The power of signage and wayfinding

Signs can be an extremely powerful tool for cities. Not the green reflective signs directing you off the expressway, but the much smaller, human scale signs found on sidewalks throughout cities. These signs can help pedestrians find their way around a neighborhood (appropriately named, a “wayfinding sign”), tell a story on a local site, or even mark a historic landmark.

In Miami, these types of signs can be found in tourist-friendly South Beach. There, signs lead the way to major sites and attractions like Lincoln Road, Bass Museum, Jackie Gleason Theater, etc. Back on the mainland, any type of signage disappears completely. If you’re a tourist visiting Downtown Miami for the first time, you better have 3G on that smart phone to whip out Google Maps, because there’s no signs to help guide you to nearby attractions. Wayfinding signs aren’t just for tourists. Locals alike could benefit from these. No matter how many times you’ve walk down a street, there are many things we miss as we go about our daily lives. Signs can make us stop to read a small plaque about the history of a building, a site, a park, a person, anything. It can create a sense of place and a sense of belonging.

Philadelphia does a great job with these kinds of signs and plaques. Walking around Center City Philly is a pleasure. Signs direct you to major sites and neighborhoods on practically every corner. Parks have informational signs with the history of the park and area and historic sites have plaques and informational signs. You don’t need to go to a museum to learn a bit about the city, you just need to walk a block or two and stop to read. It’s an incredible asset.

Founded in 1682, Philadelphia has a more extensive history than Miami. It would make sense that it would also have many more historically significant sites. These plaques (below) are nailed to historic buildings across the city by the Philadelphia Historical Commission. It’s a small gesture, but it’s a reassuring move that lets you know the city cares about its past.

Philadelphia Historical Commission sign

This plaque is nailed to buildings deemed historic by the Philadelphia Historical Commission.

Pennsylvania Hospital historic plaque

Historic site sign put up by the state. These signs mark a historic site and give a short synopsis of the site’s historical significance.

It doesn’t always have to be about historic preservation. This simple sign at Louis Kahn Park gives a short history on the park, architecture and the area. It tells you who Louis Kahn was and why the park was named after him. In case you’re wondering, he lived nearby and aside from being a world famous architect, he did many projects throughout Philadelphia. Without this sign, who would have known?

Louis Kahn Park, Philadelphia

Louis Kahn Park, Philadelphia

Wayfinding signs are more useful for tourists, but it could come in handy for a local too. Maybe you’ve walked down that same street your whole life, but you never knew there was a Polish-American Museum at the end of the block. Hmm, good to know.

Wayfinding sign, Society Hill, Philadelphia

Wayfinding sign in Society Hill, Philadelphia

Campus maps are always helpful. These could be good for Miami Dade College in Downtown. It would also help solidify the college’s presence and image in Downtown. Did you know there are more than 27,000 students at MDC’s Wolfson Campus in Downtown? It’s easy for the college to get lost in the bustle of Downtown, but signs like these can help mark MDC territory so to speak.

USciences campus map, Philadelphia

USciences campus map

“Signals set for 20 MPH.” These can be a great tool for traffic calming. The way they work is this: if you were to drive the marked speed, in this case 20 MPH, you would encounter all green lights as you traverse the street. Not only do they deter drivers from speeding down the street, it also helps to keep auto traffic flowing. It’s very efficient and it’s a tool that the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has not yet implemented in Miami. These are great for many urban streets.

Speed sign, Society Hill

“Signals set for 20 MPH.” These signs can be a great tool for traffic calming, perfect for many Miami streets.


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