Signs touting history intrigue New Yorkers and tourists

If you’ve spent time in New York during the past two years, chances are you’ve passed by a blue sign touting a historical tidbit. More than 3,000 of these signs line the subway systems, street corners, and other highly visible locations throughout the state.

path through history

Some find these”Path Through History” signs more confusing than informative. From the New York Observer.

These signs are part of an ambitious “Path Through History” campaign spearheaded by New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo. Each sign features a signature scroll design on a striking blue background. The intention of these signs: to “showcase New York State’s history and cultural significance” and “promote tourism and economic development in communities in every region of the state,” according to a press release distributed at the outset of the program in 2012.

That’s an ambitious aim, indeed. So is it working? More than two years into the project, the success of the initiative depends on whom you ask. Of course, it’s hard to quantify something like “showcasing history,” but there is evidence that plenty of people are paying attention. The signs are hard to miss, even in New York City, where signs are ubiquitous. Admittedly, not all of that attention is positive. Some, including the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, have criticized the Path Through History initiative for being “ambiguous” and “disorganized.” Some of the signs point readers to nearby cultural hubs, while others feature historical anecdotes.

Katy Turner of the New York Observer explored the Path Through History program and found that “no one person is fully in charge of Path Through History, nor is there any centralized authority or specific leader.” Perhaps the lack of centralized oversight has contributed to some of the criticisms lodged against the program. And, yet, Ross Levi, vice president of marketing initiatives for Empire State Development, says that the program was never intended to be under the control of a singular authority, and that it is “a team effort” by design.

While not everyone understands the signs, many have embraced them and the spirit behind them. Levi told the Observer that the program “has played an unprecedented role and has raised the profile of heritage tourism and continues to evolve.” There are even “Path Through History” events throughout the state, during which participants can make a day trip of sign tours and even witness live action historical re-enactments. In 2014, 383 “Path Through History” events were held in 55 of New York State’s 62 counties, involving nearly 300 participating organizations.

If these signs can make jaded New Yorkers pause for a brief moment during their commutes to learn something about their state’s history, we’re all for it.

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