Monday, February 6, 2012

Guerrilla wayfinding and the Charlotte dilemma

I spotted this article, from Atlantic, "Guerrilla Wayfinding in Raleigh," about mysterious signs that have sprouted in downtown Raleigh, to help pedestrians, courtesy of a project calling itself WalkRaleigh. The Raleigh piece is a follow-up to this article on wayfinding in cities.

All of which brings us to three Charlotte-related thoughts.

1. Why don't we have more guerrilla urbanism here? Tom Low of Civic by Design has been trying to work on an idea for pop-up porches, which isn't a bad notion but it begs the question: If you're getting official authorization for your plans, is it truly "guerrilla"?

2. Why isn't there a WalkCharlotte project out there, like WalkRaleigh, doing similar things, such as what Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers (@KevinSiers) suggested today via Twitter: "Maybe we need urban guerrillas to post pedestrian crossing signs in Charlotte, since the city doesn't bother."

WalkRaleigh is a project of CityFabric, "Wear You Live," a clever idea and definitely place-centric. Has anything of that sort been launched in Charlotte? If so, I'd love to hear/see more about it.

3. While we're on the topic of wayfinding, what's with those supposedly helpful signs on freeways and streets heading into uptown Charlotte, dividing uptown into color-coded quadrants, N, S, E and W?

Do you know anyone who has found those N, S, E and W signs helpful?  I don't want to trash them if I'm the only one who isn't being helped. After all, I worked uptown for decades and have a pretty solid idea where things are and can ignore those signs.

The problem of finding your way around uptown is significant, I realize. Anything that helps people is a good idea, especially with the continuing problem of confusing one-way streets thank goodness the city has restored some to two-way and the existence of too many barriers between uptown and the rest of the city: I-77, I-277, the Indy Freeway, Irwin Creek, Little Sugar Creek and various railroads.

But the color-coded signs do not work for me.

Maybe it's because uptown Charlotte is not laid out according to north-south or east-west, but on the diagonal. Tryon may be named "North" and "South" but it runs northeast-southwest. Trade Street may be "East" and "West," but it runs northwest-southeast. So the only way your mental map can dovetail with an uptown map showing Tryon running vertically is if your mental map knows nothing else about any other parts of Charlotte. (I have even seen some maps that place Tryon horizontally, which is a perversion not only of the actual compass points but also of the long-established tradition in maps of north being at the top.)

The best way to find your way around uptown, as with almost any city, is to get out and walk around in it. To Walk Charlotte, if you will.