “erected and maintained pursuant to and in furtherance of any governmental function or required by any law” is outside the City’s sign regulations [§264-60(J)], DSIC is a private entity, and I have not been able to locate any provision of the Schenectady Municipal Code that would otherwise permit DSIC (or the Stockade Association) to ignore the Sign Ordinance.

In fact, Corporation Counsel L. John Van Norden told me today that he does not know of any such authorization.  He added that DSIC could possibly ask City employees to place signs that DSIC has paid for and supplied on utility poles, but such a project would have to be authorized by the Mayor or another City official.

   In addition, the exception in the Sign Ordinance for certain signage used by nonprofit associations relates only to their needing to obtain a permit or pay a fee; any such signs must nevertheless “comply with the general requirements” of the Ordinance.  [§264-63(a)(1)]

Also, according to Article X of the Schenectady Municipal Code, the Sign Regulations are meant to protect important characteristics that we all claim to value in our City, and especially in our Stockade neighborhood:

“The chapter is intended to protect property values, create a more attractive economic and business climate, enhance and protect the physical and historic appearance of the community, preserve the scenic and natural beauty, enhance the pedestrian environment, and provide a more enjoyable and pleasing community.  The chapter is further intended hereto to reduce sign or advertising distractions and obstructions that may contribute to traffic accidents, reduce hazards that may be caused by signs overhanging or projecting over public rights-of-way, provide more visual open space and improve the community’s appearance.” [from § 264-59. Purpose]

 It’s difficult to see how hanging a Welcome Banner from virtually every utility pole on Union and Church Streets serves any of those statutory purposes, or the goals professed in the Association’s by-laws.  Unlike many other business and mixed-used sections of the City, Union Street in the Stockade is not a barren or blighted Schenectady streetscape that needs colorful or fluttering banners to improve its appearance, distract the eye, or provide faux festivity; nor is Church Street.

It comes down to aesthetics.   Even if the City should inform us that it will not enforce the Sign Ordinance against DSIC, or that it considers DSIC to have some informal exemption from the Regulations because of their quasi-governmental function, the placement and quantity of the Welcome Banners comes down to a question of balance and aesthetics.  As I wrote to Stockade Association president Mary D’Alessandro this evening, putting up so many banners just seems like overkill — much too much of a good thing; and it sets an undesirable precedent for the creation and acceptance of visual clutter, and for the spending of money just because it’s available and offered to the Stockade.

To my eye, an overabundance of banners — a plethora of pennants — clearly distracts from the appearance of our community.  I hope those who agree with me will let the Association and DSIC know, and ask that the banners located away from entry intersections be removed.  A clarification from the City on the appropriateness of DSIC or the Association placing signs on utility poles would also be welcome.

As always, I’m grateful to those who toil for the improvement of the Stockade district and neighborhood.  But, I wish they would seek, and receive, an array of opinions and perspectives before engaging in actions that have a lasting impact on our Stockade streetscape.


Responses

  1. The banners are tasteful and attractive, but I have to agree that there are too many. It doesn’t matter what the content or appearance is. The quantity makes them visual pollution. The quantity is excessive and another example of government overspending which is especially offensive in this economy.
    Rain

    • Thanks for taking the time to share your reactions to the banners, Rain. There surely are better uses for the funds used on the excess banners, brackets, etc.

  2. The banners are tasteful but there are too many. Wait til the trees are bare and it’ll really stand out. I think that if one were placed at each major intersection that that would be enough. JMO, I don’t like the visual clutter at all, I think it detracts from the mood and character of the neighborhood..

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Michelle. Have you noticed that quite a few of the banners are already sagging, others look sadly askew thanks to the un-plumb utility poles, and the one on the northwest corner of Union and Erie Blvd. has lost its lower bracket? Sigh.

  3. I am a visitor to the Stockade neighborhood and think the welcome is a nice, if slightly over done touch. They serve as a way to build the “Stockade” image and “brand.” Because there is such a quantity, some of them could be “edited” out!. By removing select banners and putting them is storage, you would have a replacement plan for when the banners remaining become worn and need refreshing.

    • Thanks for taking the time to write, Joanne. A little pruning out was what I, too, had in mind. Keeping the spares to replace those needing refreshment is an excellent idea.


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