Sunday, March 14, 2010

Signs, Signs, Everywhere a Sign

Well, maybe not. A proposal came to council from a local company, asking approval to set up an electronic sign at the Tourism Centre, with the possibility of putting up other signs along other corridors through the city. These signs could be used for advertising, both for companies, but also for community events. Being electronic, they could be updated rapidly. And they had the full support of the people at Tourism, who welcomed the opportunity for a new way of getting the news out about what Prince Albert has to offer.

Interestingly, the initial recommendation, without even discussing possible pros and cons, was to reject the proposal. As always, the reasons cited were interesting, with the phrase "We don't want to be opening up a Pandora's box here" coming from one councillor. You would think from that rather cliched phrase, that this is some kind of new, unproven, possibly dangerous idea, that other communities have rejected. Or that by agreeing to one sign we would be giving blanket approval for these signs to be everywhere. It ignores the fact that these signs are already here, even located at city-owned facilities. For example - there's one at the casino. There's one at SIAST. There's one at Carlton. These signs advertise functions at those facilities. And there's one at the Art Hauser Centre, on city-owned property, although the advertising revenues from that one go to the Raiders, not the city. And the concern raised about third parties being able to advertise on the proposed signs ignores the fact that third parties advertise on the Art Hauser Centre sign, so far without causing any sort of disaster that I'm aware of.

I supported this idea for a number of reasons. An agreement with the sign company would have set out the revenue-sharing options - perhaps some could have gone to the sign company, some to the city, some to Tourism, and some to various city-owned facilities that can't support themselves, like the Rawlinson Centre. This would not be money from the taxpayer, but money from an outside source. I thought that such signs would also be a good opportunity to advertise and perhaps increase usage of city facilities - for example, coming into town you could see what was on at the Rawlinson Centre, and perhaps even if there were seats available for whatever event was on that evening. And such signs I think would be a vast improvement over those ugly portable jobs with flourescent lettering that currently blight Second Avenue West, advertising everything from insurance brokers to fast food to Arts Centre activities to upcoming events at the Rawlinson.

But we didn't even get the chance to discuss the options. No discussion, just fear of getting in too deep. Before we make such decisions, I think that it would be better if we looked at each opportunity as just that, perhaps learning from other cities what measures they have taken to take advantage of new technologies to help their communities, rather than reacting with fear over how trying new things might affect our old ways of doing business.

It's similar to our accepting at face value the recommendation from the Police Commission that we replace police vehicles every two years (which we've done ahead of the actual budgeting process, which will once again limit our options once we get there), before finding out that other Saskatchewan cities have a replacement time of three to five years, perhaps because they have found vehicles that last longer. But we don't take the time to do the research, and it seems that we often end up paying more, or missing out on opportunities, without any good reason for doing so.

"If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting." - Stephen Covey

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