Finding your way around Manchester

Colorful wayfinding sign in Salem, Ore.

Alderman Pat Long, who represents Ward 3 and thus much of downtown, is calling for the city to finally install uniform wayfinding signs at gateways to the city. The signs would point the way to multiple institutions, mostly downtown and in the Millyard, but also to major attractions like the Currier Museum of Art in the Oak Park neighborhood.

Over the past several years, signs have popped up along roadsides and sidewalks around the city pointing the way to individual institutions ranging from the Verizon Wireless Arena (which some old signs still refer to as the Civic Arena) to NHIA. As the City’s 2009 Master Plan points out, “an attractive and well organized Wayfinding signage system can not only make it easier for visitors to find their way around the City, but also can give the impression of a well organized and appealing City.” And a decade ago, the Manchester Economic Development Office proposed a wayfinding signage program, but the City never funded that request, and Manchester is still without a uniform wayfinding signage system.

After the aldermanic Committee on Public Safety voted last night to approve new signs for UNH Manchester, Alderman Long renewed his request for a uniform wayfinding signage system. Referencing the abundance of individual signs, Alderman Long warned: “I’ve got a funny feeling if we approve this one, two weeks from now we’re going to get another call… They’ll say, ‘Where’s my sign?'”

Signage in Burlington, designed by LandWorks, has provided information and a particularly attractive image of the city for visitors since 1986

Other cities offer examples for wayfinding signage that are both useful and attractive, and even as wayfinding becomes easier with GPS and cell phone apps, the signage adds to the informational and aesthetic appeal of a city. Two nearby cities provide case studies that Manchester could follow: signage in Burlington, a college town, and Portland, a tourist-driven city, show the way for students and tourists to find major destinations in town.

Signage in Portland, designed by William Smith Associates, is organized by downtown district

Manchester, with its large number of academic institutions, warrants similar signage. And even though the city is not the tourist draw that either Portland or Burlington is, it does attract many visitors to its athletic and cultural facilities, such as the ballpark, arena, theatres and museums, not to mention parking facilities. Wayfinding signage should point to all of these facilities, as well as possibly to major business or cultural districts: the Millyard, the Gaslight District, Victory Park and so on. In tune with Intown Manchester’s Next Steps plan, signs could also direct visitors to outdoor amenities, like Arms Park, Hands Across the Merrimack Footbridge and the Riverwalk. In order to help people move around more easily once they’re in town, signage for the Green DASH bus could be made to match or incorporated into the wayfinding signage.

Manchester’s Master Plan offers an example of downtown wayfinding signage

Signage should be targeted to both drivers and pedestrians, as is done in Burlington and Portland, and as shown in Manchester’s Master Plan. The signage should consist of interchangeable parts, so that a uniform style can exist throughout the city, with the specific destinations pointing to nearby attractions, as well as major destinations elsewhere. The City could cover all or part of the expense of installing and maintaining the signs by charging destinations for inclusion in the signage program.

Finally, the signage should say something about Manchester; the design should reflect the unique heritage and vision of the city. Manchester is a city built on a historic fabric, but with its growing tech sector and educational base, it’s also a city with a bold eye toward the future. A wayfinding signage program needs to express both the city’s history and its aspirations, and it should be developed in concert with the larger branding effort being studied by Intown Manchester. It’s time for Manchester to show the way.

Manchester’s 2009 Master Plan recommends wayfinding signage as part of a larger plan for gateways and corridors in the city

One thought on “Finding your way around Manchester

  1. I think it sounds feasible, if all involved are in agreement about who is financially responsible for everything necessary. Something has to be done about your crazy system of one way streets. I come visit once a year and those one way streets are totally confusing.

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