D.C. events kick off 50th anniversary year of national beautification policies


Mary Tracy, executive director of Scenic Philadelphia and president of Scenic America, recently helped mark the start of the 50th anniversary year of the Highway Beautification Act and the White House Conference on Natural Beauty by leading a series of events in Washington, D.C.

Mary Tracy with Lucinda Robb, granddaughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson
Mary Tracy with Lucinda Robb, granddaughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson

On October 21 more than 130 guests filled the Anderson House at the Society of the Cincinnati for a tribute to scenic visionaries President and Lady Bird Johnson and Laurance S. Rockefeller. The Johnson family was represented by Lynda Bird Johnson Robb and Lucinda Robb, daughter and granddaughter, respectively, of President and Lady Bird Johnson, and the Rockefeller family was represented by Larry Rockefeller, son of Laurance S. Rockefeller.

The evening’s keynote speaker was Senator Tom Udall. His father Stewart Udall was Secretary of the Interior during the Johnson administration and played a pivotal role in promoting the scenic conservation policies proposed by President and Lady Bird Johnson.  Click here to read Senator Udall’s remarks in full.

farr johnson collage
Top: Senator Fred Farr and Lady Bird Johnson in 1966.  Bottom: Congressman Sam Farr and Luci Baines Johnson in 2015

Among the public officials present at the tribute was Congressman Sam Farr, who two days earlier joined Luci Baines Johnson, daughter of President and Lady Bird Johnson, at Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California for a ceremony to celebrate the 50th anniversary of passage of the Highway Beautification Act.  Nearly fifty years earlier at the same site, Congressman Farr’s father, Senator Fred Farr, joined Lady Bird Johnson to dedicate Highway 1 as California’s first scenic highway.

“Passing the Highway Beautification Act was an historic moment in the environmental movement and I am proud of the Central Coast’s role in creating the first State Scenic Highway,” said Congressman Farr. “I want to thank Luci Baines Johnson for coming to Bixby Bridge to celebrate our parents’ legacy and the legacy of California’s scenic Highway 1.”

On October 22, the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Highway Beautification Act, representatives of more than thirty Scenic America affiliates and allied organizations from all over the country packed the National Press Club for a symposium on the current state and future of scenic conservation.

Henry L Diamond speaking about his experience as conference manager

The program began with a video of Henry L. Diamond speaking about his experience as Executive Director of the 1965 White House Conference on Natural Beauty, an unprecedented event in which more than 800 people came to Washington at the request of President Johnson to convey to him personally what they thought their country should look like.  The President asked Laurance S. Rockefeller to chair the conference and Mr. Rockefeller asked Mr. Diamond take charge of the day-to-day organizing of the event.  Click here to watch Mr. Diamond discuss his recollections of the 1965 conference.

White Paper cover image

With the spirit of the earlier conference still in the air, Scenic America unveiled a working draft of its new white paper titled Taking the Long View: A Proposal for Realizing America the Beautiful.

The work proposes bold but achievable solutions for fixing America’s scenic environment in five key areas: Preserving Community Character, Honoring Parks and Open Spaces, Celebrating Byways and Gateways, Undergrounding Overhead Wires and Promoting Beautiful Highways.  Click here to download a working draft of Taking the Long View.

Cokie Roberts speaks at Scenic America symposium

Featured luncheon speaker Cokie Roberts captivated the audience with personal stories of her family’s friendship with the Johnsons and of Lady Bird’s work to beautify the nation’s capital.  Roberts said that Mrs. Johnson’s energy, enthusiasm and ability to get things done in a subtle but persistent manner were remarkable.  Click here to watch a brief video of Ms. Roberts speaking about Lady Bird’s legacy.

The afternoon session included presentations from representatives of allied organizations including the Trust for Public Land, the American Planning Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, Scenic Hudson, the Garden Club of America, Saving Historic Roads, the American Society of Landscape Architects and Scenic Toronto. There was much discussion of how our organizations can better work together to advance the scenic conservation movement.

Alexander Udall collage

Also on October 22 a joint resolution was introduced on the floor of the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965. The resolution unanimously passed the Senate. Click here for remarks by Senators Alexander and Udall on the resolution. Click here for the full text of the resolution.

Cspan screen cap

Scenic America’s conference and white paper are already making an impact with policy makers and leaders in the scenic conservation world.

During debate on the transportation bill on the House floor on November 4, 2015, Rep. Janice Hahn (D-CA) and Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) introduced an amendment to require a federal study on the undergrounding of utility wires.

Both Congresswoman Hahn and Congressman Cicilline complimented and said they were inspired by the work of Scenic America to beautify the nation’s roadsides and landscapes. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn due to opposition from Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), who said he believes in the benefits of undergrounding but didn’t think the transportation bill was the appropriate place for it.

Watch the debate on the Hahn/Cicilline amendment here.

Scenic Philadelphia and Scenic America will continue working hard in the year ahead to uphold the ideals of the Johnsons, Rockefellers and other scenic visionaries who set the foundation years ago for America the Beautiful as we know her today.

Franklin Institute’s Digital Parkway Billboard Splits Commonwealth Court Judges


With all the recent commotion surrounding UEDs (lots of information on those here), it’s been easy to forget about the billboard battles going on elsewhere in Philadelphia.

Today, the Judges of the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania released their opinions on the Franklin Institute’s proposed installment of a digital billboard-type sign along the historic and scenic Ben Franklin Parkway. Unfortunately, the majority of the judges found that Scenic Philadelphia and the area’s neighbors had no standing in challenging the ZBA’s variance granted for the sign.

We will continue to fight this decision, and anticipate taking it to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. We believe that all Philadelphians, especially those who cross the already-dangerous parkway by foot or use its numerous recreational facilities on a regular basis, ought to have standing on a decision that will so adversely affect one of our nation’s most grand boulevards.

In her opinion, the Honorable Judge Leadbetter wrote, “I would allow standing to citizens of the City, not because they are taxpayers, but because they are the intended beneficiaries of this beautiful civic treasure and they would truly be aggrieved if it were to be spoiled.” We agree wholeheartedly with Judge Leadbetter, and hope that the Judges on the Supreme Court see it her way as well.

Please take a look at the full document of the judges’ opinions here, or on our newly organized Library, where you can read a number of reports and documents.

Nutter Concerned Over Council’s UED Bill



According to an article written this past Friday, Mayor Nutter’s administration is concerned with the recent Council passage of Bill 140906, which allows for the construction of massive, digital billboards (“UEDs”) in Center City.

According to Mayor Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald, “‘The administration fears the impact of these full-motion videos on drivers [who may be distracted by them],’ he said, adding that in 2013, 1,761 people were struck and injured by vehicles and another 37 people died.”

We will continue to pressure Mayor Nutter toward vetoing this awful bill. Stay tuned for updates as this issue develops.

Daily News Gets it Right: City Sold Short on UEDs


Image courtesy of http://peeued.tumblr.com/

Image courtesy of http://peeued.tumblr.com/

The Philly Daily News Editorial Board hit the nail on the head today: “If we’re trading our public space, we should at least be getting something valuable in return. A ‘digital experience’ isn’t one of them.”

“[T]he ever-expanding encroachment of commercial messages on the landscape [...] is one of those elements of modern life that gradually chips away at civilization. It seems too late, too pointless to protest, although we should never give up claiming the right to peace from intrusive advertising.

Well said!!


UED Update: Bill Passes 13-3


Thank you again for signing the petition in opposition to the “Urban Experiential Display” bill that went before City Council Thursday morning.

We gave each councilmember a packet that contained the names, addresses, and comments that appeared on the petition website along with a GIS map which Scenic Philadelphia created to illustrate the council districts where each of the signers resided.

At the time of the hearing there were 903 people who signed the petition and 300 of these reside in Councilman Squilla’s district. There was a big turnout at City Hall and we are so grateful to all our friends and supporters who came today. Some people on our side were turned away from entering even though I learned later there was additional seating space available.

The Council decided that only five people from each side would be allowed to speak. In addition to myself, Crosstown Coalition Chair Steve Huntington, Center City Residents’ President Jeff Braff, Design Advocacy Group’s Kiki Bolender and a resident from the Academy House on Broad Street spoke passionately against the bill. Those on the other side generated a big turnout who applauded wildly after each of their speakers. Speaking in favor of the bill were several nonprofits who expect a share of the profits from the 3D billboards: Convention Center, Reading Terminal, Avenue of the Arts and Rail Park. The bill’s sponsor, Councilmember Squilla, gave lip service to our concerns, saying he had listened to “all sides” and that he was giving most weight to those who live closest to the proposed structures.

Approval of the Planning Commission had been stripped from the bill the preceding week, a concern for Councilmembers at Large Blondell Reynolds-Brown and Willson W. Goode who voted against the bill. Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who represents Center City’s West Broad also voted no.

Ultimately the final council vote was 13 – 3 in favor of the bill. We are analyzing our options going forward, which might include petitioning Mayor Nutter for a veto and trying to establish additional support on the council to sustain the veto. We will be in touch to let you know what the next steps will be and how you can help. In the meantime we thank you again for showing your support for Philadelphia’s public spaces.



urban-experiential-display-screenshot-from-promotional-video-catalyst-outdoor.0.87.961.453.752.355.cTomorrow (3/16) morning at 10AM, in Room 400 of City Hall, Philadelphia City Council will vote on Bill 140906, which, if passed, would allow for massive 3D billboards in the heart of our city.

We ask you come express your opinions regarding “urban experiential displays” at the City Council meeting tomorrow. Council business often takes up the first 45 minutes to an hour so you can come later. Be sure to sign up with clerk by the door to testify on Bill 140906.

As of 4:45 today, we have over 800 signatures on our petition asking City Council to Vote No on Bill 140906. If you have not yet signed the petition, please consider doing so here and leaving a comment as to why Philadelphia’s beauty and integrity matter to you!

Protect Philadelphia’s Unique Visual Character against 3-D Billboards Take Action on Bill 140906


The good news is that Councilman Kenyatta Johnson removed his district from the bill eliminating one of the 3-D video billboard structures currently in this legislation. He explained that the visits, calls and letters from constituents changed his mind.

It is our hope that you and others will contact Council and achieve the same result. The bill is up for a vote this Thursday and a few minutes of your time to communicate with Councilmembers could make a difference.

Councilman Squilla is expected to call for a vote on Thursday March 26th.  Room 400 City Hall at 10:00 AM.

ATTEND THE HEARING: Council business often takes up the first 45 minutes to an hour so you can come later. Be sure to sign up with clerk by the door to testify on Bill 140906

More voices from Philadelphia residents are needed . As Councilman Kenyatta explained when he removed his district from the bill, ” I was not aware that so many people in my district were opposed to these signs.

There is much you can do to shape the future of Philadelphia’s public realm:

1. Call Councilman Squilla,and the 7 Councilmembers at large . Also your own district councilperson. Find out if they plan to support or vote against Bill 140906. Explain your concerns and ask them not to turn over Center City’s public spaces to commercial advertising.

Click here for contact information

2. Sign this Petition  – Almost 500 people have already signed this petition which we will deliver to Councilmembers..

3. ATTEND THE HEARING  this Thursday and when you get there sign up at the door to testify for 3 minutes on Bill 140906.

4. Send an email - We cannot promise it will work this time but have been told it is fixed and will not bounce.

5.Forward this posting alert to 10 friends and neighbors!

UED Bill CORRECTION, Second Reading this Thursday MARCH 19TH


In our last post, we said that Bill 140906, which would allow for the construction of tacky 3D billboards on our city streets, may possibly see its second reading in City Council on March 18th.

The second reading is actually expected for Thursday, March 19th. We apologize for any confusion the previous post may have caused.

urban-experiential-display-screenshot-from-promotional-video-catalyst-outdoor.0.87.961.453.752.355.cIf you value the historic and authentic aesthetics of Philadelphia that make it a unique place to live, work, or visit, please consider attending this City Council meeting, this Thursday, March 19th, at 10:00 AM, Room 400 City Hall, to have your opinion heard!

If you can not attend this Thursday’s City Council Meeting, please sign our petition, asking City Council to Vote NO on Bill 140906 and protect Philadelphia’s unique visual character.

Councilman Squilla HOLDS Bill on Advertising Overlay; Sign Our Petition to STOP UEDs


We would first like to thank all the concerned Philadelphians who attempted to e-mail City Council regarding Bill 140906 and the construction of 3D digital billboards (“Urban Experiential Displays”). Unfortunately, the City e-mail system blocked many of your e-mails. To ensure that City Council hears your voice, please take a moment to sign our petition, which we will hand deliver to Council.

Yo, Adrian! This isn't "the convergence of art and advertising"--it's just plain ugly!

Yo, Adrian! This isn’t “the convergence of art and advertising”–it’s just plain ugly!

Bill 140906 which will allow for 6-story-tall 3-D full motion video signage structures  within a special overlay district in Center City did not have its second reading today.

Councilman Squilla has held the bill for further amendments.

The bill may be ready for reading at the Thursday, March 19th Council meeting. This means we have a whole ‘nother week to tell Council to vote against these insults to our city’s aesthetic integrity.

As always, we will keep you posted on this issue’s progress.

Planning Commissioners Vote Against Bill to Allow 3D Billboards; Will Rules Committee Follow Their Lead?



This past week, Philadelphia Planning Commissioners voted to oppose the passage of Bill No. 140906, a bill proposed by Councilman Mark Squilla, which allow for the construction of “urban experiential displays” (AKA 3D digital billboards) in Center City. After a presentation and commentary from the advertiser’s attorney and Scenic Philadelphia’s Mary Tracy, the Commissioners voted to oppose the passage of the bill with one Commissioner commenting, “I can’t in good conscience approve this in any case.”


This Tuesday, February 24, at 10 A.M. the City Council Rules Committee will be voting on bill number 140906, which would allow for the construction of.


These “sculptural” digital billboards will play full motion videos of commercials with accompanying audio content. The 3D billboards would be allowed to be constructed up to a height of six stories. Although the bill currently lists three locations that would be the sites of the first installment of billboards, it would open the door to a wave of UEDs flooding the area around City Hall.


Opponents of the bill say that outdoor advertising has been banned in Center City for over 25 years. Unlike the recently adopted Market East Advertising District, which requires building owners who construct digital billboards to earmark $10 million for public improvements, the billboard company proposing these 3D billboards has only promised a small amount of money to a select few non-profit groups. No consideration of the safety impact of full motion video and sound will have on drivers and pedestrians in a very busy section of Center City.


Why should City Council approve a bill that would not benefit Philadelphia or its citizens? If you would like to protect our most historic public spaces from abrasive, gaudy 3D billboards, please take the following steps:

  1. Attend the Rules Committee Meeting this Tuesday, February 24, at 10 A.M., Room 676 City Hall and voice your objections to this bill.
  2. Contact the Councilmembers listed below and tell them to STOP Bill 140906, a bill which favors the interests of one outdoor advertising company over that of an entire city.


Councilman Greenlee (215) 686-3446, (215) 686-3447

Councilman Henon (215) 686-3444, (215) 686-3445

Councilman Good (215) 686-3414, (215) 686-3415

Councilwoman Tasco (215) 686-3454, (215) 686-3455

Councilwoman Bass (215) 686-3424, (215) 686-3425

Councilman O’Brien (215) 686-3440, (215) 686-3441

Councilwoman Brown (215) 686-3438, (215) 686-3439

Upcoming PCPC Hearing on Sidewalk-Level 3D Billboards



This Tuesday at 1the Philadelphia City Planning Commission will be voting on whether to recommend legislation introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla to allow “Urban Experiential Displays” in Center City. The full text of this bill is available below.

The bill currently before Council would adjust the zoning code, making way for a “UED District” around City Hall. This district would be in addition to the recently enacted Market East Advertising District, which has allowed for the construction of digital billboards along that corridor on the Lits Building.

These eye-level 3D billboards will take up space on the public right-of-way, prove distracting for drivers and pedestrians, and will cast bright, changing lights into nearby offices and hotel rooms.

Please check out PlanPhilly’s latest update on this legislation here.

For questions or comments regarding this bill, please call Councilman Mark Squilla’s office at (215)686-3458, (215)686-3459.

IMPORTANT UPCOMING COURT CASES: Scenic Philadelphia v. Franklin Institute; and 1115 Vine Street


This Wednesday, February 11th, Pennsylvania’s Court of Common Pleas will be hearing two cases which may greatly influence the aesthetic future of Philadelphia.

FI_othersideRENDERThe first, Scenic Philadelphia V. the Philadelphia Zoning Board and Franklin Institute, involves the proposed conversion of Franklin Institute’s current conventional billboard to a digital display. The proposed digital billboard, located at the corner of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, N. 20th Street, and Winter Street, is not allowed by-right, but was granted a zoning variance. We believe this variance was granted in error.

This digital display would prove distracting to pedestrians and drivers, at what is already a dangerous intersection.

It’s electric glow would cast into the parkland and playgrounds of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, which is part of Philadelphia’s treasured Fairmount Park.

The construction of a digital billboard along the Parkway would set a dangerous precedent for other nearby institutions and could even open the door to an influx of private advertising interests.

Most importantly, the erection of a digital billboard location would violate six different zoning prohibitions. Additionally, the Franklin Institute has failed to prove any financial hardship that would even make the granting of a zoning variance appropriate.


The second case, one involving the conversion of a billboard to a digital format at 1115 Vine Street, is also against the Philadelphia Zoning Code.

This digital sign would also prove distracting to drivers on the Vine Street Expressway as well as those on our city’s streets.

The changing images of the display would cast flashing lights into the windows of nearby houses, apartments, and offices.

Lastly, it would degrade the visual characteristics of a neighborhood that has taken great strides in improving its aesthetic qualities.

Cases like these matter. Their results will guide the way that Philadelphia handles electric billboards, and will shape a large part of Philly’s aesthetic future. Billboards–especially bright, distracting, digital billboards–do not belong near our most prized civic institutions and they do not belong in the parks in which our children play. With your help, we can tell the City Council and the Zoning Board of Adjustments that digital billboards do not belong on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway or along our city streets.


Amendments Accepted, Billboard Bill Scheduled for Final Vote December 11, 2014


The Amendments to Billboard Bill No. 130565 have been accepted and are slated for final vote on December 11, 2014. While the conditions proposed in these amendments are overall an improvement from the original bill, Scenic Philadelphia will continue fighting against the intrusion of digital billboards and other forms of urban blight into our city’s neighborhoods.

Many thanks to those who have made a donation to Scenic Philadelphia to support our work.    


The highlights of the amendments are as follows: Most neighborhoods escaped the nuisance of digital billboard conversions, except those near I-76 and I-95.

Today’s amendment requires removal of 2 billboards in exchange for 1 digital conversion. (Increase from 1 yesterday).

Amendment allows for maximum brightness measurement of 450 nits at night instead of 700. (Better than 700 nits but 3.5 times brighter than conventional billboard’s 125 nits).

Unfortunately, billboard owners will be permitted to increase sign height to be seen over the sound barriers and highway directional signs over highway. We recommend using clear sound barriers to avoid the need to raise heights.

Customary Maintenance will allow for the reconstruction of foundations of non-conforming billboards, but PROHIBTS changing sign to digital, or increasing size, height, etc.

Timing. The duration of each display is still eight (8) seconds. We asked for 60 seconds.


Please view the full text of the accepted Amendments to Billboard Bill Number 130656 below.



Driving In and Around Philadelphia


Hello Scenic Philadelphians!

Please check out a couple of videos that we prepared after driving around our city. The first video takes the viewer through South Philly and all around the city’s major thoroughfares and interstates. The second video highlights the roadways along the Delaware River.

While you watch these videos, be sure to notice how billboards and urban blight obstruct scenic vistas, mar our city’s corridors, and act as distractions for drivers!  Try to imagine how these shots would look without these billboards, and of course, enjoy the abundant urban beauty that have not yet been marred by outdoor advertising.

With that said, sit back, relax, and enjoy these two short driver’s-eye-view videos!

Scenic Pittsburgh on 1410AM KQV



Scenic Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Mike Dawida, is being featured on 1410 KQV News Radio throughout this afternoon. Be sure to tune in for his comments on how digital billboards are a danger to drivers.

If you’re in the greater Pittsburgh area, tune in to 1410 AM radio, otherwise click here to stream over the web.

Also, be sure to sure to check out the work that Scenic Pittsburgh is doing at their web page.

LED Light a “Toxic Stress” on Retina; Children Advised to Avoid Sources


In connection with our post from a couple weeks ago, more disturbing news related to the health effects of LED lights.

Anses, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety, has reported that the intense blue light emitted by LED diodes, like those found on digital billboards, is a “toxic stress” on the retina, with a “severe dazzling risk.”Additionally, “youngsters are particularly sensitive to this risk as their eyes are still developing.” The report goes on to recommend “avoiding the use of light sources rich in blue in places frequented by children.”

Artist depiction of a proposed digital billboard at the Franklin Institute.

Artist depiction of a proposed digital billboard at the Franklin Institute.

Should we really be allowing the construction of LED billboards in public places?

English news article on the report can be found here.
Anses’ translated report summary can be found here.
A PDF of the full report (Francophones only!) can be found here.

Billboard Owner Sues City of Madison, WI for Blocking Views with Bike Bridge


As Madison, Wisconsin has recently discovered, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!

Beltline billboard

A billboard advertising company is suing the city of Madison for constructing a bike overpass bridge that has blocked its view from traffic, “contending the value of the sign and property had been ‘substantially devalued.'” Link to the article here.

Two points of note:
1. Had the billboard not been built, and the advertiser never had a chance to claim rights to public sight-lines, this lawsuit could have been avoided.
2. It’s interesting that nearby homeowners did not sue the advertiser when his billboard most likely reduced their property values!


In Cities Across Texas, Activists Battle Billboard Companies


Don Glendenning, president of Scenic Dallas, stands with volunteer Marc Shidid below one of Dallas' new digital billboards.

Don Glendenning, president of Scenic Dallas, stands with volunteer Marc Shidid below one of Dallas’ new digital billboards. (John Burnett/NPR)

Kudos to our affiliates in Texas, who are working hard to prevent the spread of visual pollution in their cities and along their highways.

“In Texas, 388 cities — including most large and medium-size cities — have ordinances prohibiting new billboards.”

Link to the NPR article here.

Show Us YOUR Scenic Philly!


Do you have a favorite building in Philadelphia? Know of a green oasis you want to share with the world? Maybe some spectacular public art, or a perfect view of the Schuykill?

Row houses on South Street.

Row houses on South Street.

We want to see YOUR Scenic Philly! 

MyScenicPhilly.org is the place to post pictures of your favorite architecture, parks, neighborhoods, art, and views. If you’re on Instagram, please be sure to tag us in all your Philly pictures and follow us @myscenicphilly

This is your city–what do YOU love about it?

Scenic Summer Soirée Success!



Our Scenic Summer Soirée was a huge success! We have always believed that beauty is good for business, and we were delighted to have local entrepreneur and author Judy Wicks elaborate on this idea and read excerpts from her recent book “Good Morning, Beautiful Business.” Visit http://judywicks.com/ to learn more about her work!


Judy Wicks reads excerpts from her recent book “Good Morning, Beautiful Business.”

Thanks to all our attendees for coming out and supporting the effort to keep Philadelphia beautiful!

All our pictures from the Soirée can be viewed on our Facebook page. While you’re there, be sure to Like ScenicPhiladelphia so you can stay up to date on news, events, and more! If you have any photos from the event you would like to share, please tag us by typing “@ScenicPhiladelphia” as a comment on the picture.




People are profoundly impacted by the appearance of their surroundings. An attractive visual environment positively affects a city’s economic, cultural, and social development.


We believe that citizens are our best hope for improvement and that all residents, regardless of income, education or neighborhood should benefit from laws protecting their built environment.

Contact Us!

Our Office is located at 1315 Walnut Street, Suite 1605.  Call us at 215-731-1796 or send us an e-mail at scenicphiladelphia@gmail.com


Billboard Update in Northern California: Third Hurdle Overcome, but Victory Not Yet Final

The northern California city of Albany – near Berkeley and San Francisco – was able to overturn a billboard ordinance the City Council had approved in March that would have allowed a digital billboard on a new maintenance building currently under construction. Scenic East Bay was able to advise them to work together and mount a successful grassroots campaign against the ordinance with help of Sierra Club and especially former City Council member Robert Cheasty.

image003Five members of the public spoke at the City Council meeting on July 21st, including one representative of the Sierra Club.  They argued how digital billboards would adversely affect enjoyment of the waterfront, traffic safety, property values, and wildlife.  Ultimately, four City Council members voted in favor of overturning ordinance.  One council member voted against overturning it.


To finalize the ordinance change, there will be a confirmatory vote, most likely at the September 2nd City Council meeting. Monitor this website for the meeting agenda, and visit www.StopTheDigitalBillboard.org for updates on the campaign.


Some Exciting Social Media News!

Scenic Philadelphia is finally on Instagram!  Follow us at @myscenicphilly today!


One of our first #MyScenicPhilly submissions!

The account is part of the new website we’re launching soon, My Scenic Philly.  You’ll be able to submit a photo (via our new Instagram!) or a short blurb that captures your favorite scenic part of Philadelphia, such as a park, neighborhood, public art, architecture, or hidden Philly jewel. Your MyScenicPhilly submission will appear on our map!

The Future of GPS? Choosing “Most Beautiful” Routes

If you prefer beautiful routes over short ones, GPS mapping algorithms are of little use. But Yahoo researchers have come up with an approach that could change that.

Beautiful cities

Last week, MIT Technology Review highlighted members of Yahoo Labs in Barcelona, Spain who have developed an algorithm to measure the “beauty” of specific locations within cities and then choose a route between two locations in a way that maximizes the beauty along it.  Let’s hope this enters all GPS devices soon!

Read the full article here.

Do You Live Near an Illegal Billboard?

City Council will soon pass new billboard laws, legalizing many billboards that the billboard industry identified as illegal in 1990 and Penn Dot identified as illegal in 2006.

Bill #130656   amending Philadelphia’s 1991 outdoor advertising laws and may include the legalization of all illegal billboards in the City.  To view the illegal billboards in your neighborhood please click on the link that corresponds to your Councilmanic District. Contact your Council person to voice your concern.

1st District, Councilman Mark Squilla                  215-686-3458

2nd District, Kenyatta Johnson                             215-686-3412, 3413

3rd District, Jannie Blackwell                                215-686-3418, 3419

4th District, Curtis Jones, Jr.                                 215-686-3416, 3417

5th District, Darrell L. Clarke                                215-686-3442, 3443, 2070

6th District, Bobby Hennon                                   215-686-3444, 3445

7th District, Maria D. Quinones-Sanchez             215-686-3448, 3449

8th District, Cindy Bass                                          215-686-3424, 3429

9th District, Marian B. Tasco                                 215-686-3454, 3455

10th District, Brian J. O’Neill                                 215-686-3422, 3423

The Prevalence of Harmful Content on Billboard Advertising

An L.A. study, conducted by Bryce C. Lowery, MS, MLA, and David C. Sloane, PhD, confirms what we have known or at least suspected – that billboard companies target the most vulnerable communities with ads for things like fast food and alcohol.

digital signs in chicago neighborhood IIIAccording to Sloane and Lowery, public health professionals and planners need to consider the ramifications of the harmful impacts of outdoor advertising.  It is likely, they believe, that outdoor advertising will increase in proliferation “given the rising economic value of outdoor advertising to developers and property owners, the new digital technologies that give advertisers the ability to continuously present new ads, and the belief among many public officials that outdoor advertising enlivens public spaces in a cosmopolitan city.”

Sloane and Lowery also found that the current reliance on land-use zoning as a determinant for the location of billboards can lead to an uneven distribution of harmful content.  This, they fear, puts the well-being of poorer, minority, and at-risk communities at a huge disadvantage.

To read Sloane and Lowery’s full study, click here.

Beauty Is Good for Business: 2014 Scenic America Conference

We are delighted to announce that videos and presentations from the annual Scenic America Conference are now available to watch for free on Scenic America’s website.  Scenic advocates from around the country gathered in Houston on April 11th for this year’s conference.  The theme of the event was: How Scenic Beauty Supports Economic Development, Livability and Tourism.

Click here to watch a brief preview of all the presentations.  You’ll only want to watch more!

Gerald HinesScenic Philadelphia especially enjoyed the talk given by Gerald Hines, Founder and Chairman of  Hines Organization, one of the largest real estate organizations in the world.  Gerald discussed How Scenic Beauty Supports Business.  He used Uptown Houston as an example of a premier mixed-use urban community that connects business with pleasure, energy with grace, and style with substance through projects such as greening the West Loop and Hidalgo Park and implementing a Pedestrian Improvement program.  Click here to watch the full presentation and download Gerald’s powerpoint slides here.

amy-hillierPhiladelphia’s very own Amy Hillier, Ph.D. (Associate Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design; Secondary faculty appointment in the School of Social Policy & Practice) gave a presentation as well on the Public Health Impacts of Planning and Design. She highlighted the short-term and long-term health outcomes that can arise from poor sign control, such as:

– Driver distraction from digital signs leading to increases in car, bike and pedestrian accidents and an overall increase in city casualties/fatalities

– Visual assault from outdoor media leading to over-stimulation/decrease in psychosocial well-being, which contributes to increased risks of chronic disease

– Outdoors/green spaces made less appealing generates less use and lower levels of physical activity and can lead to increases in crime and risk of chronic disease

You can view Amy’s talk here and download her powerpoint slides here

Let There Be LESS Light: Digital Signage in Chicago

Photo from Chris Hall's article "ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II" on Digital Signage Today

Photo from Chris Hall’s article “ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II” on Digital Signage Today

Below is an interesting interview by a trade publication of David Hickey of the International Sign Association.  The interview gives some insight into how the ISA uses boilerplate language on regulations from city to city when advocating for digital on-premise signs.  They’re working hard to influence planners in particular…


ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part I

ISA works with Chicago to overturn digital sign ban, Part II

The interview was spawned by a recent effort by ISA to overturn a moratorium on on-premise digital signs in Chicago, which is covered nicely in this report.

Anyone complaining about light pollution in Chicago, however, will find no friend in the Mayor’s office.

Billboards and Traffic Safety: An International Concern

Over the past several years, there have been studies conducted across the globe that prove how dangerously distracting billboards are to drivers on major roadways.  Here are two that particularly stood out to us:

isreal before after stats1) In 2007 and 2008, researchers conducted an analytic study of the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, one of Israel’s busiest highways.  They found that the removal of roadside billboards significantly reduced the number of all crashes along the highway and reduced the number fatal or injury crashes by more than two-thirds.

2) A 2012 study from researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute found that drivers look at digital billboards significantly longer than any other road signage, often taking their eyes off the road for more than two seconds.  According to a 2006 report at Virginia Tech for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, this seemingly brief period of inattention has been the cause of nearly 80% of car crashes. Thanks to the findings from the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and other related studies, the Swedish government ordered the removal of all digital billboards.

Taken in Stockholm, Sweden in 2009,  during the country's test of digital billboards.  The sign  has since been removed.

Taken in Stockholm, Sweden in 2009, during the country’s test of digital billboards. The sign has since been removed.

You can read more about the Swedish and Israeli studies at Scenic America’s website.  For more information, click here for compendium of five recent billboard safety studies done by Jerry Wachtel of the Veridian Group, one of the leading human factors / traffic safety firms out there.

Philadelphia at the Forefront of Digital Signage Energy Research

Greg Young reportPhiladelphia’s own Gregory Young, LEED AP, is one of the few people to have conducted research around the environmental and energy-consumption issues raised by digital signage. Young,  an architectural designer and urban planner, crafted a report that provides important insight on the higher electricity consumption, increased light pollution, and recyclability issues that come from the growing popularity of digital signage.  “As America at last embraces sustainability and Philadelphia strives to become the ‘greenest city in America,'” writes Young, “is a proliferation of digital signs along our highways and storefronts sending the right message?”

For more information about Young’s work, check out this 2011 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer as well as highlights of his report at Scenic America.

UPDATE: Bill No. 130656


Revisions to Philadelphia’s Outdoor Advertising Sign laws, Bill No. 130656, were introduced by City Councilman Bobby Henon in the Fall of 2013.    The bill has been taken off the City Council calendar for voting.


Councilman Henon volunteered to lead the efforts to rewrite the sign laws when the Planning Commission’s revisions were found unacceptable to many City Council members in June of 2013.  Councilman Henon’s staff worked on this hotly debated legislation for nine months, meeting with members of the billboard industry, city planners, the Mayor’s office and community groups.

The Henon bill required a full inventory of all billboards in the city and would legalize existing billboards in return for a citywide prohibition of new billboards.   New Council bills allowing advertising signage on school district property, municipal property and in specially designated “sign districts” conflicted with this intention.   The legislation was tabled for several months and finally, on March 27, 2014 City Council voted to suspend this bill.  A spokeswoman for Councilman Henon’s office stated that they “plan to try again next fall.”

Lady Bird’s Bill: Scenic Philly and the Highway Beautification Act

Claudia Alta "Lady Bird" Taylor Johnson  was First Lady of the United States (1963–69) during the presidency of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Claudia Alta “Lady Bird” Taylor Johnson was First Lady of the United States (1963–69) during the presidency of her husband, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Scenic Philadelphia is the most knowledgeable source of information on the federal act which controls all federal and primary aid highways including Broad Street, City Avenue, Lancaster Avenue, Roosevelt Expressway, I-676 etc.   Failure to comply with the 1965 Federal Highway Beautification Act, 23 U.S.C. Section 131, et seq. (HBA)  also known as Lady Bird’s Bill can result in a serious penalty and loss of federal highway funding for states found out of compliance with federal spacing, size and lighting regulations.  This Act governs the areas within 660 feet of federal and primary aid highways.   State DOT’s  are charged with enforcement and overseen by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). We continue to monitor state oversight of the HBA in Philadelphia and  have been told that the  FHWA and PENNDOT have met regularly with the City to gain better compliance with the HBA.  We worked directly with the Department of Licenses and Inspections on an application for a federal transportation grant.

UPDATE: We’re Here to Serve!

Like many organizations, Scenic Philadelphia wishes to serve as a resource of information to its members and followers.  Recently, we have provided information on all aspects of proposed revisions to the existing non-accessory sign code and other bills relating to outdoor advertising on schools, park areas, and libraries to a broad coalition of community advocates including:  Friends of the Library, Philadelphia Parks Alliance, Crosstown Coalition, Philadelphia Association of Community Development Associations, Preservation Alliance,  Center City District, and many individual neighborhoods.  These organizations are working on various projects throughout the city that may be impacted by new legislation and zoning decisions regarding signage.

Friends of the Library



We have also provided research data on financial impact of billboards on property values and the expiration of the 2007 Settlement Agreement to Crosstown Coalition.   Scenic Philadelphia was a coordinating member of the Coalition, which is comprised of over 25 civic associations and neighborhood associations who worked on revisions to the new zoning code.  It was this group of neighborhood zoning committee members and attorneys that produced recommendations that were incorporated into the revised code. The group met with several council members and shared the information.

Risks/Threats Identified and Mapped

Scenic Philadelphia identified and mapped assets relating to the physical, visual, and public health environment of Philadelphia. These include:

1)  Key recreation sites and public spaces including pedestrian and bike trails (built and planned as part of The Circuit), parks, recreation centers, pools, playgrounds, and playgrounds

2) Institutions that serve children and families including schools and libraries

3) Interventions aimed at improving access to healthful foods including farmers’ markets and healthy corner stores

4) Key historic and cultural locations

AssetsWe created a density map combining the point-based map layers as one way of summarizing “high asset” areas. As part of our next stage, we will work with stakeholder organizations and residents through individual conversations, small group meetings, and a larger public campaign to solicit ideas about how to combine and weight these (and potentially other, including congregations, cultural organizations, public art, etc.) assets to identify high priority areas. This will likely feature social media, interactive mapping, and a brief survey to allow visitors to our website to nominate, photograph, and testify as to the importance of key public spaces and scenic vistas.

RisksWe mapped the location of risks to these public spaces and scenic vistas including:

1) Current location of billboards (conventional and digital). This involved working with the limited existing billboard lists and map layers and using Google Street View to identify the precise location of existing off-premise signs;

2) Location of contested billboards including proposed digital billboard outside Reading Viaduct and Chinese Christian Church;

3) Type 1 crimes (Homicides, Rapes, Robberies, Aggravated Assaults, Thefts).

4) We anticipate adding surface parking lots and vacant land to our inventory of risks.

We have also reviewed a number of public reports issued by leading local organizations and government agencies that identify high priority public spaces. These reports include William Penn Great Public Spaces Strategic Overview, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Civic Landscapes, Philadelphia Department of Health Get Healthy Philly annual report, Greenworks, Philly 2035 Citywide Vision and District plans, and Visit Philly’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods campaign.

As a next step, we will map the scenic vistas and high priority public spaces identified in these reports.











As an example, we have mapped a map showing the “Great Public Spaces” on which William Penn is focusing along with the assets and risks we identified. We will also conduct interviews with staff at these and other key stakeholder organizations (including Center City District and Preservation Alliance) to further explore how their high-priority areas coincide with areas of high assets and risks.

Enforcement of Existing Sign Laws


Photo credited to New York Times article “DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION”

Scenic Philadelphia has monitored requests for variances for billboards located in areas where they are prohibited by law and also for permits  issued over the counter for digital conversions of existing nonconforming conventional billboards.  Digital signs are far brighter than conventional and are set to change messages every 6 – 8 seconds creating a flashing effect which can create a serious distraction to drivers and are a nuisance to nearby residents. These bright flashing advertising signs can have a real impact on the visual character of trails, parks and public spaces as well because they can be seen from a much greater distance than conventional billboards.

Starting in 2007 and continuing to 2013, the Department of Licenses and Inspections issued over the counter permits to billboard companies allowing conversion of existing traditional billboards into digital. The policy was never publically vetted but was based on the interpretation of a former Deputy Commissioner contained in a memo. It is difficult to track a permit issuance as opposed to a request for a variance.  Thankfully, a new memorandum was finally published on September 27, 2014 requiring a variance for digital conversions of nonconforming billboards.

Two additional permits were issued after the new memorandum was issued, one along the Schuylkill Trails and the other across from a school adjacent to I-95.   Scenic Philadelphia has worked with community groups in appealing these permits and several others impacting trails, parks, vistas and schools, including:

3020 Spring Garden Street

3020 Spring Garden Street


13 N. 32nd Street – Adjacent to the Spring Garden Street Bridge and seen from Schuylkill Banks

13 N. 32nd Street – Adjacent to the Spring Garden Street Bridge and seen from Schuylkill Banks

Independence National Historic Park

Independence National Historic Park

6241 Tacony Street

6241 Tacony Street

1301 Ridge Avenue – Lemon Ridge Community Garden

1301 Ridge Avenue – Lemon Ridge Community Garden

Digital Signs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway?

The Franklin Institute requested a variance to convert an existing double sided accessory vinyl sign facing the corner of North 20th Street and Winter Streets into a digital sign. The intersection was identified as one of several dangerous pedestrian crossing zones in the report, More Parks, Less Way, where pedestrians crossing at this location must cross multiple lanes of traffic coming from several directions.

Digital Billboards on ParkwayDigital signs are presently prohibited within 200 feet of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as well as within the zoning district in which the Franklin Institute is located.  Logan Square Neighbors Association and users of Aviator Park opposed the request. The Zoning Board granted a variance, which has been appealed to Common Pleas Court.

The proposed digital sign would be much brighter, flashing messages with motion, animation, and changing screens every 8 seconds. Friends of Aviator Park as well as several local residents asked Scenic Philadelphia to represent them in the appeal of a variance allowing a digital sign which sets a precedent for similar signs, marring the world renowned beauty of this iconic Parkway.

My First Day!

By Carolyn Grace, University of Pennsylvania Communications Intern

Me (on the right) at this past year's Homecoming

My friend Nikki and I (on the right) at this past year’s Homecoming

Hey there, Philly!  My name is Carolyn Grace, and I am the newest Communications intern for Scenic Philadelphia.  I am in charge of posting content on the organization’s website, Twitter account, and Facebook page.

A little bit about myself — I am from the beautiful City of Brotherly Love itself!  Naturally, that makes me a die-hard Phillies fan, despite the fact that their season has been less than sub-par so far.  It also makes me a HUGE lover of the arts and culture.  Some of my favorite places to visit in the city are the Magic Gardens, the Barnes Foundation, the PMA, and WXPN radio station.  And then, of course, there’s my wonderful school located in the heart of West Philly :)

I am a rising junior at Penn with a major in American History.  I am also pursuing minors in French and Creative Writing.  At the end of August, I will be leaving to study abroad in Paris for 4 months!  I am beyond excited.

Counterparts at our Fall 2013 show!

Counterparts at our Fall 2013 show

Like the majority of students, I am very involved on campus.  I sing in a pop and jazz a cappella group called Counterparts (fun fact: R&B singer John Legend sang in this group while he was a student at Penn!).  I also write for a few of Penn’s print and online publications, including  34th Street magazine, Filament magazine, and Frankly Penn.  Finally, I am a proud sister of the Sigma Kappa sorority.

Me and some fellow SK sisters!

Some fellow SK sisters and I!

I had my first day at Scenic Philadelphia yesterday, and I’m already glad to be a part of the team.  I am one of two Penn summer work-study students here, and Mary and Phyllis have been extremely welcoming to both of us.  Plus, there’s already a ton of work for me to dive right into.  It looks like it’s going to be a busy summer!

Be sure to keep up with the Scenic Philly website and all of Scenic Philly’s social media platforms over the next few months.  You’ll be getting some really interesting content from me!  Let’s keep our city beautiful :)

The Basics about Billboards

“The great thing about outdoor advertising is that you can’t turn the page, you can’t switch it off – it’s just there.”– Jeremy Male, CEO, CBS Outdoor Advertising

Is that really such a “great thing” for Philadelphia and other cities across the country?  Take a look at Scenic America’s Billboard Fact Sheet and see why outdoor advertising (a.k.a. billboards) is anything but “great.”


Billboards on Books?

Legislation allowing billboards on municipal property was passed last year.  On March 3rd of this year, an RFP was issued seeking proposals for the City’s Municipal Advertising Program on City-owned buildings and vehicles to generate revenue for the City by implementing an advertising program on City assets.

Library at 2987 Almond Street - potentially threatened by the Municipal Advertising Program

Library at 2987 Almond Street – potentially threatened by the Municipal Advertising Program

This Program will allow advertising on City Assets including buildings and vehicles, and the RFP includes a list of buildings that “may have potential for advertising.” In addition, the successful candidate may suggest alternative City-owned buildings, although the City retains the right to refuse to allow advertising on any City-owned building at its sole and absolute discretion. The suggestive list reveals the type of buildings that the City considers appropriate for advertising, and includes many different categories, such as recreation centers and 45 library properties.

The Friends of the Library have contacted Scenic Philadelphia for assistance in understanding the scope of the bill, local, state and federal laws regulating outdoor advertising in the City and we are working with them by providing technical and educational resources.

Below are some of the libraries that have been targeted as potential buildings for the Municipal Advertising Program:

8711 Germantown Avenue

8711 Germantown Avenue

601 East Indiana Avenue

601 East Indiana Avenue

231 East Wyoming Avenue

231 East Wyoming Avenue

3501 Midvale Avenue

3501 Midvale Avenue

446 North 65th Street

446 North 65th Street

1333 Wagner Avenue

1333 Wagner Avenue

601 West Lehigh Avenue

601 West Lehigh Avenue

Your Letters Worked!

Bill No 130817 (North Broad Street Billboard Bill): The Committee on Rules Hearing was initially scheduled for February 12th.  The hearing was cancelled, and the bill is currently on hold.

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

Bill No 130694 (School Advertising):  This legislation passed out of Rules Committee but has now been removed from City Council’s calendar.

Rendering of potential impact of School Advertising Bill

Common Pleas Court to Hear Landmark Digital Billboard Case at 1113 Vine Street

Oral arguments will be made to the Court of Common Pleas on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 regarding the Zoning Board’s questionable decision to issue a variance allowing this illegal and non-conforming billboard to be converted to digital.

Callowhill Neighbors, the Chinese Christian Church, adjacent residents, and Scenic Philadelphia have appealed the variance which would have a detrimental impact on nearby residents and the Church members.  The billboard towers over the Callowhill neighborhoods and is in the Gateway to the Reading Viaduct.

The Public is invited to attend the court hearing in City Hall on April 29th.     Location: City Hall, Courtroom 426         Time: April 29 at 10 AM.

RV Citing concerns in a letter of opposition to the ZBA, Councilman Squilla wrote that the digital billboard would have a negative impact on the neighborhood, future development of the Reading Viaduct, and the continued residential growth of this area. He made a powerful plea against this permit, stating that “the conversion of this sign to a double sided, bright, rapidly flashing billboard would adversely affect the quality of life in this growing residential neighborhood,” and noting that “the billboard is extremely close to existing apartments and extremely close to the southern terminus of the Reading Viaduct, … a new elevated City park that will connect Center City to the neighborhoods north of Vine Street.”

The billboard violates federally mandated spacing requirements set forth in the Highway Beautification Act, and is in an area protected by the Vine Street Expressway overlay, which prohibits billboards in this part of the city.


Philadelphia Signs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Common Pleas Judge Alice Dubow has refused to grant standing to Scenic Philadelphia and a group of neighbors and Aviator Park Users in an appeal of a Zoning Board of Adjustments variance allowing the Franklin Institute to erect a double- sided digital sign on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on the corner of North 20th Street and Winter Streets.

view from Aviator park

The intersection was identified as one of several dangerous pedestrian crossing zones in the report, More Parks, Less Way, where pedestrians crossing at this location must cross multiple lanes of traffic coming from several directions.

Digital signs are presently prohibited within 200 feet of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway as well as within the zoning district in which the Franklin Institute is located.  Logan Square Neighbors Association and users of Aviator Park opposed the request. The Zoning Board granted a variance, which has been appealed to Common Pleas Court.

The proposed digital sign would be much brighter, flashing messages with motion, animation, and changing screens every 8 seconds. Friends of Aviator Park as well as several local residents asked Scenic Philadelphia to represent them in the appeal.

The neighbors were concerned that this digital sign will destroy the iconic beauty of the Parkway and set a precedent for similar  flashing signs along the Parkway which has is considered one of the 10 most beautiful and iconic boulevards in the world.

Read the judge’s decision here.




City Issues an RFP for Advertising on Libraries and Rec Centers

Legislation allowing billboards on municipal property was passed last year, and an RFP was issued on March 3, 2014 seeking proposals for the City’s Municipal Advertising Program on City-owned buildings and vehicles to generate revenue for the City by implementing an advertising program on City assets. The deadline for submissions is quickly approaching, and the successful candidate will be notified on or about May 23.

This Program will allow advertising on City Assets including buildings and vehicles, and the RFP includes a list of buildings that “may have potential for advertising.” In addition, the successful candidate may suggest alternative City-owned buildings, although the City retains the right to refuse to allow advertising on any City-owned building at its sole and absolute discretion. The suggestive list reveals the type of buildings that the City considers appropriate for advertising, and includes many different categories, including many recreation centers and 45 of the 56 existing neighborhood libraries are targeted for ads. The map below shows the location of the all of the 56 libraries, and click here to see the list of those locations that are listed in the RFP.


The Haddington and Tacony branch libraries, shown below, are two of the many billboards targeted for potential ads.

haddington branch phila public library

Haddington Branch

phila tacony

Tacony Branch

Court Orders Removal of 100 Digital Billboards Across L.A.

bb pic

A three-judge panel on Monday ruled that roughly 100 digital billboards installed in Los Angeles under a 2006 legal settlement approved by the Los Angeles City Council must be removed.

The panel from the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal said sign companies CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel outdoor should not have been allowed to convert their existing billboards to electronic formats when existing laws prohibited such changes. “We do not see how the language could be plainer,” the ruling states.

The panel instructed a lower court to order the removal of digital billboards already permitted under the agreement, many of which were on the Westside.
Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, hailed the ruling. “Needless to say, [it's] a very happy day for us,” he said in an email.

Of the billboards that are at issue, 79 are operated by Clear Channel. The remainder were owned by CBS.

CBS and Clear Channel sued the city nearly a decade ago, seeking to block implementation of an ordinance banning the installation of new billboards except in special sign districts. In 2006, the council backed a settlement with the two companies that allowed them to convert up to 840 existing billboards to electronic formats.

Summit Outdoor, a smaller sign company, went to court to invalidate the agreement, calling it a sweetheart deal.

A judge sided with Summit, calling the agreement “poison” and blocking the city from allowing new digital signs to go up. But he refused to order the removal of the 100 or so billboards that had already been converted to digital formats under the 2006 settlement.

“It’s fantastic,” said Barbara Broide, president of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Assn., which filed an amicus brief in support of Summit Media’s lawsuit. “I think this is a hard-fought win. This city should be grateful to Summit for having brought the suit.”

More Billboards on Broad Street?

Bill No 130817

Committee on Rules Hearing Date:  February 12th  10:00 AM

Room 400 City Hall

You can register to testify – 215- 686-3410 or sign up that morning

Email Councilmembers

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

Rendering of North Broad Billboard Blvd starting at City Hall & ending at Lehigh 2.8 miles away.

   On February 12th, Council Rules Committee will hear public testimony on Bill 130817 which intends to create a 2.8 mile span of billboards along North Broad Street.  The legislation would allow towering wall wraps, digital billboards and full motion video signs up to 9 stories high covering the walls of buildings along North Broad Street from City Hall to Lehigh Avenue.
   In 1991, North Philadelphia’s religious community and health leaders, joined a citywide coalition to eliminate the proliferation of unsightly billboards blighting neighborhoods and won passage of strict billboard laws that removed over 1000 illegal billboards.  These laws have protected neighborhood commercial corridors for 23 years and supported revitalization efforts citywide.
     The Broad Street Billboard Bill 130817 would undo the hard work of City Councilman Bobby Henon who has been working with billboard companies and community groups for 9 months to draft new billboard laws which will include a prohibition against new billboards. This work is undermined by legislation that will allow more signage in the city in places that were formerly protected such as schools, municipal property and now North Broad Street.
What can Citizens Do??
    Contact Councilmembers by phone (See below),  set up meetings, send letters and email.  Attend & testify at the hearing on February at 10:00 AM. You can register before hand by phone 215-686-3410/3411 or sign up that day with the Clerk. Spread the word and share the link to this page.  For more information call 215-731-1796.
More Billboard Blight seen from Broad and Lehigh Avenue.

More Billboard Blight seen from Broad and Lehigh Avenue.

District Council
Mark Squilla:   215- 686 -3458
Kenyatta Johnson:   215- 686- 3412
Jannie Blackwell:   215- 686- 3418
Curtis Jones:     215-686-1934
Darrell Clarke:    215-686- 3442
Bobby Henon:     215-686-3444
Sanchez:     215-686-3448
 Cindy Bass:     215-686-3424
Marian Tasco:     215-686-3454
Brian O’Neil:    215-686-1939
 Rendering of advertising under the Broad St Billboard Bill at  Broad and Lehigh.

Rendering of advertising under the Broad St Billboard Bill at Broad and Lehigh.


Council- At- Large
        Reynolds Brown:   215-686-3448
Bill Greenlee:      215-686-344
 Wilson Goode:     215-6863414
 Jim Kenney:    215-686-3450
David Oh:    215-686-3452
Dennis O’Brien:   215-686-3440

How Bright is Too Bright?

In Atlanta, Georgia, a billboard recently converted to digital is keeping residents awake at night as the changing images bounce of the white walls of their bedroom. “It’s ruined the quality of life for people close to here,” says one of the residents.

In Los Angeles, California, a digital billboard looms behind people’s homes. la-ed-billboards-los-angeles-20130417-001

An Oakland, California digital billboard can be seen from six miles away.Bay Area digital billboard from 6 miles away

Here in Philadelphia, City Council members will soon be voting on new billboard legislation that, as currently written, will legalize all illegal billboards in Philadelphia, raise the height of many billboards, and allow for the conversion of conventional billboards to digital.

City Council’s billboard bill will set the brightness level of digital billboards to 700 nits at night and 7,500 nits during the day, seven times brighter than the 100-150 nits emitted by traditional, static billboards. A nit is a measure of brightness emitted by digital billboards. Billboards, in order to be seen during the day, need a higher brightness level, but at night these bright lights can be blinding.

Community leaders have expressed concern over the brightness levels proposed by billboard lobbyists and contained in the current version of the bill. Citing the lower brightness levels of traditional billboards, these leaders question why the billboard industry is pushing for digital signs to be so much brighter than existing conventional billboards.

Other cities have been much more cautious in their approach to digital billboards, including the City of Pittsburgh, which placed a 250 nit maximum on digital billboards at night. These lower nit levels are intended to lessen the safety hazards to drivers and the nuisance to local residents.

To learn more about nit levels, read this piece published by the Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting.


This is a Development Killer

picture of billboard near homes


The economic vitality of a city and its neighborhoods is closely linked to visual impressions.   Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity examined the impact of billboards on real estate and found a statistically significant correlation between real estate value (as measured by sales price) and proximity to billboards.  The study found “that property located within 500 feet of a billboard sold for 30,825 less according to a survey of real estate sales conducted during the summer of 2011 in Philadelphia.

The author, Jonathan Snyder, also found that there is a correlation between billboard density and home value and a proliferation of billboards in a neighborhood negatively impacts home values.  “For each additional billboard in a census tract, there is a $947 decrease in home value.”  Billboards tend to be located along commercial corridors yet the analysis showed that “it was not the presence of a commercial corridor   which had the negative impact on home values. It is the billboard itself that has a depressing effect on the whole of the census tract.”  [1] The study also looked at the sign codes of 20 cities and found that those with strict codes had lower vacancy rates, higher medium income and lower poverty rates.

One Condominium building of 500 units brings in more tax revenue than all the billboards in the city!  Owners paid 3 million dollars in real estate taxes a year.  That’s 500,000 dollars more than the 2 1/2 million dollars in revenue received from 2000 billboards from excise tax last year.   Hotels, parking, liquor and amusement taxes surpass Billboards by a huge margin.

Amusement Tax Parking Tax Billboard Tax Hotel Tax Liquor Tax































Other relevant reports can be found here:

Above the Law and Under the Radar

 Illuminating the Issues: Digital Signage and Philadelphia’s Green Future

Baker Report

History of Billboards in Philadelphia

Metropolis Report Pt. 1

Metropolis Report Pt. 2


  Will Billboards Blight Neighborhoods Permanently ?IMG_0972
  Council Rules Committee Hearing on Tuesday November 12, 2013
Bill 130656     10:00 Room 400
To Sign up for testimony, Contact Councilman Greenlee’s Staff:

Here’s What The New Billboard Law Would Do – And Why You Should Care?

  • Prevents citizens and communities from going to court to try to get rid of hundreds of unwanted and illegal billboards. Under the new law, these billboards would be “legalized” and citizens and communities would be permanently stuck with hundreds of scofflaw billboards. See Map of billboards 
  • Allows hundreds of billboards to be raised higher, have much larger sign faces, and have digital sign faces. A small static billboard that is close to the ground today could become a towering, jumbo, digital billboard tomorrow. These signs would be intrusive to residents, distracting to drivers, and block scenic views of our skyline, rivers and architecture. See Henon Map of Potential Areas 
  • Removes Billboard Protections from 16 of our City’s most culturally significant and scenic areas including the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and Vine Street Parkway Area Corridor.
  • Includes no prohibitions on advertising signage on vacant buildings – Encouraging blight and abandonment in our communities and standing in the way of moving properties back into productive reuse.
  • Stunts economic growth in our neighborhoods- Economic impact studies show that billboards lower nearby property values by $31,000.   Home owners,developers and businesses are disinclined to invest in properties in proximity to large, unsightly billboards.  


Please Attend the Hearing on TUESDAY November 12 at 10 AM at City Hall Room 400
(Need Photo ID and  enter through Visitor’s entrance across from Marriott Courtyard  )

  City Council members have been hearing from billboard industry lobbyists. They have not heard from you. Please attend and tell them what you think. 


Read   The Economic Impact of Billboards on Property Values

Scenic Philadelphia is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit that promotes healthy, vibrant and beautiful public spaces throughout all of Philadelphia.    We need your support to fight blight.

Bandit Sign Legislation

       Congratulations your hard work has paid off! On Thursday September 19, Councilman Bobby Henon introduced bill 130628, to amend the existing legislation (Chapter 10-1200, “Posting Of Temporary Signs”)  available through this link:


Councilman Henon’s bill 130628 has generated attention from the media, which we hope will help bring a greater awareness to the “band-it sign” blight issue.

After you’ve read bill 130628 and want to discuss it further please contact us at


Philadelphia Futures Wrap Up!

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It’s truly hard to believe, but the Urban Renewal class has already come to an end. Combining forces, Scenic Philadelphia and Philadelphia Futures offered a three-week class to Philadelphia public school students on the topics of urban renewal, city planning, and community economic development. Yesterday, the class culminated with a closing ceremony held at the Philadelphia Bar Association. While each student was formally recognized and given a certificate of completion, five individuals were selected to present their final projects. For the final assignment, each student was asked to identify an area or challenge within their respective neighborhoods and develop a proposal aimed at ameliorating the problem.  Special emphasis was placed on overall community benefits and local organizations to partner with. A panel of five judges ranked 1st through 3rd place. The winner was rising senior, Jamir Weems, who proposed putting a music recording studio in two abandoned historic buildings in Olde City.  Friends and family of the students gathered to celebrate the success of the class.

I am sad that the class has come to an end, but it was truly a rewarding experience. It was my first time working in a classroom setting, and I was inspired by each and every student on a daily basis. I learned just how much the kids care about the vitality of their neighborhoods and the quality of life of their neighbors.  Philadelphia is lucky to have such an amazing group of conscious and responsible youth. I will leave you with a poem that was recited at the closing event by rising junior, Ahleah Forton (with special shout-outs to yours truly):

How Was Your Summer ??

How was your summer??

Well mine was filled with learning Philly is our city

So why not make it pretty? Instead of leaving it filthy.

Our Urban Renewal Class allowed us to create plans,

so we can take matters into our own hands,

and deduct blight from our lands.

How was your summer??

Mine was filled with connecting with students my age.

Sitting around a table, being on the same page.

With a awesome teacher and a super cool intern,

who taught lessons that kept me engaged.

Friends motivation. but of course I’m not a quitter.

And to keep in touch Marcel, Follow Me On TWITTER : ) !!

How was your summer??

Mine was filled with trying new things,

learning about New Orleans,

and sharing our nick name.

From leeky leek to t.james,

the best one, Ms. Pooh, is the ultimate nickname.

I believe nothing about this class was lame.

From PoBoys

at Baby Blues,

to Ben & Jerry’s, where a ice cream flavor was hard to choose.

Telling you about my summer is not to give you the blues.

So when I look around I want to see all kinds of smiles in my viewphoto

Philly’s most bitter labor war? Signs

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STEPHANIE AARONSON / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Signs objecting Goldtex Apartments line a section of 11th Street.

Posted: July 18, 2013 by Stu Bykofsky Daily News Columnist

“IT’S A MESS. You’re littering the street. Who’s here to read it?” asks Andre Wilson. “It’s senseless.”

He is talking about the dandelion field of signs up and down the Vine Street median between 11th and 12th streets not far from where he lives. Lots of cars whiz by, almost no pedestrians.

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