Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Paint by Numbers

Alley in Easton, PA
 I used to be of the opinion that downtowns should have a unified palette of paint colors to give them an historic, dignified appearance. Like many others, I bought the idea that this would somehow compensate for the hodgepodge, organic way that many downtowns developed. So many of them are a mishmash of styles and eras, with sometimes questionable "upgrades" layered over authentic historic facades. A theme palette is supposed to help alleviate some of the disorder that these issues create.

Bath boutique in Kutztown, PA
 But you know what? The more I see color - especially bold, brilliant color - used in historic downtowns, the more I think it's a smart choice. Don't get me wrong; I'm a preservationist and I do not advocate painting brick or stone or doing anything irreversible. I'm just thinking that businesses that make the most of their architectural details by cranking up the color wheel help develop that 'vibrancy' that everyone says they want in their towns.

Kutztown, PA florist and crepes shops
Color is fun and it speaks to a more youthful, forward-thinking clientele. So many downtowns are absolutely dreary, what with all the sage green, taupe, gray, tan, maroon and navy wending down the main streets. Come on, color is a natural draw for a historic downtown, and I'm pretty sure that oldtimers would have used any bright colors they could have gotten hold of to intensify their appeal to pedestrians. Nowadays, a small sign is not always enough to catch the eye of the commuter. You have to use the whole building as a sign.

Is it any coincidence that many of these businesses are located in university towns? Does the presence of a large contingent of youthful shoppers make retailers more adventuresome in their facade choices? I think we have something to learn from this. Everyone says they want a 'vibrant' downtown, whatever the heck that is. Well, why not create it, then?
Kutztown, PA

Selinsgrove, PA

Shop in Philadelphia, PA

Carlisle, PA

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