Park systems work to manage human behavior in nearby nature to create shared public space, to protect wildlife, and to reduce safety risks. The signage along the Tacoma waterfront reflects these themes. The contrast between the signs, pictured above, made me chuckle and also inspired me to look more closely at the signage aimed at directing and managing human behavior along the waterfront. As I read these three signs I was struck by the contrast between the welcoming announcement of “PUBLIC SHORE” and negative behavioral directives “NO ANIMALS ON PIER” and “NO JUMPING OFF PIER.” There are many signs that reflect the tension between sharing public space and reducing safety risks.
Humans seek nearby nature in public spaces in response to information overload and mental fatigue. Nearby nature environments are restorative if they create a sense of being away, are an immersive experience, and/or foster fascination or an opportunity to think, do, or wonder. People choose natural areas that are compatible with their interests, such as predation (e.g., hunting or fishing), domestication of the wild (e.g., caring for pets) or observation (e.g., bird watching). These different interests reflect different “publics” and different points of view (Kaplan, Kaplan, & Ryan, 1998).
“Public is many publics. Their perspectives are necessarily incomplete as they are based on different experiences and knowledge. Their perspectives are likely to clash since they are based on different needs and desires. What is the “right” public to be heeded?” (p. 125)
Managing different publics through signs creates a tension between what park space is protecting or privileging. Below are many such signs and what they made me consider about their messages.
Signs like “NO SURREYS BEYOND THIS POINT” and the image of a bike with a “no” sign (circle with a diagonal line) can be viewed as working to limit potential collisions between walkers and bike riders.
The “NO WAKE” sign can be viewed as working to create space in the waterways for kayakers and paddle boarders.
Signs like “NO TENTS NO SHELTERS” can be viewed as a directive to share space, as a keep-out message, or as an effort to maintain pristine water views for Silver Cloud Hotel guests.
Signs like “NO CLIMBING, JUMPING AND DIVING FROM DOCK OR PIER” are aimed at limiting safety risks. However, my visitor survey responses revealed that a number of visitors expressed feeling joy when they jumped off Old Town Dock. The message of the sign and this visitor’s reflections are a stark contrast:
“My favorite spot would be the pier where you can jump off into the sound. I think this is my favorite spot because it was something our whole football team would do after a hot practice, go jump in the sound. It was daring, re-energizing, and refreshing all at the same time. A lot of memories are tied to this spot.”
Another set of signs is aimed at limiting human action to feed or hunt other animals: the no symbol over an image of a human hand feeding waterfowl, “DO NOT FEED”, “NO CRABBING”, “NO FISHING.”
These signs can be viewed as protecting wildlife from inappropriate food and human predation or they can be viewed as limiting fishing to only some parts of the waterway. Alternatively the signs might be protecting humans from eating fish and crabs that live in the polluted Commencement Bay.
Other signs are explicitly directed to dog walkers and concerns about pet waste. I’ve found these signs range from humorous “THERE IS NO POOP FAIRY”, to law enforcing, “IT’S THE LAW!,” to giving a reason for the desired behavior, “IT DAMAGES THE ARTWORK.”
Reflecting on the signs along the Tacoma waterfront, some of which are aimed at limiting human action to feed or hunt wildlife, has supported me to think about broader wildlife/human conflicts like cougar/human interactions in Cle Elum, Washington. In Cle Elum, high school students conduct field investigations to track where cougars go when new housing developments encroach on their habitat. They have created educational programs to educate community members about how feeding deer and elk attracts predators, like cougars, to housing developments (Ryken, Bowers, Tudor, & Koehler, 2008).
The signs along the Tacoma waterfront reflect environmental issue debates where stakeholders can have very different perspectives. People engage and use nearby nature for a vast array of purposes. These multiple “publics” reflect the tensions of recreation and commerce, preservation and renewal, and conversation and development.
Kaplan, R., Kaplan, S., & Ryan, R. L. (1998). With people in mind: Design and management of everyday nature. Washington, D. C.: Island Press.
Ryken, A. E., Bowers, L.F., Tudor, M., & Koehler, G. (2008). Cougars and the community. The Science Teacher, 75 (4), 36-40.