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