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Street Signs-Untapped Cities-Richmond Rd- Court St-NYC.sign_Old Queens Street Signs (Photo via Forgotten NY)

Every street sign you see on every corner and intersection in NYC has a history to it. Besides letting us know where we are, there are facts about the history of NYC street signs that may surprise you. In this podcast from Cityscape on WFUV, a New York City affiliate NPR, Untapped Cities founder Michelle Young discusses the history and future of NYC’s street signs, sharing some fun facts:

  • Did you know that the street signs of NYC were not always the iconic green and white signs we see today, but there were once different colors for each borough?
  • Even with the changes are there still signs that still have not been changed
  • Do you know what changes are coming to street signs in the next few years?

Michelle shares the stage with Steve Powers, graffiti artist ESPO whose work you’ll recognize in Downtown Brooklyn with his Love Letter to Brooklyn, which he says will be torn down in the next year. We learn that his street art name didn’t originally have a meaning but he later dubbed it “Exterior Surface Painting Outreach,” both an official and tongue and cheek name. He said after naming himself thus, he felt a “little pang of responsibility to be that.” His new book A Love Letter to the City is out, compiling his public mural projects.

Another guest, Tama Starr, discusses the evolution of Times Square’s billboards and lights, from gas light marquees to today. She explains the “garish” incandescent lights used in Times Square, which we have a hard time imagining because the photographs from the time are all in black and white. Her grandfather built the first New Year’s Eve ball in 1907 and the family moved the ball by hand for the next 90 years. Check out our behind-the-scenes look at the modern New Year’s Eve ball.


This photo lifted from a 1930 postcard shows an arial view of Broadway at that time, also known as “The Great White Way,” thanks to the glow of the newly installed electrically lit marquis signs lining the street. Photo credit: John Kenrick.

The final part of the podcast discusses the movement to update the icon for the handicapped/disabled by the Accessible Icons Project, currently on display at MoMA.

You can listen to the podcast at WFUV or on iTunes. Read more about street signs in our history of streets column.

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