Woog’s World: Some wayfinding sign suggestions
If you live in Westport, you know your way around town.
You know how to navigate one-way roads like Church Lane, Myrtle Avenue by Town Hall, and Main Street heading to Brooks Corner. You know where you can park all day, where you can park for only a couple of hours, and where you are supposed to park for only a couple of hours but no one checks.
You know whether to use the upper or lower lot for whatever you’re doing at the library, and that it’s a lot easier to cross the Post Road from Taylor Place to Starbucks and PopT’art gallery than just 10 yards away, by Anthropologie.
You know that, but visitors don’t.
That’s why, as the Westport News reported last week, new “wayfinding signage” is headed our way.
“Wayfaring signage” is 21st-century speak for “signs.” The problem is, we’ve already got plenty of them. We have signs for parking lots, street crossings, Town Hall and the library. However, they come in all shapes, sizes and colors. That’s confusing for visitors. And lord knows, they need to know there are parking spots available on Main Street (look for the abandoned stores), in Parker Harding Plaza (watch out for construction) and “satellite lots” (just a few minutes’ walk, if you know where you’re going).
The project has been in the works since 2015. Third Selectwoman Melissa Kane spearheaded the effort, with help from various stakeholders and committees. A Philadelphia firm called Merje — its website says they “merge” graphic design with the clients they help, to enhance their brand — will make sure the new signs are clear, consistent, easy to read and uncluttered. They’ll all feature Westport’s new rebranded colors.
That’s all well and good. Visitors will now be welcomed appropriately, and unclutteredly, to town. They’ll find parking, shopping, information about nearby attractions — you name it. Westport will join every other town and city in the country, all of whom have already done this.
But what about the rest of us? We live here. We’ve gotten used to our surroundings. Too used to them, perhaps. We need a sign or two ourselves. Perhaps, with a consistent typeface and in our rebranded colors, they could alert us to sights and opportunities lurking right beneath our too-cluttered, unnoticing noses.
“Saugatuck River!” one sign might proclaim. We cross it every day. We kind of know it’s there. But how many of us really think about the river as an integral part of Westport? Do we consider how important it was to Westport back in the 1800s and early 1900s, when wharves lined its shores and ships carried our onions, axe handles and other random products and goods to New York and beyond?
Unless we row, kayak or sail on it, do we think also about what the Saugatuck River means today? Downstream, maybe, but not downtown.
There’s a reason: We’ve overpowered it. Parker Harding Plaza — built as landfill, when the river lapped up against the backs of Main Street stores — should have signage directing us to look west at the river, and appreciate its many wonders.
Another sign could point us to the pedestrian walkway that juts into the river at the edge of the parking lot opposite Rye Ridge Deli. Did you know you could take 10 steps and feel like you’re in a different world? You’ll see marshes, reeds, fish, wildlife and ducklings as they hatch. If you’re a Westporter but have never taken this easy, amazing stroll, join the 99 percent of others who haven’t either. Then do it.
A few steps away, a sign could direct us over the river itself. I have lived here my entire life, but I have yet to meet someone who parked on one side of the river and walked to the other to shop or eat. The sidewalk is wide. Exercise is good. Yet for Westporers, the Saugatuck River might as well be the Rio Grande. In our minds, it is way too risky and intimidating to cross.
Of course, there is plenty to do on the west bank. There are stores like Age of Reason (amazing toys and service), delis like Winfield, several art galleries and plenty of good restaurants.
Which leads me to parking. As popular as OKO and Bartaco are (and The Meatball Shop wasn’t), there’s a misperception that you can’t park there.
You can. An enormous double-decker lot — the only one in Westport — lurks across the street. Several signs direct diners there, but no one believes them. It’s usually empty.
If our new wayfaring signs can convince us to park there, then this project can truly be called a success.
Dan Woog is a Westport writer, and his “Woog's World” appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His personal blog is danwoog06880.com.