What we talk about when we talk about sign pollution.

A Belated-ly Published Post from Ellie Burnett, International Volunteer Extraordinaire (IVE)

Our little family of two has a tepid relationship with signage. We are always first in line to commend a place for clear, legible, eye-level pedestrian signs. I have a distaste for billboards, not only aesthetically but also in terms of injury prevention: they cause accidents. For his part, Ian’s pet topic of “traffic calming” paradoxically asserts that the less information a motorist has, the more likely they are to behave civilly on shared roadways. Our first introduction to sign pollution was also the one and only traffic violation we have together. We were mistakenly driving against traffic in a one way parking lot in Canyonlands National Park when a not-so-friendly park ranger pulled us over. According to her, we were perpetuating sign pollution by ignoring existing directionals. Never mind that we were committing lots of other environmental and aesthetic pollution in that parking lot. Bitterness over paid tickets aside, Albania has turned me into a bit of a sign pollution vigilante.

For example, on the nearest overland border from Kosovo, there are two adjacent identical large maps of Albania posted on the roadside facing the same direction. There is nowhere to turn off for a pedestrian to have a look and the signs are not eye level, making them entirely inaccessible. The type is too small for motorists and there is no ‘you
are here’ message. These signs only offer the shape of Albania to newly arrived motorists and block a pastoral view. At my most optimistic, I believe the signs mean “Yes, yes. Bunkers. We’re not that paranoid anymore.”

That said the UN’s various agencies seem to be the single largest purveyors of polluting signs in Albania. After an initial day of trailmarking with Catherine, my mental state quickly devolved from pleasantly painting the town red to wondering if anyone will be able to understand the system to considering starting over with cairns to seriously contemplating what sort of human being shows up in another country and starts polluting. How does Ban Ki Moon sleep at night?

Well rested and feeling more hopeful about the signs’ intended audience, my sign-hating-in-a-nuanced-sort-of-way kindred spirit, Catherine, and I have set off to mark another trail.

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