f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

February 5, 2008

imagining Schenectady with no GE Sign

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 5:43 pm

It can now be revealed: My “three magi” poem in our “Holiday Haiku from Schenectady” collection was referring to the arrival of three haiku poets in Schenectady from distant points of origin, and was inspired by the venerable (not venerated) General Electric sign, which has long been a major symbol and icon for Schenectady, the birthplace of GE. As the Schenectady Gazette recently noted, the sign was erected in 1926 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. “The company uses 1,399 bulbs to illuminate the 10-foot letters and the huge GE logo, which is 36 feet in diameter. The entire sign stretches 168 feet along the top of Building 37.”

At night, I can see the GE sign from my back yard along the Mohawk River.  It’s been on my mind the past few days, however, due to an article in last Saturday’s Gazette. Titled “Rule nearly brings down GE icon: Schenectady plan calls for removing ‘free-standing’ signs” (by Kathleen Moore, February 2, 2008), the article begins:

“A new rule intended to clean up the city’s streetscapes almost had the unintended consequence of eliminating the historic General Electric sign.

“The brightly lighted landmark nearly fell afoul of a new rule included in the proposed new comprehensive plan, which states that all illegal signs must be removed by 2010.

“The goal is to accelerate the city’s long effort to get rid of billboard-style signs in front of businesses. The problem is that General Electric’s 82-year-old sign is just as illegal as the oversized signs that have been more recently installed in front of other businesses.”

The Gazette [see its photo] says the city’s zoning and planning moguls were stumped when they first realized that their proposed comprehensive plan would require tearing down a beloved local landmark. You see, in addition to its excessive size, the GE Sign sits on a roof and, according to Zoning Officer Steve Strichman, “Rooftop signs are simply not allowed in Schenectady.”  Moreover, Strichman aims to rid Schenectady’s streets of highway-oriented signs that are “out of pedestrian scale.”

Therefore, despite really wanting to eliminate non-conforming rooftop signs over the next two years, the planning board decided on a rule that merely mandates “all illegal ‘free-standing’ signs be corrected by 2010.”

can’t quite get over
the high rooftop…

deep snow–
on the signpost
a crow caws

……………………. Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

I’m really glad our civic leaders want to save this famous sign, which adds a lot to our rather minimalist urban skyline. But, as has often happened in my two decades as a resident of Schenectady, I’m scratching my head over the apparently inept (and often inapt) lawyering that goes into our law-making.   It seems to me that even a second year law school student, taking Zoning 101, could have come up with a quick fix for Schenectady’s comprehensive plan that would both 1) save a protected historic landmark that is situated on an enormous tract of land, in a (very non-residential) heavy industrial zone, and set far back from a broad one-way thoroughfare (with no neighbors across the street), and also 2) provide that nonconforming rooftop signs in or near residential and mixed-use zones, or along our narrow city streets be removed in the next two years.

show me yours.
you first.
barn roof creaks

……………..…. by Randy Brooks – from School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)

Of course, I first learned thirty years ago (when even Washington Post legal-beat reporters kept mis-stating the facts and law in cases I worked on at the Federal Trade Commission), that newspapers can get things wrong when describing laws and the details of lawmaking.   So, I’d be most pleased to have a more flattering account of what went into the efforts to salvage the future of the GE Sign.  Since I can’t image Schenectady’s skyline without it, I’m pleased indeed that this catastrophe, or the customary embarrassment around this town when inadvertent regulatory missteps are noticed too late, was avoided.

through a hole
in the fog billboard girl’s
radiant face

……………………………. by George Swede
from Almost Unseen (Brooks Books, 2000)

city lights –
the brightest are all
selling something

snowing hard
no road sign
to obey

………… . . by John Stevenson, Upstate Dim Sum

rooftop garden
she collects the rain
in saucepans

………………………. by Tom Painting – 2nd Place, July 2006 Shiki Monthly Kukai-Kigo

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