What Part Will Signage Play in Our Future Green Cities?
The Benefits of Green Signage
As the impacts of climate change start to accelerate and humanity works to fight against this threat to the well-being of the planet, it’s likely that one of our first priorities will be to create cities that are sustainable, wildlife-friendly, and more pleasant for the people who live and work in them.
Like many aspects of good design, signage is not always something people pay much conscious attention to, as it fits seamlessly in with the landscape and gently nudges people in the right direction. But with a little thought, it starts to become clear just how much signage informs our experience of urban landscapes.
Not only does signage help to create a “feeling” throughout a space, (there aren’t many Londoners who don’t find the Underground’s signage comfortingly familiar) it educates and informs us, and helps us to engage with and move freely throughout built environments.
As public transport becomes more important and the need to protect the natural world grows, signage’s integral role within cities is likely to shift and transform.
Protecting Through Education
There are many reasons to cultivate green spaces within cities, from improvements in the population’s mental health to promoting biodiversity in urban areas. In recent years, there have been greater efforts to “rewild” unused land in cities, allowing it to revert to a natural state and provide a home for insect and wildlife populations.
Signage plays a primary role in green spaces like parks by allowing people to orientate themselves and make it easy to find amenities, but it can also be an educational tool that brings people closer to nature and sparks a desire to protect it.
In rewilded spaces, there may be designated areas that should be left untouched by humans, but they can still engage with it through surrounding signs that describe the kinds of animals and plant life that live there and why it’s important they are left undisturbed. Learning more about nature and the lives that play out within it helps people feel more connected to wild spaces and appreciate how important they are, making it more likely that they advocate for further conservation projects.
This is especially true when these educational opportunities spark an interest in wildlife for children, who often go on to develop a life-long love of nature. Signage placed at the eye-level of children could offer a fun, interactive, and kid-friendly experience for young people in green urban spaces, and make visiting these areas even more enjoyable.
Building Communities With Signage
It is often noted that within cities people can feel rather cut off from the wider community. Cultivating a sense of community may seem like a separate issue to creating more sustainable cities, but feeling connected to an area and the other people who live in it has a variety of benefits.
In the kind of small towns and villages where everyone knows each other, it’s taken for granted that it’s much more difficult to act antisocially without your mum finding out through the local grapevine. It may sound a little silly, but this kind of accountability means that areas with a strong sense of community end up self-regulating, as acts like littering and vandalism are under much more of a spotlight and cause greater social embarrassment.
The result is that built and green spaces are more looked after, and with strong community pride, social projects are well supported and have plenty of volunteers to help out. Signage can play a part in building communities in a variety of ways and has been used in projects such as Bristol’s Legible City to do just that, utilizing a network of directional signs, on-street information panels, printed walking maps, and public art projects.
Within urban areas, signage can:
- Inform local aesthetics and reinforce the atmosphere of an area.
- Easily transition into the medium of public art, with many of the materials used to make signage perfectly suiting open-air and long-term art installations.
- Help to tell a story, showcasing the area’s unique history and local narratives that strengthen a sense of place.
Wayfinding a Way to a Greener Future
Well-designed wayfinding systems can have both environmental and social benefits within cities. As we seek to decrease inner-city pollution, cities such as Vancouver are attempting to build a walking culture, and are using their wayfinding signage to encourage people to make more sustainable choices as they navigate their way through the built environment.
Signage can also help to make walkers and cyclists more aware of the best and safest routes, and if cities begin to employ kinetic energy capture on walkways, bridges, and tunnels (which harvests the energy created by people walking or cycling over pavements) then wayfinding signs can direct them to walkways installed with this technology.
A comprehensive public transport system is also a key aspect of any city that wants to reduce its emissions, and as these systems are often by necessity complex, ensuring that equally comprehensive wayfinding is installed to help people use these services without getting lost or frustrated is a must.
Finally, wayfinding can engage people and create a more interactive environment by including “journey narratives” which they can explore at their leisure. This may be a poem told in sections on a walking route or a puzzle that pedestrians can solve.
When we consider urban design, the vast changes in infrastructure we must enact in order to make our cities truly green may mean the importance of signage is somewhat overlooked. But signage has enormous potential to change the way people interact with their environment for the better, and by paying attention to some of the smaller details, we can start to solve our bigger problems.
This post was written by Links Signs, family-run signage manufacturers who have 20 years of experience in designing, creating, and installing transport signage, as well as assisting in public art projects.