Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?
– Signs, Five Man Electrical Band)

The recent decision of Parry Sound Council to reject the Pioneer Gas Station’s request for a sandwich board gas price sign on the Bowes Street boulevard area raises the question of what do we want the Town to look like?

Do we want to have signs everywhere, planted by companies and individuals in hopes that they will catch your attention? Do we prefer a town that has a less visually cluttered appearance?

At the most recent strategic plan meetings hosted by the Town of Parry Sound one of the topics concerned the revitalization of the downtown to make it more attractive. Suggestions that arose included the development of a plan that would define, and possibly restrict, the types of permitted signs to enhance the appearance of the downtown. There seemed to be a particular objection to the signs that projected out from a building and hung over the sidewalk. These signs can make the street look narrow and cluttered.

An attention to appearance and signs is a next order level of organization for a town, following issues such as zoning, building standards and by-laws. Can you imagine living here if there were no zoning laws to restrict building gas stations or a retail centre in a residential area or next to a school or hospital? What if there were no standards for construction and your neighbour could build a shack without running water next door and rent it out? Or how about ten of them? What if there were no noise, parking or smoking by-laws? It’s nice to have choice and freedom, but it is also nice to have predictable order.

Should the downtown businesses be held to a higher standard of appearance? My sense is that any standards for businesses in the Downtown Business Association area should apply to the rest of Parry Sound. If people and businesses want the freedom to do what they want they can easily locate to one of the surrounding communities with lower taxes and fewer regulations.

The idea that we need to know what the price of gas is at any gas station in Parry Sound is a joke. It’s the same price at all of the gas stations in Town, and significantly more expensive than Muskoka. Allowing sandwich board gas price signs will not foster competition and lower prices.

So what do we want Parry Sound to look like? A nice little town that doesn’t suffer from the visual clutter of signs and an apparent lack of concern to appearances? A town that leaves it to the individual businesses to decide what signs to put where, even if it’s on Town property? Are any regulations even worth having?

Consider also the purpose of signs. I believe signs are intended to attract attention. And if you are driving and looking at signs, what aren’t you looking at? That would be the traffic ahead and any pedestrians and animals that might be crossing the street. Considering the location, a sign that distracts drivers as they head down Bowes Street with apartment buildings, businesses and a hospital in the area probably isn’t a good idea.

A similar example was the request for signage on the CN trestle that crosses Bowes Street. It was intended to take the attention of drivers from the road as traffic merges from two lanes to one under the trestle and focus it on a commercial message. Even a simple ‘Welcome to Parry Sound’ message in this case seems a bad idea if there is any possibility of distraction and a resulting accident.

Realtors love signs, especially with their photograph on them, the bigger the better. They feel it’s a critical part of their advertising and branding activities. In that light Council chose not to permit a large realtor sign beside the CP Train mural in the downtown. That was done largely with the intention of not junking up the appearance of the downtown.

So refusing the Pioneer sign request was the right thing to do for any number of reasons. I doubt it will make a difference. They will probably just move the sign a couple of metres closer to the pumps and no longer require approval from the Town. It sort of defeats the intention of the Town, but at least the Town isn’t condoning this type of visual clutter and distraction. And the Pioneer Station’s temporary sign request? It was for five years.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

Now These are True Temporary Signs. (Parry Sound, a Touch of Colour)