Guardians of the Gateway: Essential Elements for a Healthy Town

It's About First Impressions and Lasting Results

The Keystone Markers not only denote the entrances to many Pennsylvania places, they are themselves the gateway to those places. They are the first impression visitors have of that Pennsylvania place and, as we all know, a good first impression is invaluable.

As distinguished planner, scholar, and senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute Edward McMahon has said, “The gateway into a community is like its ‘front door.’ It provides the introduction to a community. It can either express a community’s pride and sense of place or it can give a community a poor public image.” 

Truly, the Keystone Markers make a positive first impression, but consider it for yourself. (The following sections are taken from Mr. McMahon’s work in Better Models for Development in Pennsylvania.)

Compare the photos of the community gateways above . Then ask yourself the following questions:

  • Which gateway makes a better first impression?
  • Which one looks like a community with a sense of pride?
  • Which community looks like one in which you would rather spend time and money?
  • Which one looks more like the gateway into your own community?

Many parts of a town or community have boundaries drawn around them. These boundaries usually exist in people’s minds. They mark the end of one kind of activity or one kind of place and the beginning of another. In many cases, a community can be made more memorable, more vivid, more alive if the boundary that exists in people’s minds also exists physically on the ground. In rural areas, gateways provide an area of transition between town and countryside; in urban areas they help mark the boundaries between one community or neighborhood and another.

Things you should know:

  • A community’s image is fundamentally important to its economic well being.
  • Gateways can provide information to tourists by directing them to areas of interest and by providing clues to the historical, cultural, and economic foundation of an area.
  • How we plan and build along highway corridors is critically important to the character of Pennsylvania communities and the image and economic health of our state.

Important to Citizens as Well as Visitors

The Keystone Markers are essential in defining a sense of place individually for each community, but also establishing an identity of individual communities as an important part of the greater collective that is Pennsylvania.  Further, we see the markers as powerful reminders to Pennsylvanians about their own role as citizens of their community, of Pennsylvania, and the nation.

Each time a traveler crosses the threshold into a Pennsylvania town, the very visible image of the Keystone Marker reminds them that not only the town itself but also they, in their everyday role in it, be it as parents, taxpayers, educators, civil servants, volunteers, etc., hold a keystone place in the great arch of American life.  As powerful if subtle affirmations of the place Pennsylvanians have, do, and can hold in the world, the markers remind us of our responsibilities as custodians for the future rather than mere consumers in the present.

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