I ♥ NY but I sure as heck don’t ♥ seeing the iconic logos popping up along our highways as roadside landscape. We all know and admire the logo, designed in 1977 to promote state tourism; it’s a big round white circle with three black letters and a huge red heart. There’s been one sitting out along Interstate 90 in Schodack for nearly a decade now. It welcomes visitors to the Capital District while the rest area it sits in front of remains closed and unwelcome to those same visitors. Now another one has been rolled out, like a bad rug, on the hillside just north of the Clifton Park rest area on I-87, the Northway. It’s one thing to see the I ♥ NY logo on buttons, T-shirts and tote bags or even on a building in Times Square, but another to see a gaudy, super-sized insignia slapped on the side of the road in rural or suburban New York. A clever marketing plan does not automatically make good design in the larger landscape. These plastic, astroturf sheets measure over 30 feet in diameter and scream “tacky.” They are eyesores. First Schodack, now Clifton Park, this pox is spreading.
I worked as a Landscape Architect for the Department of Transportation for 35 years. DOT has a solid collection of talented Landscape Architects who apparently weren’t consulted on the aesthetics of tricolor plastic sheets in the rural landscape. Or if they were, the conversation was one-sided and directive. These Landscape Architects, these design professionals, educated and trained in aesthetics know the diversity and beauty of this state and try their best, with limited resources, to blend the highly-engineered transportation system into the natural or built environment through which it passes. Hokey is not part of that training. The I ♥ NY logo should remain small and handy, something to wear or carry with you, not a stagnant blot or blemish disfiguring a swath of highway scenery. Tourism should be promoted face-to-face, not in-your-face.
Several years ago a small community in Western NY attempted to get some mileage out of the slope in front of a parking area adjacent their interstate exit. They had used live plants to write out the name of their village, a little promotion, but were forced to remove it by the DOT who said it was a distraction. In classic do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do manner, big brother was promoting itself with the I ♥ NY logo at a rest area three hundred miles away, which apparently wasn’t a distraction.
There are laws and regulations pertaining to outdoor advertising along our roadways. Billboard companies need permits and have to ask nicely to remove vegetation in the highway right-of-way that obstructs their signs. The Federal Highway Administration disallows commercial advertising on the interstates, which is why the blue signs near the exits tell you where to find a burger and soda and more frequently where to find a bathroom. If NY ♥’d us back they’d find the money to update and reopen closed and outmoded rest areas. Instead old, insufficient buildings are simply being boarded up, with ramps barricaded. We can’t even find the money to demolish and remove the eyesores.
New York has some classy rest areas and welcome centers designed with aesthetic sensitivity. What we’re seeing with the installation of the I ♥ NY logo here, and likely in other locations around the State, is simply crass hucksterism and New York’s highways, and you, deserve better.