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Chron makes the case for beautification

The Chron editorializes in favor of the new sign ordinance passed by Council this week. The tone is off-putting, and as has been the case all along is long on assertion and short on empirical evidence, but it’s a pretty good capsule version of the pro-beautification side. Here’s the key bit:

There’s no virtue in looking awful, and when Houston competes with other cities, our tackiness puts us at a disadvantage. Nobody dreams of living in the Ugly Betty of cities.

Yes, of course every business wants the biggest, tallest, most attention-grabbing sign that it can possibly have. But that kind of competition is like an arms race: When every business has an enormous gaudy sign, no one gains a competitive advantage. Nobody wins, and the street looks wretched.

Real estate magnate Ed Wulfe — a deal-loving, free-enterprise kind of guy — has worked for years with Scenic Houston on quality-of-life issues like sign ordinances. He notes that his own shopping centers — successful places like Meyerland Plaza and Highland Village — already impose stricter rules on signage than the city does. Controlling all the signs’ size and materials makes the mall as a whole classier and more attractive to customers. Each tenant, of course, would prefer that its own sign be bigger and more attention-grabbing. But smaller, more coordinated signs for everyone lead to higher profits for all the stores.

As I’ve said, I hear people say Houston is ugly all the time, and I have to believe that has an effect on our fortunes in the greater marketplace. Who wants to live someplace ugly? A city that can’t draw people in isn’t going to be successful in the long run. Against that are questions of fairness to new businesses, and whether or not a new set of regulations would discourage businesses from locating here. I still don’t feel like I have enough information to evaluate the competing claims.

As far as the unfair-to-new-businesses business goes, the Chron has a plan for that:

That’s why, next time we update our sign ordinance (which is very much on the agenda of Scenic Houston), we need to provide a reasonable way to address signs that already exist. Right now, the new rules apply only to new signs, and even if every tenant of a shopping center changes, the entirely revised sign won’t count as “new” as long it stands on the same old pole. Small properties, anxious to preserve an individual competitive advantage even at a cost to the larger area, are likely to cling to those too-big, too-ugly poles for decades.

Well, that addresses one point while making the other a bigger deal. Which has to make me wonder about the possibility of a lawsuit over whatever might come next. Just another factor to consider.

Finally, on a related note, I have been informed that Council Member Anne Clutterbuck was out of town this week, so there’s no mystery as to why she did not vote against the new sign ordinance. I had expressed some curiosity about that in my earlier post.

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2 Comments

  1. Jessica says:

    There’s plenty of empirical evidence that proves that the human eye doesn’t focus on anything if visual elements aren’t balanced and coordinated. Any designer of print, web or landscape can tell you that.

    That the new laws only apply to new signs seems unfair, but I’ll take whatever babysteps we can get to improve the looks of Houston! Eventually every property will have to shape up or they’ll look dumpy compared to the competition.

    Could mandated curbs and gutters in our residential areas be next? Let’s hope.

  2. […] main takeaway from this is that these folks, along with the Chron editorial board, believe that Houston’s difference from these other cities is a competitive disadvantage. The […]