by Kevin Walsh

These new street signs appear in Kensington, a tony subdivision of the town (or village; I’m too lazy to determine) of Great Neck, which is east of the undefined border of Queens and Nassau County, near Forgotten NY headquarters on Little Neck Parkway.

I’m showing them since to me they’re an example of how to do new street signs right. Over the past decade the federal government became convinced that upper and lowercase street signs were more legible than ALL CAPS on street signs, and municipalities have been switching to that style in various speeds. At the same time, traditional Highway Gothic was replaced with the weak-tea Clearview, which lacks the personality and muscle of HG. Thankfully, the feds agreed and okayed a move back to HG, but maintaining upper and lowercase.

In NYC (the five boroughs) the conversion has been done in 50 ways of wrong, with tiny signs with upper and lower case letters in Highway Gothic Condensed that must be completely illegible from a certain distance. 

Here in Kensington, the conversion was done right —large lettering in Highway Gothic Regular, filling the sign and readable from a block away or longer. I can see the “hump” being used for the cross street, just as it was in decades past. 

NYC, though, will continue to get crappy signs when they’re replaced at all — sun bleached signs tend to remain in place longer.

One of my dream jobs is in the NYC Department of transportation sign shop — the changes I’d make…

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Barry November 30, 2018 - 6:55 pm

I think it’s called the City of Great Neck.

Anonymous December 10, 2018 - 10:17 am

Town and village.

Andy November 30, 2018 - 9:57 pm

The Great Neck peninsula and surrounding communities are a hodgepodge of nine incorporated villages (Kensington is one of them), plus areas in between that are unincorporated and under direct control of the Town of North Hempstead. Great Neck is not a town, but is one of those nine villages. It is also the school district name that is the common thread for the entire collection of communities on the peninsula. The US post office zip codes for the area also use “Great Neck.”

A little civics lesson in NYS local government structure (outside of the five boroughs) is in order. The 57 New York State counties outside of the five NYC boroughs are all further divided into towns. Outside of major urban/suburban areas, towns provide most local government functions. In denser areas such as Nassau County, the towns encompass some villages, which are small incorporated areas that in some ways are small cities. Incorporated villages provide basic local government functions, but are legally in the towns where they are located. In Nassau County villages and towns exist side-by-side and in some cases overlap. Locations that are not villages are under direct Town control and are normally called “unincorporated” or hamlets. In the Great Neck area, University Gardens and Harbor Hills are two examples of hamlets that are legally parts of the Town of North Hempstead.

Cities, outside of NYC, are also part of the county where they are located but are not part of any town. Nassau County has two cities, Glen Cove and Long Beach.

Nassau County, and Great Neck in particular, are extreme examples of the overlapping of local government functions, because the nine small villages in the Great Neck area co-exist in a marble cake pattern with unincorporated areas ruled by the Town of North Hempstead. If a person drives for a mile or two it is common the cross a town-village boundary at least once. The street lights and street signs are the easiest well to determine when a boundary is crossed.

The hierarchy is:
*Nassau County
*Town of North Hempstead (plus Towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay elsewhere in Nassau)
*In the Great Neck area, the local governments are the Town of North Hempstead, plus the nine incorporated villages – Great Neck, Kensington, plus seven others.

A final word about school districts. Outside NYC, school districts are independent bodies under NYS law that have their own taxing power. Because school taxes are the biggest chunk of the average homeowner’s tax levy, these districts often lend their name to their entire geographic area, regardless of the numbers of villages and hamlets they encompass. Thus residents of the Great Neck school district, which goes from the tip of Kings Point to Hillside Avenue, will normally say “Great Neck” when asked where they live regardless of the actual village or hamlet.

Hope this helps.

Kevin Walsh December 1, 2018 - 10:19 am

My head is revolving.

Andy December 1, 2018 - 5:35 pm

To paraphrase Sgt. Friday. those are the facts Sir. If you’d like to discuss in more detail you know where to find me. I’d be happy to continue this discussion in person. Hope all is good.

Alan Gregg Cohen November 30, 2018 - 10:56 pm

Although it’s been awhile since I have been back to my native Long Island, I am a faithful reader of your website.

Kensington is an incorporated village in the Town of North Hempstead. It is one of the numerous “estate villages” that dot both the Great Neck peninsula and the neighboring Manhasset Neck peninsula and the Greater Roslyn, and Oyster Bay and Five Town areas. All of these villages were incorporated prior to 1932 in order to retain home rule zoning, as that was the pivotal year when a law was passed that zoning would be controlled at the township (town) level, for all areas that weren’t incorporated prior to the 1932 passage date.

Alan Gregg Cohen November 30, 2018 - 11:15 pm

Correction to my comment; The laws passage date (Nassau County charter revision) was 1938, not 1932 as I originally thought.

Gbear711 December 1, 2018 - 5:15 pm

Yet another reason I’m glad I moved upstate, besides having a guaranteed parking spot ;-).

Jeff B. December 2, 2018 - 11:48 pm

Even Upstate there are multiple layers of government. For example, in Orange County, the Town of Chester, NY also contains the Village of Chester and the Hamlet of Sugar Loaf. In the Town of Warwick, there are an additional 3 villages and 8 hamlets. The Florida Union Free School District not only serves the Village of Florida, NY, it also serves students from the Town of Warwick and the Town of Goshen. Same with the Florida Fire District (parts of the Town of Chester may also be covered). Voters vote for County, Town and Village or Hamlet Offices. There are separate school district elections, fire district commissioner elections and Library Board elections. Government structure in New Jersey is much less complex.

Andy Subbiondo December 2, 2018 - 10:51 am

I share a first name and an interest in the political geography of New York State with Andy. The set-up is just nuts with a crazy quilt of overlapping geographies, names and special districts and nowhere is this more true than on the “Gold Coast” of the North Shore in the areas broadly known as Great Neck, Manhasset, PortWashington and Roslyn.

These are pretty wealthy places so the taxpayers perhaps don’t mind the inefficiencies and redundancies of this setup but I can tell you I did when I resided in Port. I believe that it is kind of full employment scheme for second-tier lawyers who get good paying jobs administering this crazy quilt
of municipalities.

I could go on about it. I have lived in four states and the District of Columbia and except possibly for NJ there’s nothing like it anywhere else.

Michael Haggerty December 2, 2018 - 1:34 pm

It’s not much better in PA, where physically you live in one township but the Post Office says you live in another township. Or you live in a township but your address is a village with a completely different name. For instance, “Levittown” (yes, there’s more than one) has five different zip codes and meanders from through Middletown Township, Bristol Township, Falls Township, and Tullytown Borough. But ask a citizen of Middletown with a 19057 zip code where they live, they’ll tell you Levittown.


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