Why do towns in the USA have population signs?
March 24, 2010 1:22 PM   Subscribe

Why do towns in the USA have population signs?

So lots of towns in the USA seem to have population signs (eg) posted at the city limits. Why? When did this start? Does everywhere have one? Is it a legal requirement? Who actually needs this kind of information when driving into a town?
posted by xchmp to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Civic pride? "Yippee, we hit 4,000 people in the last census. We're a real place!"
posted by Gridlock Joe at 1:22 PM on March 24, 2010

It can be helpful to know if you're entering a village of 200 or a town of 5,000. It gives me a better idea of what type of services I can expect to find if the need is there.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 1:26 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

Yes, what DieHipsterDie said, except by services I mean "speed traps" because a certain size of city that gets a lot of revenue from speeding tickets.

Sorry, I guess that's how I use them, not why they are there.

I think it's civic pride too. It took a really, really long time for my hometown to update the census sign once they fell under 1000 -- and I grew up telling people I was from a town of 1200 people, when it wasn't large when we moved there when I was 6 months old.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 1:34 PM on March 24, 2010

xchmp: “Is it a legal requirement?”

It's generally set by state law. Here in Colorado, towns are required to display elevation rather than population on town signs. I guess that's because it's more of a point of civic pride, but really it makes more sense; the elevation, of course, is not really as likely to change.
posted by koeselitz at 1:34 PM on March 24, 2010

Aside from any legal requirement, it seems like a good idea for towns that aren't generally known (i.e. most towns) because it's an implicit announcement: "Hey, we're a real, full-fledged town -- you can actually stop and do stuff here [i.e. give us money]."
posted by Jaltcoh at 1:52 PM on March 24, 2010

It's not just limited to small towns.

While nobody needs to know this information, it's still nice to know a little bit about the areas you're passing through.

If you're worried about the costs of replacing signs every 10 years, as you can see from that LA limits sign, you can just put a patch over what you need to replace.
posted by hwyengr at 2:11 PM on March 24, 2010

I could have sworn this was asked on MeFi recently, but I can't find it. Anyway, the consensus wherever I read this is that it's a combination of civic pride and giving people some idea of what services are available in a town.

For what it's worth, the information on signs varies by state. Massachusetts town line signs (another flickr group) have the date of founding of the town. This makes sense, because many Massachusetts towns are more proud of their age (old!, at least by US standards) than their size (small). I think Pennsylvania and New Jersey town line signs don't have any random facts on them, just the name of the town.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:57 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

MCMikeNamara: are you saying that there's a minimum size a town needs to be to have a speed trap? That actually makes sense, though -- to have a speed trap you might have to be large enough to afford your very own police officer.
posted by madcaptenor at 2:58 PM on March 24, 2010

I've lived in the US my entire life, and cannot ever recall seeing such a sign, apart from in a movie or on TV...
posted by schmod at 3:08 PM on March 24, 2010

Schmod, it's more common out west. On the other hand, I don't remember ever seeing one in New England.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 3:25 PM on March 24, 2010

It is more common once you cross the Mississippi. I live in Arkansas and cities I live in and near are extremely proud of the population figures. In Virginia, where I grew up, the big thing is founding date. You'll see it for cities, towns, and counties. Personally, I find them pretty neat.
posted by Atreides at 4:31 PM on March 24, 2010

It's America.
We like to measure things.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:32 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Huh, I see them on almost all town/city signs (except for hamlets) as well as regional municipalities in Ontario. They are changed every ten years or so (after the census).
posted by saucysault at 5:20 PM on March 24, 2010

It's also a good indicator of whether you're entering a town where everybody knows everybody and you're going to stand-out, or a larger town where you just blend in.
posted by hungrysquirrels at 6:22 PM on March 24, 2010

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