Sign, Sign, Everywhere a Sign

February 15, 2016

I can’t pinpoint exactly when I started noticing the proliferation of mobile signs all over the city, but it was several years ago. A constituent brought to my attention a stretch of mobile sign pollution between Harvard Road and Kortright Road a few years back, and after several calls to our By-law Compliance staff, we have regular monitoring of this stretch.  Our current Sign By-law was last reviewed in 1996.

Back in 1996, mobile signs were being used as temporary advertising for time-limited sales or promotions.  This is no longer the case.  Mobile signs are now part of the streetscape throughout the city. In my opinion, it is now permanent sign pollution.   Changeable lettering has become full-colour advertising.  Sales-only signs have become regular roadside advertising.  Sign frames no longer move locations, they just change the graphics every 30 days to meet the requirement of the by-law.  And then, 30 days later, advertisers recycle the sign again in a scheduled sequence.

There are some locations, along Woolwich Street on front lawns for example, that just should not have mobile signs, period.  The mobile sign frames are sitting right on top of landscaped gardens and shrubs, with barely enough room between the building face and the sidewalk.

Compounding the permanent mobile signage problem is the litter of A-frames and wire-frame corrugated plastics signs popping up constantly along the road allowance, advertising everything from “We’ll Buy Your Gold” and “Golf Liquidation” to real estate open houses and new subdivisions sales. Signs on buildings are getting bigger too, with some business having multiple signs at one location, and signs that are lit up all night long (don’t get me started on the subject of light pollution).  Woolwich Street, which once retained its aesthetic residential character despite having multi-use zoning, is a now a jungle of signs — on lawns, awnings, upper and lower building faces, and lately, covering entire windows.

I’m usually quite supportive of business promotion and creative marketing.  But sign pollution is no longer advertising, it is visual noise. It is not effective any more as a result of its excess.  When this happens, advertisers need to “up the game” to get noticed.  This means brighter, flashier, backlit signage, which then becomes the new norm.

How do you feel about excessive signage along our city boulevards?  Am I over-reacting?  Is it time for a comprehensive review of our City of Guelph sign by-law?