Falmouth residents urged to sign up for wayfinding overhaul

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FALMOUTH — What’s in a road sign? Quite a bit, according to Theo Holtwijk.

The town’s director of long-range planning will help facilitate a public forum on the town’s wayfinding signage program – the dozen or so blue signs around the community that point out schools, the library, the business district – on Monday, July 21, at 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

“The primary value is to help people from getting lost, for travelers to navigate efficiently to destinations and amenities in the community,” Holtwijk said. “But wayfinding programs also create a sense of place and identity that can be embraced by the people who live here. The signs reinforce the quality of life that people here experience and the sense of belonging they feel to Falmouth.”

When the town decided it wanted to revamp its 30-year-old wayfinding signage program, it authorized nearly $25,000 for the design of new signs. The Vermont firm LandWorks was hired to spearhead the project and will present a report and proposal to the Town Council in September.

The consulting firm held a public forum in late May, and although it was sparsely attended, it did generate some useful ideas and questions. Those in attendance weren’t wedded to the current graphic element – a sloping hill, covered in trees and chimnied houses, that descends into a bay dotted with sailboats and seagulls. They encouraged the consultants to consider Falmouth’s history in a redesign, and wondered to what extent business areas or specific businesses should get signs.

The time around, Holtwijk and LandWorks may solicit feedback on prototypes. They also hope to hear more ideas about design motifs and aesthetics. And it’s possible, Holtwijk said, that elements of the new signs could be incorporated into materials and themes for the town’s 2018 tricentennial celebration.

“We’re encouraging the citizens of this town to think about how to best represent Falmouth on a sign,” Holtwijk said. “What does Falmouth represent that could be graphically represented?”

Something that speaks to the town’s geography seems likely, given the presence of forestry and Casco Bay in the existing signs, as well as the council’s recent push to acquire open spaces like Clapboard Island. Nearby communities have also highlighted nature in their wayfinding signs: Biddeford’s and Saco’s use a symbol for the Saco River, and Scarborough’s feature marsh grass.

While it may be fun to brainstorm graphic and style elements, the most important part of a wayfaring signage program is purely functional, Holtwijk said. A unified signage system helps people figure out where they’re going, especially non-residents who come to town to shop or conduct business.

“If you live in Falmouth, you probably know where the police station is and don’t need another road sign to tell you where to turn,” he said. “But if you’re not familiar with Falmouth, it might be helpful, even in the age of smartphones.”

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or btwist@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.