urban archaeology

9th Avenue, Inglewood, Calgary Alberta 2011This barber shop sign sat on this wall for at least 30 years until it was painted over in the general gentrification of its building.  Following Business Redevelopment Zone colour guidelines which recommend maroon and olive, the wall is now repaired and painted a flat sludge green.  Who would choose such a colour combination, and worse, why would anyone follow it? And why are handmade signs seen as rubbish anyway?

The great affection for Fred Herzog's photos of Vancouver includes nostalgia for an era when signs were hand-written or else made by sign-painters.  It was a time when there was not a lot of money: one could be house-proud, which meant clean, but city pride, city branding, city marketting – why would one bother?  You lived in cities and towns, they looked like how they looked.

Now we endure the militancy of neighbourhood design guidelines and BRZs that insist neighbourhood main streets look harmonious.  Can one legislate cultural harmony? My neighbourhood association has long inveighed against having a Tim Horton's although they let in a Starbucks, and the old hot pink/lime green Korean restaurant is flagged regularly in the newsletter for its 'inappropriate' colour scheme.  The message is clear, we are all going upmarket and somehow must have better taste than we did before.  Curiously, paradoxically, this average Canadian neighbourhood might have taste, but it's lost its flavour.