Big, ugly signs litter the Pittsburgh skyscape

Freelance writer CHRIS RODELL expresses his contempt


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I gaze upon the spectacular skyline of Pittsburgh and think of board games. Not Monopoly, as you might expect, or other pastimes involving skyscrapers and property values.

Nope. I think of Scrabble. I think how can I take all these massive letters littering the view and string together some words to express my contempt.

Travel experts routinely include Pittsburgh among the list of the most beautiful cities in the world. It also does well in literacy rankings.

It ought to. You can't stare at the photogenic city without being forced to read the names of all the corporations intent on making their names even more ubiquitous.

There's UPMC, BNY MELLON, HIGHMARK, K&L GATES, CITIZENS BANK, FEDERATED and on and on and on.

Of course, it's mostly done in that ANNOYING ALL CAPS style that never fails to tick off us connoisseurs of subtlety.

Where did it all begin?

Blame PNC Park (more evidence of disgraceful corporate naming shenanigans). It's the jewel-like ballpark along the North Shore of the Allegheny River and home to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

When the park opened in 2001, critics immediately hailed it as the most beautiful in America. Magazines featured lavish hitter's eye view pictures from home plate.

It dazzles still. There's the diamond, the lush outfield and, soaring in the background across the river, the mix of old and new, brick and glass, rustic and refined that combine to make the city's dynamic skyline.

The park is magnificent enough to be a popular site for elegant weddings. I attended one of them -- best of everything always to Howard and Mary! -- and I couldn't have had a more splendid time.

The food was sumptuous and the appointments exquisite. And as for the view from the club-level lounges, well, Will and Kate should have had it so good.

In 10 years, the vista has become the second most photographed spot in Pittsburgh, second only to the sublime shot of the city from atop Mt. Washington.

But whenever you point a camera at anything in America today there's bound to be a marketing guru ready to spring into the viewfinder intent on waving the name of some insurance company to spoil the scenery.

That's what happened in Pittsburgh. Because of sports and the city's designation to host high-profile events such as the G-20 summit meeting in 2009, Pittsburgh frequently is featured in national and even international news.

That's good. I want people everywhere to know why I love Pittsburgh.

But in an age that exaggerates the importance of name recognition over accomplishment -- think Charlie Sheen or Donald Trump -- corporate overlords sensed opportunity.

They began to place their neon names atop once majestic skyscrapers, buildings that Pittsburghers already could identify. It was as if your neighbors got BOB and SUE tattooed on their foreheads to remind you who they were.

And where did they get all these giant letters?

Is there a big-letter store somewhere?

"Yeah, I need an M, an E, two Ls, an O and an N sent over to Grant Street. What's that? You're running a special on Qs? I know a VP over at COMQUEST. Let me see if he'll go in on a couple with me."

I imagine all these letters coming down the interstate toward Pittsburgh on the back of a trailer looking like some PBS learn-to-read special or maybe a page from the colorful children's book, "CHICK-A-CHICK-A BOOM! BOOM!"

If only our corporate letter mongers were so whimsical. I'm always tempted to tinker with the sign down at the local elementary school so instead of featuring cheerful educational slogans about reading it would say something like, "WE ROAST CHILDREN HERE!"

But the obnoxious corporate branding of the city I love has me thinking of more monumental rearrangements. I'm going to get a helicopter and maneuver it around the city until I can line up some of the massive letters into a sign that reads: "THIS LOOKS REALLY CHEESY!"

I'll just have to be careful I don't inadvertently contribute to the problem by stringing the letters up atop a building that houses the local offices of Kraft Foods.


Chris Rodell is a freelance writer who lives in Latrobe and blogs at Eight Days to Amish (eightdaystoamish.blogspot.com), where the original version of this article first appeared.


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