Whimsical signs in unexpected places are so commonplace these days that it’s difficult even to use to the word “unexpected”. But signage in general is ubiquitous, and since most signs communicate their messages in a no-frills manner, any notification with a slightly different tone still comes across as atypical. Which, most likely, is precisely the point. And it makes this sign at a small public plaza in South Philadelphia all the more unusual.
It’s hard to say if this is funny or merely snide—probably not laugh-out-loud funny to most, but the fact that it isn’t very flashy (and is almost obscured by a bush) gives it the cadence of understatement. I made many visits to this triangular public gathering space in the trendy East Passyunk corridor before someone pointed me to it. Maybe it doesn’t jump out because it looks so darn legitimate. It is simply a command in big lettering and the consequence below it, much like other public signage intended to restrict certain behaviors. Nothing about the sign would overtly indicate that it isn’t serious.
The placement and design of this sign leads to an obvious question: what would make these sort of peremptory messages legitimate or official? If the City of Philadelphia sanctioned this sign as a regulation on public space, odds are good that there’d be a reference to the ordinance that enforces this rule in tiny lettering somewhere at the bottom. Lacking such a citation, the sign reads more like a rule one might expect to see at a neighborhood clubhouse or the adjacent swimming pool. But it’s a popular plaza along the diagonal East Passyunk Avenue, best known as The Singing Fountain for its tendency to emit various familiar tunes (with a strong predilection for Sinatra). Here it is in full view:
It’s possible that the nonprofit that owns the land, East Passyunk Revitalization Corporation, installed the sign a few years ago when it engaged in a high-profile improvement of the plaza, removing some uninviting fencing that traced the perimeter of the fountain, while installing copious benches and plantings. Or maybe it was the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District, which has smartly engaged in a widespread initiative of buying and restoring many of the aging retail/residential buildings that flank this intimate commercial street. Either way, some people determined that doggie doo could seriously weaken the attractiveness of this newly refurbished little meeting spot, but a conventional request to clean up after the canine friend was both too bossy and too boring. So they tried for something ironic instead: an ostensibly serious sign that unashamedly uses the word poop in it. Seems to be working—at getting people’s attention, at least. The thoughtless dog walkers are another story.