City partners with civic groups, offers incentive to tackle illegal signs
By Melissa Komar
Tired of looking at posters plastered all over telephone poles and itching to get involved with your neighborhood civic?
The City can help you kill those two birds with one stone.
The Streets Department’s interdepartment Zero Waste and Litter Cabinet is managing Bandit Signs Brigade, an effort to collect signs posted on street lights, utility poles, traffic signs, historical markers, street trees, and other city property throughout the area until Friday, June 15.
And, thanks to a grant, 29 participating neighborhood groups can cash in.
The City will pay 50 cents per sign up to $250 (or 500 signs) to each neighborhood group to remove signs posted in the right of way in the city during the Illegal Signs Roundup.
This is the first time the City has offered an incentive solely to groups, according to Nic Esposito, Zero Waste and Litter director for the City of Philadelphia.
“This initiative came from one of the recommendations of the Zero Waste and Litter Action Plan. In the early stages of developing this plan, we heard from many community groups that were very frustrated by these signs,” Esposito said. “Frustrations ranged from anger at the predatory nature to anger at the unsightly conditions that lead to an atmosphere of neglect on these sites. We also work very closely with Licenses and Inspections on the Cabinet and particularly with Commissioner Perri who dealt with this issue when he was the streets commissioner and who continues to be a passionate advocate for getting these signs under control. He helped the Cabinet access grant funding to start the program.”
Participating groups in the River Wards include New Kensington Community Development Corporation, Fishtown Neighbors Association, Friends of Campbell Square, Olde Richmond Civic Association, and South Kensington Community Partners.
NKCDC corridor stewards will remove illegal signs and the funds from any signs collected will help “to continue to fund our street cleaning program to be used to purchase cleaning supplies, pay our corridor stewards, keep their trikes on the road, etc.,” with an emphasis on commercial corridors, according to Kaelyn Anderson, economic development director at NKCDC.
Residents collecting illegal signs in ORCA territory can drop them off to the civic at Cione Recreation Center, 2600 Aramingo Ave., on Thursday, June 14, between 6:30 and 7 p.m.
“Illegal signs are blight. They are illegal, ugly and predatory. This program is an opportunity to monetize what we already are doing, cleaning and beautifying our community,” said Rosemary Thomas, ORCA president. “The money will go back into our Green Streets or Clean Streets Programs. We may use it to help support the expansion and maintenance of the tire garden or possibly jumpstart another project.”
Residents collecting signs in Port Richmond can contact Brendan Black, a member of Friends of Campbell Square, at 215–913–4088.
“The Friends Of Campbell Square would love to collect the 500 illegal signs as its goal,” said Susan Ongirski, secretary for Friends of Campbell Square. “Then, we plan to take the money that we receive in exchange for turning in signs and invest that $250 back into the park for plants or other park upgrades, to keep Campbell Square looking beautiful for a long time to come.”
ORCA and Friends of Campbell Square plans are right in line with the vision the City has for the funds.
“Our hope is that community groups use these funds to purchase new supplies for cleaning and greening Philadelphia neighborhoods,” Kelly Cofrancisco, deputy communications director, said.
And, while some extra spending cash for the civics is a sweet deal, the signs will not go to waste.
“After the signs are collected, instead of being thrown away, they will be repurposed,” according to Cofrancisco. “In October, during Mural Arts Month, the City will work with Trash Academy, a project of Mural Arts Philadelphia, to repurpose the signs into something useful. This will be part of an ongoing series of Trash Academy art projects that highlight the need to eliminate single-use plastics from the waste stream.”
Another signs roundup depends on securing more funding, but the bottom line is sending a message that illegal signs will not be tolerated.
“Our aim is that we send a big message to these people who put up signs, along with further enforcement if they get reposted, to severely limit the amount of signs going up,” Esposito said. “Once that happens, we hope to keep in contact with these groups who participated in the roundup to continue to organize them and possibly do one-off contests throughout the year to continue taking down these signs when they go back up, and we imagine they will. And if we need to seek more funding to this again, we will.”
For more details on the Illegal Sign Roundup, visit https://cleanphl.org/illegalsigns/.