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Monday, Jan. 16, 2017

Dimming a colorful city

Posted Friday, April 3, 2009, at 10:06 AM

I'm not so sure about Shelbyville City Council's consideration of legislating conformity.

The council's considering changing the city's sign ordinance to ban what I'll call "amateur" painting of business names and information directly onto the sides of buildings -- and limiting what colors those buildings may be painted.

Some council members made it clear at a study session this week they're bothered by Hispanic-operated businesses painted in "bright colors" and on which large signs have been painted on the sides. I'm thinking of one building in particular painted in red, yellow and green - the national colors of Mexico - and several others in a several-block area around North Main Street between Kroger and the Madison-Elm Street intersection.

"The main streets are beginning to look like Mexico in Shelbyville," council member Lee Roy Cunningham said. "This is not Mexico and I think some way or other, we need to tone it back down," Mayor Wallace Cartwright noted.

I'd agree the hand-painted signs are somewhat unsightly. But, as well-meaning as some council members may be, we don't need building color decisions based, like it or not, on the ethnicity or origin of business operators. Our main streets, overall, definitely don't look like 'Mexico." We're in no danger of that.

And I'm not at all sold on limiting freedom of expression, which this proposal would amount to.

But let's look more closely at another issue: Some affected individuals have enough initiative to attempt operating their own businesses during a weak economic time. They're bringing in tax dollars when every penny available is needed.

Just wait until a UT fan wants to paint their building orange and white, or a Vanderbilt fan thinks black and gold. Then watch the words fly...

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I think the last known letter of Teddy Roosevelt sums up the situation pretty well:

We should insist that if the immigrant who comes here does in good faith become an American and assimilates himself to us he shall be treated on an exact equality with every one else, for it is an outrage to discriminate against any such man because of creed or birth-place or origin.

But this is predicated upon the man's becoming in very fact an American and nothing but an American. If he tries to keep segregated with men of his own origin and separated from the rest of America, then he isn't doing his part as an American. There can be no divided allegiance here. Any man who says he is an American but something else also, isn't an American at all. We have room for but one flag, the American flag, and this excludes the red flag which symbolizes all wars against liberty and civilization, just as much as it excludes any flag of a nation to which we are hostile. We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boarding-house; and we have room for but one soul loyalty, and that is loyalty to the American people.

-- Posted by quietmike on Fri, Apr 3, 2009, at 11:12 AM

Your closing comment about UT and Vandy fans reminds me of a time past when the pole that holds up the street sign on Eastland Ave. was painted either Orange and White or Black and Gold depending on who the winner of the football game was that particular year. Some people thought that Shorty Campbell was behind the start of that tradition when Vandy actually did win one year.

-- Posted by leeiii on Fri, Apr 3, 2009, at 10:57 AM

Murfreesboro has been going through this, with disastrous results. The city has spent time and money focusing on sign conformity, while patently ignoring the drive-by shootings and other crime going on in poorly lit, lower-income neighborhoods. The city has been sued more than once over the sign issue and I think the money they've spent on legal fees could have paid for additional law enforcement for those areas it is sorely needed.

I hope the town fathers here don't get so caught up in micromanaging signs that they lose sight of more urgent needs.

-- Posted by MotherMayhem on Fri, Apr 3, 2009, at 10:23 AM

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David Melson is a copy editor and staff writer for the Times-Gazette.