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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


As it turns out, we are ‘urban’ after all

The question, it would seem, is why the new "Urban Area, Stay Alert" traffic sign on the highway in Berlin employs the word "urban, when it’s obvious that Berlin is hardly an urban area.
Or is it?
First, though, as Mayor Gee Williams said regarding that particular sign language, he doesn’t care what it says as long as it causes motorists to drive with care.
That’s the new sign’s purpose and even if drivers do reduce speed as they ponder what’s urban and what isn’t, that’s fine too.
As it happens, the use of "urban" serves two purposes, the first of which is that it is a federally recognized description of the area – believe it or not – while the second is that it fits the space allowed.
As newspaper headline writers know all too well, it’s not easy to find a word that has both a clear meaning and the right letter count to fill a restricted amount of space. That’s why, in this instance, "urban" works while, say, "populated area" does not.
Also a factor is that there’s much more to the traffic sign design and regulation than people realize. Sign shapes, sizes, colors and wording have to be uniform throughout the country, or else motorists from Berlin, for instance, might find themselves in Paducah, Ky. turning right when they shouldn’t even be in Kentucky, much less turning against traffic.
To address that, there is the federally authorized Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, all 816 pages of it, plus appendices. Even if "Urban Area" isn’t in it – and it doesn’t appear in the updated 2009 version – the precise size, shape, color and placement of all traffic alert signs are, which means that whatever is being said has to conform to those requirements.
That brings us to the word itself, it’s popular use and its actual definition. Contemporarily, it is frequently used to describe cultural circumstances as in music, fashion and city life with racial connotations.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, however, Berlin does qualify as an "urban cluster," which is defined in the Federal Register as any place in the country with a population of 2,500 to 50,000 people. Places with populations greater than 50,000 are classified as "urbanized areas."
As it turns out – to the chagrin of both Berliners and Ocean City residents – these two communities, both of which have populations in excess of 2,500, are included by the Census Bureau in the Ocean Pines Urban Cluster, which is listed as having a population of more than 33,000.
Beyond the federal classifications, English language dictionaries don’t agree. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines urban as "of, relating to, characteristic of, or constituting a city. The Oxford English Dictionary says, "relating to, or characteristic of a city or town" as does the American English Dictionary.
Regardless, it’s just a sign and it happens to advise drivers to be careful. How it does that isn’t terribly important.