Tucson is surrounded by the natural beauty of the desert and the majesty of the sky islands. Less than 15 minutes, from little abode in midtown is the scenic route along River Road and access to the Rillito River Park trail. Maybe there is something primal about being surrounded by the natural world, but all I know is that it cleanses the soul and calms the mind.
In an attempt to preserve Tucson’s beauty, the local sign code includes a section that limits business signage and billboards along the designated scenic routes. The roads highlighted in red on this city map mark designated scenic routes. When the sign code was written several years ago, these routes were on the outskirts of town. Thanks to sprawl, the city has encroached upon some of these areas.
Now the Citizen’s Sign Code Committee, a business-oriented advisory committee to the Tucson Mayor and Council, wants to weaken the sign code along Tucson’s scenic routes and allow for larger signage. Obviously, this would increase blight and lead to the destruction of scenic views like the one above.
In her ward newsletter, Councilwoman Karin Ulich alluded to finding a balance between preserving the natural beauty of the surrounding desert and mountains and promoting commerce.
Councilman Steve Kozachik took this idea a step further in his ward newsletter and tried to tie bigger signs to jobs:
More on jobs? We are looking at restructuring some of the provisions to the sign code. While everybody on the council recognizes the need to protect the natural beauty of our scenic areas, we must find the balance between jobs creation/ preservation and protecting that public good. There is general consensus that the sign code needs an overhaul. What we will vote on next week is a step in that direction that I am confident will reflect our mutual concern for the environmental sensitivity of our surrounding areas and the need to allow businesses to operate in ways that give them a fighting chance at survival during this economic downturn.
Sorry, Koz, but I don’t buy this. Primarily, the jobs you will create with larger signs along the scenic corridor are short-term, sign-building jobs. In this era of social networking and Internet marketing, having a big-ass sign is not essential to business survival. In fact, I would argue that having a facebook page, a Twitter account, a blog, an e-mail marketing list, and/or a well-organized website with good search engine optimization are far more important to business success than a giant roadside sign. (Also, Internet marketing provides ongoing jobs– not short-term jobs.)
Having a tasteful sign with your business name and street number (please!) that is designed with a type style and color scheme that drivers can read at 40mph is important– yes– but that sign doesn’t have to be giant. After all, eventually drivers who see those big-ass signs every day just ignore them; in contrast, you can update your customers and their friends on facebook or Twitter continuously.
Businesses that are stuck in the big-sign-equals-success mindset need to wake up to the 21st century marketing techniques. Who is motivated to buy something from a roadside sign? Friend referrals (in person or through social networking) and an easy-to-find website are far more important. Seriously, I always “let my fingers do the walking” around the Internet before I get in the car, and I don’t know anyone under 60 who doesn’t.
At the December 14 City Council meeting, changes to the sign code for Scenic Corridor Zone District will be discussed. If you have an opinion, come to the meeting and voice it during the call to the audience. The meeting begins at 5:30 in the Council Chambers, 255 W. Alameda.