Charlotte Will Rethink Negative City Signage With a Knight Grant

Charlotte, North Carolina

Charlotte, North Carolina


Connecting state and local government leaders

Municipal signs often tell residents what not to do, but what about things they might not know they can do in public spaces?

Sarah Hazel was in Detroit last July for the Knight Cities Challenge Winners Summit, about to enter the RiverWalk, when the inspiration for her next big idea hit.

“There I was, about to enter this beautiful place people love, and all you see is this big sign listing the things you’re not allowed to do,” said Charlotte, North Carolina’s assistant to the city manager. “Which is kind of a downer.”

Hazel, whose No Barriers Project won Charlotte a Knight grant during the challenge’s first round, returned to the Queen City and began speaking with colleagues, local artists and other residents about the prohibitive messages municipal signs often send.

After conversing with Planning Department urban designer Monica Holmes, the McColl Center for Art + Innovation and the Knight Foundation, Hazel submitted a pilot pitch rethinking language on signs to be more positive. In November, she proposed more motivating options for the challenge’s second round: YES! You can dance! You can sing! You can skip!

The Can-Do Signs proposal earned Charlotte a $27,900 Knight grant Tuesday.

Hazel expects the project to kick off in late summer and run 12 to 16 months. Her initial concept will be modified by a group of Parks and Recreation staffers, other officials and residents offering feedback about potential new signs.

“We want to find out more about what people may not know they can do in certain spaces,” Hazel said.

The upbeat signage will be placed uptown and around various neighborhoods.

“It’s really a small project peppering the city with positive messages that could affect how people enjoy and see a space,” Hazel said.

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Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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