It’s funny how quickly I condemn Michigan’s I-69 highway for its barrage of billboards littered every hundred meters, making the construction and cracked roads seem only that much worse, because it was recently brought to my attention that Sarnia may not be so different.
Thanks to repairs in more recent years, our roads may no longer be pockmarked like those of our American neighbours, but we share a tendency towards roadside marketing that is equally as irritating.
It was a school friend visiting from Ohio who pointed out to me that those large black signs with neon letters reading ‘SAVE’ and ‘NO TAX’ and ‘DETAILS INSIDE’ appear outside almost every shopping plaza, restaurant, or car dealership in central Sarnia.
Every bit as annoying as those American billboards, I was upset these signs were one of the impressions of Sarnia that he was taking home with him.
Now as I drive along London Road, I can’t help but cringe at the visual assault between Indian Road and the mall, without a doubt the area most oversaturated with signage.
I can see what visitors to our city might see, and here is what I don’t understand: Sarnians are incredibly proud of the waterfront, Canatara Park, our revitalized downtown, First Fridays, etc., yet our civic pride doesn’t seem to extend far enough to consider the locality of our city with the resources that allow us to thrive.
I’m not naïve; I know that some businesses rely on roadside signs as their sole advertising push, but for larger companies with weekly flyers, television ads, and social media channels to promote their goods, is a neon sign using letters that are flipping upside down and sideways to painfully mimic the shape of a more useful characters, that is frequently defaced, and that is phrased in blunt (often incorrect) language really that beneficial in the overall marketing scheme for their company? Probably not.
I don’t think that taking down all the signs that line the arteries of our city would instantly efface the less pleasant appearance of our commercial district, but it would be a first step in the beautification of the centre of our city, the heart, and it could lead to an eventual unification in the appearance of the Sarnia at the water’s edge and the Sarnia only a short distance away.
In favour of a more cohesive image for our city, I ask: can we please take down the signs?
Olivia Seibutis is a Sarnia native and recently completed her studies in English Literature at McGill University