Finding Our Way

IMG_5535As we debate our transition to a denser, more urban landscape, we are challenged to find our way through the maze of multiple interests and competing priorities.  In addition to high rises and potential street bends, Oak Park’s current conversation is about finding our way more literally.

The Village recently hired an urban planning design firm to analyze our “wayfinding” signage.  This comprises the plethora of signs directing residents, tourists and commuters to wherever they need to go:  local attractions, shopping areas, parking, highways, hospitals, you name it.

Oak Park’s reputation for signage isn’t great.  Part of that is the unwieldy set of parking regulations that lends itself to even more unwieldy signage.  The bigger issue may be that there is so much to do and see in our small town.  Signage needs to direct different types of people traveling through the Village in different means of transport.

IMG_5532We often think of the tourists getting off the Green Line and looking for the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio or Unity Temple.  But folks come into Oak Park from North Avenue and Roosevelt as well, not to mention the Eisenhower.  Visiting teams and spectators seek out the High School while travel leagues come to the parks.

People wander into our shopping districts.  They peruse the Arts District galleries.  They admire our architecture. They come for weddings and they come for funerals.  With two major hospitals, they come for treatment or to visit loved ones.  People come here to work and they come here to play.  People live here.

Google maps on a smart phone notwithstanding, how do we best direct people?  There are many ways to create a sense of place and provide a cohesive navigation system.  Elements could include signs, guideposts, lighting, flags, landscaping, street décor, maps, pavement, historical markers, landmarks, kiosks, consistent design – lots of options.

IMG_5531Consultants will be holding public meetings soon.  In the meantime, start looking around at the signs.  And when you are out visiting other places this summer, take a look at their signs.  What works?  What doesn’t?  Let us know what you think.

Note:  the pictures are from a recent trip I made to Saratoga Springs in upstate New York.  They used an interesting mix of consistent design for parking signs (color and font) as well as flags and flora to demarcate the downtown area.  They were also good about letting you know what direction to head if you were looking for the Arts District and their famous racetrack.


This post also appeared June 27, 2016 in our weekly blog on



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