Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Pride of Place

How do you know a city that takes pride in itself? It’s often the littlest things. Consider this stop sign from the city of Chicago.

At first, this looks like any ordinary stop sign. But take a closer look at the bottom and look at what we see.

The people who make street signs in the Chicago care enough, put enough pride into their work and their city, to sign the city’s name at the bottom of every sign. This tells us something very powerful about the that place. Think it is an accident of geography, luck, or history that made Chicago what it is today? Think again. There something real and something deeper, and it shows itself even in the most humble of civic adornments, the street signs. It’s like I’ve always said:

“The mark of a great city is in how it treats its ordinary spaces, not its special ones.”

Chicago obviously get it. And that’s one reason it is a truly world class city.

Topics: Architecture and Design
Cities: Chicago

15 Responses to “Pride of Place”

  1. thundermutt says:

    On the flip side, the price is needlessly higher because Chicago’s stop signs are different from everyone else’s in the USA.

    I don’t think taking the city’s name off the signs to save money would constitute lowering their level of service.

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    Absolutely, and it’s one of the small things you notice when you visit another city. The weird thing about Chicago and Illinois? The Mayor and Governor names on everything.

  3. Lynn Stevens says:

    Well, the mayor’s and governor’s name on everything is more about politics, incumbent name recognition, free political advertising (to the candidates, while the taxpayers pick up the tab, e.g. new tollway signs with governor’s name cost $15K each!).

    And I suspect the city’s name on street signs has more to do with establishing ownership than pride of place.

  4. The Urbanophile says:

    Well, I’m not a huge fan of slapping a mayor or governor’s name on everything, but you all are right, Chicago does it.

    thunder, I speculate that Chicago makes their signs in house and/or orders in such volumes that there is no real price difference.

    Lynn, that may be on the ownership, but I’ve yet to run across another city that does this. Does anyone know of one?

    Thanks for the comments everybody.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I don’t think it’s pride, they put that on stop signs so some city employee doesn’t snatch a truckload of them and sell them to DeKalb County

  6. thundermutt says:

    I assumed that they probably have an in-house sign-making function, an anachronism in this day and age of digital reproduction and a sign shop in every strip mall.

    In an era when one of the biggest municipal costs is employee benefits and pensions, outsourcing makes a lot of sense.

    Except maybe in Chicago. Patronage vs. pay-to-play…choose your poison. Which is more efficient?

  7. D says:

    I agree with your point, Urbanophile, but this is kind of a stretch. Like another poster said, if they didn’t do that, half their inventory would walk away. I doubt anybody was thinking about pride of place when they decided to put the name on their signs.

  8. Kevin LeMaster says:

    I disagree. I love Chicago, but I think it’s more of a sign of a heavy-handed government than community pride.

  9. Anonymous says:

    speaking of city pride…did you see the online version of the Indianapolis Star today. Party Crashers(Metromix) on the front page. Sad, the Star has hit rock bottom

  10. The Urbanophile says:

    Thunder, you must not understand how Chicago works. All those extra jobs aren’t a bug, they’re a feature!

    I honestly don’t know why Chicago does this. Perhaps it is inventory control. But isn’t it amazing that when Chicago does things for ostensibly business reasons, it ends up sending things in a positive direction, when in so many places it sends it the other way?

    I’ve also still never observed this elsewhere, though admit to not always looking closely at signs. Are there other cities that do it?

  11. P.J. says:

    This reminds me of a something I recall seeing in the past but is almost nowhere to be found nowadays… Do you remember when interstate signs in Indiana used to have the state name just above the route number?

  12. The Urbanophile says:

    PJ, what a perfect example of what I’m talking about.

  13. thundermutt says:

    Interstate signs in EVERY state used to have the state name on ’em. Not sure when that changed…maybe in the last round of “infrastructure rebuilding” (i.e. interstate highway reconstruction) in the 90’s?

  14. Alon Levy says:

    The weird thing about Chicago and Illinois? The Mayor and Governor names on everything.

    My guess is that Chicago is secure enough in its superiority that it doesn’t mind putting its dirty laundry in plain view.

  15. thundermutt says:

    I was perhaps too cryptic: I understand how patronage works and why. I understand that sometimes city employees or pols steer outsourced contracts to someone (pay to play).

    I understand that both kinds of corruption have been elevated to a fine art in Chicago. Add in aldermanic privilege and municipal unions, and it probably doesn’t matter which way a simple thing like make vs. buy on STOP signs goes. Someone will find a way to make money or pay political debts from the making OR the buying of the signs.

The Urban State of Mind: Meditations on the City is the first Urbanophile e-book, featuring provocative essays on the key issues facing our cities, including innovation, talent attraction and brain drain, global soft power, sustainability, economic development, and localism. Included are 28 carefully curated essays out of nearly 1,200 posts in the first seven years of the Urbanophile, plus 9 original pieces. It's great for anyone who cares about our cities.

About the Urbanophile


Aaron M. Renn is an opinion-leading urban analyst, consultant, speaker, and writer on a mission to help America’s cities thrive and find sustainable success in the 21st century.

Full Bio


Please email before connecting with me on LinkedIn if we don't already know each other.



Copyright © 2006-2014 Urbanophile, LLC, All Rights Reserved - Click here for copyright information and disclosures