A banner day for city’s visual clutter

Tuesday, April 8, 2008 at 1:14am

Visual clutter. It dominates Nashville’s public realm.

Mailboxes sprouting from sidewalks or eerily leaning over curb-lacking streets are perhaps the worst culprits.

Business signage can be troublesome too, with the signs that masquerade as the building and parking lot home to the Green Hills Men’s Wearhouse a glaring case.

And what about cars parked in front yards? (If William Williams ran the Metro Government show, vehicle owners who treat grass like asphalt would be towed with the tempo of a speed metal song.)

But there is one type of visual clutter that, given how it could so easily be avoided, simply should not be tolerated: poorly secured banners on streetlight fixtures.

Last week’s “Creating Places” referenced the banners for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum exhibition “Family Tradition: The Williams Family Legacy.” The banners, which recently ended a brief presentation on Demonbreun Street, incorporated an attractive and stylistic pop art visual. Not surprisingly, many came unsecured soon after their placement.

At this point, let me acknowledge a banner un-tethered from its pole and flapping wildly in the wind fails to rank on the “Top 10 Characteristics Important to Nashville’s Built Environment.” (If you haven’t perused this conversation-starting ranking, email bill37206@yahoo.com for a copy.)

The Mayor’s Office of Special Events and the Metro Public Works Department collaborate with the “business of bannering.” The former fields and approves/rejects requests, determines when the banners are installed (and the duration), and ensures the Nashville Downtown Streetscape Elements Design Guidelines are met. Metro Public Works Department secures, maintains and removes the banners.

With their colors and graphics adding urban flavor, banners can very nice. So too, can be the fine folks at Public Works, a department that catches more flack for the few jobs it executes with mediocrity than it receives accolades for the many tasks it handles skillfully.

But this may not involve a matter of skill, as some banners simply aren’t very durable.

Public Works spokeswoman Gwen Hopkins-Glascock, a gracious and conscientious Metro employee, notes the city can control banner craftsmanship and Mother Nature only so much.

“Lesser quality material plus high winds equals damaged banners,” Hopkins-Glascock says.

Metro uses a streetlight pole with one arm (or cross pole) on which to secure the top of a banner. One bottom corner is attached to a metal ring, leaving the other corner loose.

One-armed streetlight poles minimize wind loads and maximize the attractiveness of the hardware when they are not sporting banners.

Reasonable enough.

But why spend the time, money and energy to hang banners that are destined to become visual clutter?

An otherwise attractive streetlight fixture marred by an inefficiently secured banner can be likened to a sliver of spinach lodged between two teeth of Christina Aguilera.

A full line of poles with unruly banners amplifies the mess. And is unacceptable.

It’s time for the city to either determine a proper method of attachment — or scrap using banners altogether.

Finally

In last week’s column, I failed to correctly note the location of the new Nashville Fire Department downtown engine station. The facility is located between Second and Third avenues south and fronts Lea Street. The misstep marked Error No. 347 of my 25-year journalism career.

William Williams writes about Nashville’s manmade environment. Contact him at bill37206@yahoo.com

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