Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Richardson, Gateway to Plano

Continental Inn

Mention Richardson to almost anybody and what image pops into their head? Maybe nothing. Some, even residents who love Richardson, might snicker and say the Como Motel or the Continental Inn on US 75. That reaction alone might be reason for me to support efforts to erect a landmark entrance sign at the Richardson border on US 75, the highway that thousands of commuters use to travel through Richardson every day. Don't underestimate the symbolic power and marketing benefits of a striking landmark.

After the jump, what Richardson needs to think about.

For over a century every passenger on every ship entering New York harbor was greeted by the Statue of Liberty. Today, cars crossing the country are beckoned west by the Gateway Arch, visible to all miles before they cross the Mississippi River at St. Louis. Make it all the way to southern California and what makes Hollywood instantly distinguishable from Glendale, Burbank and countless other LA suburbs? It's the Hollywood sign, one of the world's most recognizable symbols. A million dollars, the amount proposed for a Richardson entrance sign, is not going to buy a Statue of Liberty or a Gateway Arch, but the Hollywood sign demonstrates that a city doesn't have to spend a lot of money to make a big impact.

Should Richardson attempt to create its own magic with a landmark entrance sign? Sadly, no, at least not now. The country is suffering its worst economic recession since the Great Depression. While I support the Keynesian principle that government needs to ramp up spending when consumers and businesses are tightening their belts, in order to keep the economy from collapsing further, that doesn't mean all spending is equally effective. Creating a grand entrance sign probably doesn't do much for the economy in general, certainly not in the short run.

Even if we weren't in recession, this talk is still premature. The city council needs to get the community involved. Create a citizens' working group to talk to Richardson residents about what themes such an entrance sign should invoke. How many residents have even thought about what Richardson's landmark entrance sign should look like?

If and when Richardson does finally get around to hiring an artist to design the landmark, disband the committee. Art by committee is never great art. Give the artist freedom to create something great. First generate interest, even enthusiasm for a great design, then consider putting something in a future bond proposal to pay for it. Or better yet, push for a design ambitious enough to attract individual and corporate donations to pay for it, giving everyone a feeling of ownership.

Richardson has waited fifty years for an entrance sign. Richardson can wait a little longer to get it right.

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