Keumbu, Kenya (Photo by John I. Carney)
The whole debate about building signage in Shelbyville brought back a world of memories for me. The type of signage about which city officials are complaining is common, not only in Latin America -- I've seen it in Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Bolivia -- but in Africa as well.
In my self-published novel, I write about my main character being fascinated by a sign for an insecticide, Mortein Doom, which he sees plastered on a variety of buildings throughout his Kenya trip. It's a real product, and I really saw those signs. That type of building signage is the norm, not the exception, in the places I've been on my foreign trips. In the Developing World, there are fewer advertising options. Just as many mom-and-pop businesses in Tennessee used to have illuminated signs accompanied by a Coke or Pepsi logo, many such businesses in places like Kenya make money by allowing Colgate or Coca-Cola or Mortein Doom to paint big splashy logos on the side of their buildings.
If you move to a new country, there's no doubt a lot to learn. There's a tendency, I'm sure, to do things the way you've always done them, until someone tells you otherwise.
There's no question that any community has the right to adopt design standards. An attractive business district benefits everybody in the long run. But the discussion at the City Council level should have been about just that -- standards. By associating their complaints with a particular group, city officials have made themselves look bad.