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Thread: Billboards: what's the big deal?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Billboards: what's the big deal?

    The City of Austin recently updated its regulations on the placement of billboards that allows them to be placed on some roads that were once classified as "scenic" by the City that have since been built up and lost such designation. This has caused several citizens and surrounding municipalities to be up in arms and threatening boycotts of any companies that advertise on new billboards.

    My question is this: What’s the big deal with billboards? So long as they’re spaced properly and maintained, they’re not really an eyesore, or at least they don't have to be. They also provide opportunities for local businesses without access or funds to TV, internet, or print advertising a way to get their name out at what is probably a more convenient time and place, anyway. Regardless, relaxed billboard regulations, which in Central Texas means allowing them at all, surely does not merit cries of the apocalypse, does it?

  2. #2
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    This is one of the areas of land use regulation where I differ from many of our peers - I don't really have a problem with them.

    By their nature, they are going to locate in high auto traffic corridors, which are usually not all that pleseant to begin with. And I agree with Texan, as long as they are maintained well, I usually don't have a problem.

    Anyways, how else am I going to know the size of the Lotto jackpot, from which to dream wonderful dreams?
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  3. #3
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    Billboards in some situations look pretty bad/tacky, in other cases not so much. I guess I'm fairly middle of the road on the whole billboard issue.

    Anxiously awaiting Dan's screed.....10....9....8....7....
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  4. #4
    I abhor billboards along interstate highways, in cities, and pretty much everywhere. Here's part of the reason why:

    But doesn’t everything visible violate one’s air space? Not at all. Visibility is not the only consideration. The Taj Mahal, street signs, the Golden Gate Bridge, a maze of telephone wires, even a garbage dump–however they may intrude on the eye–are not where they are merely to waylay your gaze; they have other functions as well. A billboard has no other function, it is there for the sole and express purpose of trespassing on your field of vision. Nor is it possible for you to escape; the billboard inflicts itself unbidden upon all but the blind or recluse. Is this not an invasion of privacy? I think it is, and I don’t see that the fact that a billboard is out-of-doors make the slightest difference. Even if it were possible for you to not look at billboards if you didn’t so choose, why in the world should you have to make the negative effort? Moreover, this invasion of your privacy is compounded in its resale to a third party. It is as though a Peeping Tom, on finding a nice window, were to sell peeps at two bits a head.
    Read more here: http://www.stayfreemagazine.org/adma...rdgossage.html

    Now, where are my acetylene torches?...

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Billboards have their place. They do not really bother me unless I am driving...through Missouri.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Song of the Open Road

    Quote Originally posted by Ogden Nash
    I think that I shall never see
    A billboard as lovely as a tree.
    Perhaps unless the billboards fall,
    I'll never see a tree at all.
    As Mr. Nash so aptly put it, it's the visual impact of the things that raise the ire of some.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Queen B's avatar
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    I believe that signs and even billboards have their place.
    It is all a matter of perspective!!!

  8. #8
    Likewise, I don't have a problem with them when there is nothing to see anyway. Along scenic areas, they should be limited. Before anybody flames me, I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The only thing I find annoying is being contantly being surrounding by ads. It's getting to be as bad as Minority Report
    When did I go from Luke Skywalker to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian zman's avatar
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    It all depends what is on the billboards....
    You get all squeezed up inside/Like the days were carved in stone/You get all wired up inside/And it's bad to be alone

    You can go out, you can take a ride/And when you get out on your own/You get all smoothed out inside/And it's good to be alone
    -Peart

  10. #10
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    One reason I am not fond of billboards is simply the fact that when I am out driving, especially in a scenic area, I am in public space and as such, I really don't want to be marketed to against my will. I see advertising everywhere I frickin' go, at my home, online, etc. I like to have some place where I don't have to compute some ad.

    No, this does not spell the apocalypse and I'm not sure endangers my health safety or welfare. But I find it annoying and would rather not see it. You know, if I was in charge...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  11. #11
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    One reason I am not fond of billboards is simply the fact that when I am out driving, especially in a scenic area, I am in public space and as such, I really don't want to be marketed to against my will.
    The space is seen by the public, but the land may be privately owned. How is a billboard different from any other commercial signage, asides from the fact that it is off-site and usually larger in size?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I guess its different because it is NOT on a building, where I would expect and tolerate signage as a directional/wayfinding element (where is that #*! Target again?! oh, there it is!). That it is disconnected from the actual place of business bothers me. And while the footprint of the pole(s) might be quite small, the billboard itself takes up a significant portion of the visual field, especially if multiplied by many.

    Again, this was just my personal opinion, not a case for legal precedent. I see it as a form of visual pollution, but I have had a very antagonistic relationship with advertising since I was a kid and used to yell at the TV during commercials. Probably not a good "baseline" for the pulse of America here.

    But, I would say that the regulations that determine where billboards are allowed is probably most closely tied to air rights and viewsheds. If you are looking for the legal reasoning behind why and where billboards are restricted, that's probably a good place to start.

    The billboards in and around Albuquerque (and elsewhere in New Mexico) are pretty carefully controlled. They are rather small in size (smaller than other places I have lived) and where they are allowed is restricted. One of our great assets here is our natural beauty (it certainly ain't the economy) and I am thankful for the foresight of whoever is responsible that our stunning views of the mountains, rivers and wide open desert is generally unimpeded by ads Personal Injury lawyers and the like. I understand that in more remote areas, it is an asset for that little motel to have a billboard on the highway and I am generally ok with that in low doses. Its the intensity of visual advertising within the urbanized areas that really bugs me. As if I don't have enough visual stimuli to deal with. Now we have two electronic billboards within the city and those things are unbelievably distracting. One is right at a curve in the road, coming down a hill and I'm just waiting for an accident. I almost got in one twice within the last year...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  13. #13
    Quote Originally posted by TexanOkie View post
    The space is seen by the public, but the land may be privately owned. How is a billboard different from any other commercial signage, asides from the fact that it is off-site and usually larger in size?
    They are different from every other form of commercial advertising because they are presented to you against your will. You have to take a negative action not to see them. Why should anyone have to do that? They market something that they don't provide 99.7% of the time (Your Message HERE, frustratingly excepted). They have no other function than to provide a medium for off-site messages. They are a blight on the landscape: urban, rural, and scenic. Sigh.

  14. #14
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Maister View post
    Anxiously awaiting Dan's screed.....10....9....8....7....
    I'll let Ed McMahon (the attorney and anti-billboard advocate, not the "huyooooo!" guy) argue for me. Ed said it. I believe it. That settles it.

    There are places for billboards: certain city centers like Times Square, where the advertising is an integral part of the built environment. I admire good outdoor advertising; given the limited time a billboard will be visible to a passing driver, it's very difficult to present a memorable message. Outside from that, it's hard for me to justify.

    As wahday and Gedunker said, billboards are a form of marketing that is forced on you. Advertising in the broadcast print media subsidizes the content. Billboards serve no similar purpose; except for the rare PSA (which billboard companies often display to win favor with their host communities when sign code revisions are looming), there is almost no public benefit from their presence. They derive their economic purpose by blighting and leeching from a viewscape that can't be turned off. The property taxes paid by billboard structures are far lower than for other businesses that derive the same amount of revenue. I also despise the tactics of the billboard industry in the US, such the recent round of "sign code shakedowns".

  15. #15
    Forums Administrator & Gallery Moderator NHPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Dan View post
    I'll let Ed McMahon (the attorney and anti-billboard advocate, not the "huyooooo!" guy) speak for me. Ed said it. I believe it. That settles it.

    There are places for billboards: certain city centers like Times Square, where the advertising is an integral part of the built environment. I admire good outdoor advertising; given the limited time a billboard will be visible to a passing driver, it's very difficult to present a memorable message. Outside from that, it's hard for me to justify.


    As wahday and Gedunker said, billboards are a form of marketing that is forced on you. Advertising in the broadcast print media subsidizes the content. Billboards serve no similar purpose; except for the rare PSA (which billboard companies often display to win favor with their host communities when sign code revisions are looming), there is almost no public benefit from their presence. They derive their economic purpose by blighting and leeching from a viewscape that can't be turned off. The property taxes paid by billboard structures are far lower than for other businesses that derive the same amount of revenue. I also despise the tactics of the billboard industry in the US, such the recent round of "sign code shakedowns".
    Dan put it well for me as well. Sign Code shakedowns drive me batty. Sign companies are my least favorite constituency to deal with.

    And Ed McMahon says it quite well:

    ''It is the most intrusive form of advertising in the world today, the only advertising that can't be eliminated with the flick of a switch or the turn of a page.''
    "Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how." -- Edward T. McMahon, The Conservation Fund

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I can see some value in billboards. When I am driving across the country I sometimes do benefit from knowing the next Shell station is only 28 miles ahead, or there is a Hampton Inn in the next city, or that the book store in Abiline is open 24 hours and has both videos and novelties.

    On the other hand, most of the time I find them an intrusion. I am not driving down the highway to read somebody's advertisement. I want to see the scenery, or occassionally not be distracted from watching the road. The new LED billboards are especially distracting, and I have seen some that are far too bright.

    In this state the sign industry continually pushes for the right to cut down any tree on public property that interferes with the visibility of its billboards. In this case the advertisers are mostly tourism businesses. Yeah. Tourists are not coming for the natural beauty, but to visit the waterpark.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  17. #17
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    I can see some value in billboards. When I am driving across the country I sometimes do benefit from knowing the next Shell station is only 28 miles ahead, or there is a Hampton Inn in the next city, or that the book store in Abiline is open 24 hours and has both videos and novelties.

    On the other hand, most of the time I find them an intrusion. I am not driving down the highway to read somebody's advertisement. I want to see the scenery, or occassionally not be distracted from watching the road. The new LED billboards are especially distracting, and I have seen some that are far too bright.

    In this state the sign industry continually pushes for the right to cut down any tree on public property that interferes with the visibility of its billboards. In this case the advertisers are mostly tourism businesses. Yeah. Tourists are not coming for the natural beauty, but to visit the waterpark.
    Billboards are gaudy, big, and put in sometimes awful places. I fully accept regulating/banning them. Along almost all Interstate Highways in America the little blue signs before each exit tell you what's available usually in three categories: Food, Gas, Sleep...

  18. #18
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    As a kid I remember getting excited to see the billboards when my family drove into Boston. There would be changing colors, moving parts, and all kinds of witty ad slogans. For me, billboards added to the excitement of arrving in the city.

    But my opinion of billboards changed when I drove through the south. I don't recall a billboard along I-95 in S. Carolina that isn't devoted to a smut shop or South of the Border (which of course posts a cheesy billboard every mile until you get there). None of the signs are visually interesting or even well-maintained, definitely a blight on the landscape. And then there are the places where practically every establishment in town has a 40 ft. pole sign visible from the highway.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    West of Chicago they have a lot of sexually oriented business bilboards. That kind of pisses me off. I'm no prude, but if I had kids, there is no way for them to not see the mostly naked women all over the signs.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  20. #20
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I agree totally with Dan. I feel fortunate that in Westchester County that early on billboards were exhiled. In the early 20th century, "The Bronx River Parkway Commission (BPC) considered billboards to be "blatant desecrations" of the landscape and waged "incessant warfare" against the structures. From the beginning of the project, the commissioners made it clear that they "anticipated with pleasure the time when the glaring advertising signs, so numerous in the City section of the Parkway, could be removed." Most of these billboards were positioned to advertise products and services to commuters and other travelers on the busy railway line that paralleled the Bronx River. The BPC was extremely proud of its billboard removal campaign, which eliminated an aggregate total of seven miles of signs from the reservation.(128) The BPC strictly enforced its no-billboards policy and did its best to eliminate or screen signs outside parkway boundaries that could be viewed from within the BRPR."
    Here is an image from their report detailing the blight.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

    Renovating the '62 Metzendorf
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  21. #21
    I don't really like billboards, but as long as they stay in suburban areas, I'm somewhat ok with them.
    I don't think they belong in cities, advertisements can go on buildings. I'm not ok with them lining highways in the country or rural areas either, it really hurts the natural aspect of the landscape.
    However, I do think billboards can go in suburban areas and along interstates.

  22. #22
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    No Virtue Like Natural Virtue

    Beautiful Mt. Shasta, CA has a side road near the neighboring cinder cone. The restraunteur on said side road felt afflicted by a lack of business and petitioned for a tall, lighted sign visible from the highway. I do hope that the answer is still, "No way. Get a life."
    Appreciating landscape architecture is becoming very difficult. Contemplation of the cinder cone is the wonder of the area, the asset that carries on after the highway travel is over. The cinder cone is also the engine of economic development. Whatever makes a tawdry statement of it is woefully short sighted.
    Advertising eggs and peaches is part of the natural landscape, or at least the human settlements living with and respecting the land. Advertising "Little America, Just 285 Miles" becomes a bit much when corporate marketing department muscle enters the picture. "Home Depot: Coming Right Up."

  23. #23
    Cyburbian craines's avatar
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    I agree with Wahday and that I am stick and tired of being marketed too. Billboards within scenic corridors should only be allowed in specificlly designed information conveyence nodes along the majors.

    I remember coming backing from a camping trip in the New Mtn area of southern cal (right at the Nevada state line) and traveling along the billboard line highway 15 and thinking what a shame as Visually they just bombard you and distract and in some cases take away the tranquil qualities that the desert landscape possess.

    Bottom line is that I hate billboards!!!!!
    Looking for Sanity
    In this Crazy Land Of Ours

  24. #24
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by craines View post
    ...I am stick and tired of being marketed to...
    I must say that when I visit the states I notice that within a day or two I start to think "I need lots more things in life - look at all the things people need in America" You may not notice it, but boy are there a lot of adverts in the US built environment.

    In my previous job we did a lot of public surveys about the 'urban environment.' We measured feelings about many variables, and sign clutter hardly registered - but here that would mostly apply to shop front signs, A boards and street signs.

    As to needing to know what services on the motorway are coming up, in the UK we have innocuous signs indicating the number of miles (yes miles, we're not really Europeans after all) before the next service and if that exit has petrol, hotel etc. It works for me.

    Sorry to butt in - we don't have many billboards so I shouldn't really comment.

    But, as I am, what we do have that are becoming ubiquitous are the Adshel bus stops with posters on either side. The council gets a free, well maintained bus shelter and the company gets revenue from the posters. But now our towns and cities are starting to feel like one great KFC advert. If you're not familiar google adshel+advertising. Apparently these are "beautiful municipal structures that both beautify your city as well as provide an opportunity for advertisers to build their brand recognition." Oh thanks - I feel uplifted already.

    Cheers!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian TexanOkie's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gedunker View post
    They are different from every other form of commercial advertising because they are presented to you against your will. You have to take a negative action not to see them. Why should anyone have to do that? They market something that they don't provide 99.7% of the time (Your Message HERE, frustratingly excepted). They have no other function than to provide a medium for off-site messages. They are a blight on the landscape: urban, rural, and scenic. Sigh.
    Perhaps my Texas bias is coming into play. Nearly every freeway in this state is laced with frontage roads on both sides. These frontage roads are continuously dotted with businesses, from retail/gas stations to industrial complexes. So if you drive from Austin to Dallas, which is about 180 miles or so, there will be a near-constant stream of advertising for businesses that are along the roadway (in this case, Interstate 35). We are bombarded with advertisements against our will anyway. I don't need to buy a new Sterling semi truck just outside of Temple. I don't need a repossessed mobile home outside Waco. I do need kolaches from West, though. But still, you get the point. Billboards won't make our "scenic" highway drives any less scenic than they already are[n't].

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