Winning Riverwest neighborhood sign revealed at Center Street Daze
The Riverwest Neighborhood Association (RNA) released the winner of its neighborhood sign redesign competition at Center Street Daze on Saturday, Aug. 6 at 11:30 a.m. before the Cart Races began. The final three designs were submitted by David Arnevik, Helene Feider and Allison Waller, but it was ultimately David Arnevik's "House on the river" design that was deemed best by Riverwest residents.
Many neighborhoods in Milwaukee are marked by signs that define their boundaries. Often they feature buildings or landmarks, and the neighborhood names are set in Korinna, a simplified Art Nouveau typeface that was revived in the mid 1970s. The typeface and designs appear to be a nod the neighborhood posters by Jan Kotowicz that were created from 1983 to 1995.
Not every neighborhood sign follows these loose trends, and that's fine (some of the posters are more iconic and inspiring than others), but I do appreciate the sense of unity it brings to the city.
So what was wrong with the current Riverwest neighborhood sign? According to Ruth Weill, writing in the Riverwest Currents, the Riverwest Neighborhood Association felt it was dated and due for an update.
"Many residents felt Riverwest needed a new image that better reflected the neighborhood. A new sign had been a topic at community meetings for a few years now," wrote Weill.
After asking residents to rank specific themes, the RNA put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) to artists for new design submissions. According to the results the top themes were, diversity, community, the river and art. Figureheads in the community then chose three designs and residents voted for their favorites at various block parties.
I have to say the process felt a bit flawed to me. The themes seemed to be weirdly split. Diversity was separated from community, the river was separated from parks and green spaces, art was separated from music, and bicycles were the only transportation focus (I would have wrapped that whole thing in "walkability"). Additionally, the Riverwest Family Crest was voted on as a theme, when there is no such thing. The intent was that residents would be noting that they wanted a design that could work as a sign as well a crest or logo, but this is a discussion separate from the theme decision.
Despite community, diversity, and natural spaces being the clear poll winners, the subsequent artist submissions (of which I was a judge) mostly ignored this and focused very heavily on biking (among the lower vote-getters), which made it difficult to choose among diverse themes. If you follow my writing, you know I have a love for bikes, but even I had to to admit this seemed disingenuous to the residents.
Nevertheless, the competition floated three solid designs to the top, each emphasizing elements of the neighborhood in their own way. Arnevik's "House along the river" design took the familiarity of the Polish Flat neighborhood poster, but added a long-view of significant icons (the church, river, reservoir hill, and the skyline) and then juiced the colors.
Feider took typography in a bold direction with her "Bicycle and tree" design whose letter forms reflect diversity, and coming together to form something bigger than the individuals. And Waller's "Riverwest Coop" design nods to the community, diversity, and green-ness of the neighborhood through the avatar of one of its most beloved institutions.
Still, between all three I was hoping for something a little more iconic. Riverwest's sister neighborhood, Harambee, has a street sign that is a boldly abstract design that I can see transposed into all kinds of purposes. (Considering the design was originally the logo for the Harambee Ombudsman Project, this makes sense.) The North Point poster is also uniquely graphic.
Any of the new Riverwest signage choices lack that type of portability. Yes, they'll work as a sign and a poster for sure, and this satisfies the general requirements. I just wish the whole project was structured for a greater vision.
Posters of all three designs will be available for purchase at Center Street Daze.
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