The Text and Subtext of Urban Signage, Part IV

As we explained in the first post in this series, The urban landscape can be puzzling to the uninitiated. But if you were to take down all of the signs we’re featuring this week and pile them up in a warehouse somewhere we could tell you if they came from good neighborhoods, bad neighborhoods or somewhere in between just by what the signs are.

Today we’re going to take a look at signs found in good neighborhoods. There are a lot of factors that go into making a neighborhood good, but one can’t help but notice that making a ‘good’ neighborhood costs an awful lot of money. (Read part II here and part III here.)


We want to start off with a parking sign because in a good neighborhood most of the signs one sees have something to do with parking. In bad or marginal neighborhoods there are very few signs governing parking but in good neighborhoods they are absolutely everywhere. There might be a dozen on every block. It’s also worth noting that the better (and richer) a neighborhood is the more restrictive parking laws are for outsiders. This sign from the very high income neighborhood of Otterbein is about as restrictive as it gets. For practical purposes no one can ever park here without a permit.


Here’s a parking sign of a different type from Locust Point. We can’t really tell if this is an official sign or not, but it hardly matters. The text is plain but the subtext says “We’re claiming entitlement to this public space [that we don’t own] and whether we’re right or not we’re going to piss and moan and bitch so loud and for so long that you’ll wish you’d never parked here anyway. We’re rich and used to getting what we want.” This is kind of like buying a house next to a school and whining when children walk by every day. We don’t even have a car to park but we’d like to extend a great big Eff You to the residents of Decatur Street.


Here’s yet another type of parking sign from south Baltimore. You’ve got to have a lot of extra money, and be pretty neurotic about the amount of trash in the street to commission a print run of signs like this. (There are many of these around Federal Hill.) Notice too the appearance of the word ‘Please.’ Take a look at the loitering sign we posted yesterday. Does it say ‘Please Don’t Loiter?’ No. It threatens arrest and jailtime. People in good neighborhoods go out of their way to be nice to each other (sometimes).


Here’s another example of good manners in signage. Compare this sign in very rich Canton Square with ones you’ve seen elsewhere that threaten fines and the spread of disease. This one is written like a children’s book. It rhymes for Chrissakes!


Here’s one that takes the niceness a little too far. It just oozes passive-aggressiveness. The writer of this sign would never break decorum or upset the harmony of the office by suggesting that his or her co-workers are lazy jerks with a filthy habit, but the message is very clear. Instead of citing a rule this sign plaintively asks for a favor, but the backwards use of exclamation points and periods betrays the impatience with the smoking problem. Even as we snapped this photo someone from this office came up to us and said “Hello” when it was clear what he was thinking was “Why is this asshole photographing our sign?”


Here’s a community bulletin board in Canton. Compare it to this one in Station North, both for overall appearance and for what’s posted. Says a lot about both neighborhoods.


Here’s what a real estate sign looks like in a good neighborhood. A young and attractive real estate agent smiles out at you and is just waiting to show you your dream home. Compare this to the miserable signs in bad neighborhoods touting auctions and fast cash sales.


Here’s another real estate related sign, at UB this time. This sign is so ridiculous as to be absurd. Sings in good neighborhoods use words like Luxury. The absurdity is that luxury is something you earn as you move through life. the idea of a student living in luxury is ridiculous. Also, as someone who often rides a bicycle past train tracks and graffiti we can tell you it’s not very fucking luxurious. You’ve got to have more money than sense to fall for Luxury.


In a rich neighborhood even the snowball business is booming. A professionally made sign touts premium flavors. Compare that to this sad trombone.




And we’re going to wrap up the signs of good neighborhoods with these two kid related signs. We’re going to venture to say that parents of all neighborhoods love their kids equally, but signs placed by overprotective helicopter parents only appear in pretty good neighborhoods.