In the middle of January, as I was walking down Hillsborough Street, I noticed what looked like some well-designed (what I thought were student-made) way finding signs. They simply indicated how far it was to walk to various parts of campus. Perfectly simple and genius idea. I immediately thought this was something that Downtown Raleigh needed in addition to the new 'car-friendly' way-finding signage that was added back in 2009.
Later that week, I found myself at the corner of Hargett and Wilmington Streets staring up at identically designed signage, but with different destinations (Seaboard Station, Raleigh City Cemetery). Tied on by plastic zip-ties, I knew this couldn't be the work of the City of Raleigh. One month later, the signage remains and the campaign's lead designer is none other than City Fabric's Matt Tomasulo. Tomasulo also had the planning help of Darryl Jones and Nicole Alvarez and was helped with installation by Erin White and Nik Shah.
The signage was put up just after the sun went down (9pm to be exact), so as to not get caught by city officials. Putting up unsanctioned signage without a permit is illegal in many cities, including Raleigh. Regardless, the signs remain and have been getting lots of recognition on the national level, over at the Atlantic, and last week, the BBC flew in to chat with Tomasulo for a video feature entitled, "How to Get America to Walk" on their Altered States news magazine. You can watch the video piece on WalkRaleigh here.
Tomasulo told me recently how simple of an idea it is and how amazing it is that it has taken off. He talked to me about how the timing of it all has been almost perfect. Perfect enough to hopefully land him a spot at this year's Venice Biennale for the project under the Spontaneous Interventions exhibition which is part of the US Pavilion at this year's 13th International Venice Architecture Biennale. Tomasulo has applied for a spot in the exhibition and is waiting to hear back. Indeed, it's a simple idea and simple ideas are what have propelled Tomasulo's CityFabric business into the spotlight here in town and into other cities across the country.
As mentioned, the signage was not authorized but persists in its original locations. There's something great to be said about that from both a design perspective and a city official one. The future of the WalkRaleigh is uncertain but Tomasulo has a few meetings in the near future that, hopefully, could help pave the way for a permanent future for the signage in the area as well as (we can hope) other cities. "The next step would be to actually figure out how to make them a more permanent fixture" Tomasulo said. I'll take one at every corner.
photos and graphics from WalkRaleigh, courtesy of Nicole Alvarez