Sign vigilantes

Within the last several weeks I received a polite, well-written note in my mailbox at home. The note requested that I remove a lawn sign from my front yard inviting people to visit a local private school for an open house. The writer suggested that my sign ruined the look of our beautiful green neighborhood and was an advertisement for a business. The letter was signed, “Your Neighbor.”

While I could respect “my neighbor’s” point of view, it is clear that he/she had no respect for mine or my property. When I wasn’t home, “my neighbor” chose to trespass on my lawn and take the sign. When I got to school the next day, I found out that several families in my West Mt. Airy neighborhood had received the same note and had the same experience.

I wish the individual who thought that they could be a vigilante had had the grace to come and talk to me in person or find a more neighborly way to communicate his/her views.

Cheryl Pinkus

My. Airy


Remembering Ruth Patrick

It was the late 1970s. I was Philadelphia Water Commissioner, and I had just delivered a keynote address for a national water quality symposium. My remarks framed the massive effort to have our region’s waterways reach “swimmable and fishable” status.

Ruth Patrick introduced herself later, in what was her signature command of the English language, asking, “Your efforts are important and laudable, but have you thought about restoring the benthic deposits in the Delaware Estuary?”

Benthic deposits at the river bottom are home to the billions of critters that captured Ruth’s lifelong curiosity and the basis for the scientific and iconic career she built. Indeed, I had not yet worried much about these deposits.

Forty years later I think fondly of my friendship with Ruth. She was no less comfortable trafficking in life’s simple pleasures as she was advising world leaders on the use of diatoms – those single cell tiny animals that could be used as a marker for water quality. One infamous story is how Ruth supported the Allied Forces in World War II by analyzing the diatoms in the barnacles of captured enemy ships to determine their port of origin.

When she called me, she would be just as inclined to ask about the appropriateness of wearing white to her second wedding ceremony as she was debating the pros and cons of water filters on kitchen sinks. Members of the same congregation, we often challenged each other about the meaning of certain sermons and the role of religion in science.

You can watch the story of her life any time on WHYY at as part of the series Hometown Legends. Like so many other Philadelphians today, and in our city’s rich past, Ruth was indeed a legend – a homegrown one at that!

William J. Marrazzo

President and CEO, WHYY

  • Bill Rookman

    Cheryl: while i had NOTHING to do with your signs, there is nothing neighborly about posting these awful signs (not even sure those are legal to post w/o a permit either).

    There is no utility to them whatsoever (seriously, you have a child eligible for 30K/year tuition and are roaming the neighborhood to learn about schooling options…?) and most are intended to be displayed for months before they then use up landfill until the end of time.

    Someone waterproofs your basement, buys your junk car, cleans your gutters, intends to do your roof some day, or your school has an event, and we all have to be reminded for months on end?

    Not sure i like ppl entering property to take stuff but complaining about people cleaning up the neighborhood seems odd.

  • Guestly Guest

    Dear Bill, your view about the utility of a lawn sign is a) wrong and b) irrelevant. Yes, I can post a sign for basement cleaners, house cleaners, and political candidates without a permit on my own property and you are forbidden from removing it. It’s trespass and theft, whether or not you have an issue with the school or people who send their kids there.

  • Bill Rookman

    Dear Guestly Guest: after posting i looked it up and yes you can but NO, it appears it is not allowed.
    The philadelphia Code says you are not allowed to post any signs if the business does not reside at that address. And yes, two permits are required for corner houses (one for each street). Exceptions: news kiosks, signage required by law (permits), for sale signs, and those worn on your body (clothing).
    I agree taking them is inappropriate and probably illegal. Not sure trespassing applies to walking on a sidewalk.

  • GuestlyGuest

    Temporary signs, including by definition signs up for a limited time to advertise non-profit insitutions, are excluded from any permitting requirements by the City so long as they don’t extend over a sidewalk or street and are posted on private property with the consent of the owner. Look it up again.

  • Bill

    Looked but cannot find your reference. Regardless, Green street friends, no date, Penn charter no date. Miquan, 8 months out. SCH, some genius ad agency thought of ‘beyond the expected’ and made the date virtually invisible. Perelman Jewish academy, no date. Etc. Add up all the commercial signs and there’d be nothing left. Yet in my neighborhood, every other house has one.
    I am not one to enter private property or to take anything but am thrilled that others are less concerned and hope they keep at it. They are ugly and serve no purpose (except for the bragging by parents).

  • Stacy Cooper

    I prefer graffiti over those signs.