We’ve written before about citizens taking municipal signage problems into their own hands. Last year, designer Nikki Sylianteng started her own rollout of graphically-oriented parking signage for New York City. Sylianteng’s project had a simple goal: to clarify parking rules with graphics, rather than the word salad that’s crowded NYC’s signs for years.
In Raleigh, North Carolina, Urban Planning graduate student Matt Tomasulo tried a similar approach for a different problem. How might he get his neighbors to walk more and drive less? The problem itself might surprise you, but to Tomasulo, potential public health benefits make it one worth trying to solve. And finding that solution, he decided, was too important to wait for City Hall.
The initial result of Tomasulo’s ambition was a small but readable wayfinding sign that indicated how long it would take to walk to a nearby landmark or neighborhood business. They also included QR codes that gave directions (and also tracked how many people used that particular feature of the sign).
Tomasulo installs one of the earliest Walk Raleigh signs. Image provided by Walk [Your City].
Raleigh’s a relatively walkable city. Despite that, residents he interviewed argued that most neighborhood destinations were just too far away for traveling by foot. When Tomaluso found that “too far” was anywhere from two to fifteen minutes of walking, he embarked on a mission to raise awareness of that fact in hopes that it would keep more cars in driveways—and get more people walking.
DIY Political Pushback
Tomaluso, like Sylianteng, encountered a slight legal problem with his project. Though he notes, as Slate describes, that he “very intentionally did not deface public property” with his signs—they were posted with zip ties—the city of Raleigh removed the signs after news outlets wondered why the “technically illegal” signs were still up.
Despite their government, the citizens of Raleigh weren’t having it: after a bit of outcry, the city brought Tomaluso’s project under the umbrella of their own officially sanctioned signage initiatives, and Tomaluso donated the signs to the city to be reposted.
Scaling Signage for the Masses
In the face of his local success, Tomaluso turned to figuring out how he could scale this project for other cities. After a quick name change—from “Walk Raleigh” to “Walk [Your City]”—along with the more cumbersome tasks of assembling a design and distribution team and providing downloadable templates, Tomaluso’s project started to spread.
Their first big investment success was with Kickstarter: after an initial campaign provided the team with just under $12,000 for the project, Tomaluso started a website to provide sign design for those who wished to undertake similar projects in their cities.
In February, that spread got a bit of a boost: Walk [Your City] received a $182,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, and new pilot projects are to be launched in Lexington, Kentucky, and in San Jose, California.
Tomaluso notes that despite the massive influx of capital, Walk [Your City] projects are just one small part of the solution needed to improve public health. They’re an immediate solution for pedestrians and bikers, but Tomaluso himself notes that “so much is missing to complete that process” of getting folks out of their cars and onto the sidewalk.
What started out as a single person’s DIY initiative has now sprung into a movement in several cities across the United States. Despite its wide adoption, though, that movement’s efficacy remains unclear.
At ASA, our methods have been proven again and again. Whether you need sign planning for a city or a hospital, to direct or to inform—or both!–we can help. So contact us!