Art Commission Approves Advertising Kiosks Despite Public Opposition

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By Brendan McDevitt, Scenic Philadelphia Intern

At a public hearing on November 1st the Philadelphia Art Commission voted 7-to-1 to grant approval for a private company to install 100 advertising kiosks on city sidewalks, despite objections from several neighborhood organizations and many residents. The kiosks still need approval from PennDOT, the agency responsible for ensuring Philadelphia’s compliance with federal outdoor advertising regulations which would apply to most of the streets where the kiosks are proposed.  Scenic Philadelphia will be coordinating with PennDOT and federal regulators to ensure that any proposed kiosks do not violate federal laws.

NYC sidewalk kiosks
Sidewalk kiosks in New York City have become hubs for loitering and illicit activities.

During the hearing the chairman of the Philadelphia Art Commission, Alan Greenberger, asked representatives from Intersection, an outdoor advertising firm, and the city’s Office of Transportation and Infrastructure Systems (OTIS) a very direct question: “What would you like us to do?” Unfortunately, the Art Commission gave the advertising firm and OTIS exactly what they came for. A motion for approval of the ‘Link’ advertising kiosks in Philadelphia was passed swiftly by a majority of the commission.

Intersection and OTIS proposed several possible sites for the kiosks on the sidewalks of wide streets, such as Market and Arch, as well as the narrow streets of Old City. Their presentation highlighted the free Wi-Fi, outreach to local businesses, public service announcements about civic events, and cell phone charging ports that the kiosks would bring to people, but failed to address many of the concerns members of the public and neighborhood groups expressed about the kiosks.  There was additional concern expressed by civic leaders about the lack of public notice and input on a proposal that would have a profound impact on the public space.

A representative from the Crosstown Coalition of thirty civic associations testified to the Art Commission that no one from OTIS or Intersection had reached out to their neighborhoods about these proposed kiosks.  These civic associations reached a unanimous decision that without any information they would not support the kiosks. A resident of Old City, Rob Kettell, frankly told the art commission that the kiosks would not fit in Old City,  explaining that the streets of Old City are too narrow and crowded to accommodate these 9-foot tall and 3-foot wide kiosks. He also felt that an environment with these continuously changing ads would be hazardous to pedestrians and drivers on Old City’s streets. Mr. Kettell said that the kiosks’ unsightly appearance would not look natural with Old City’s rustic and authentic appearance.

Scenic Philadelphia’s executive director, Mary Tracy, testified about the potential degradation these kiosks could have on Philadelphia’s historic appearance and character. Ms. Tracy said that the city needs to be aware of the numerous public nuisance issues the kiosks have led to in New York and asked the commission to consider the long-term impact that these kiosks may have on Philadelphia. She ended her testimony with an appeal to consider the impact that taking away public space would have on the people of Philadelphia.

The president of The Society Hill Civic Association, Roseanne Loesch, also testified to the art commission that her group was very concerned about the lack of public awareness and participation in the kiosk program approval process. She asked for public hearings regarding the kiosks, and posed a final question to the commission: why should private, for profit businesses be given public space for ads?

Only one member of the commission, painter Joe Laragione, found it disconcerting that of nearly 200 letters the commission received regarding the kiosk proposal, all but 3 were opposed to the proposal.  He remembered what other members of the commission seem to have forgotten: the purpose of art commissions is to steward public space on behalf of the public and to protect and promote the good visual character of the city’s streetscapes. Mr. Laragione’s stated that if such a large portion of people in Philadelphia did not want these kiosks, then they should not be approved. At this point art commission chair, Alan Greenberger, again asked Intersection what they wanted from the Philadelphia Art Commission. Intersection clearly stated this time what they came for: approval for the kiosks.  Despite Joe Langione’s sincere words and great public testimony, a motion for the approval of the kiosks was passed by the majority of the art commission.

Brendan McDevitt is a Temple University student with a keen interest in urban development and public relations. This was his first time attending an art commission hearing. 

Art Commission Set to Meet on This Wednesday 11/1 to Revisit Digital Advertising Kiosks’ Case at 9:30 AM: Public Urged to Attend

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By Brendan McDevitt, intern

Thank you to all the  residents of Philadelphia that wrote to the Art Commission about the advertising kiosks! Your voice plays a vital part of the city’s decision making process. For all people that have not had a chance to write to the Art Commission yet, Scenic Philadelphia still urges to do so since it is not too late!

Send a letter to the Art Commission, here! 

The Art Commission will reopen Intersection’s case for digital advertising kiosks this Wednesday, November 1st, at 1515 Arch StreetRoom 18029 on the Eighth Floor. The meeting opens at 9:30 AM, and Intersection’s case is first on the Art Commission’s agenda. Scenic Philadelphia asks any member of the public to come to this open meeting at 1515 Arch Street- Room 18029 to testify to the Art Commission on how these kiosks will affect you and your view of Philadelphia’s appearance! Your participation is so important to us and to your city! Scenic Philadelphia hopes to see you Wednesday morning!

Say no to commercial advertising kiosks on Philadelphia’s sidewalks

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By Brendan McDevitt, intern

The sidewalks of Philadelphia may soon be marred with the addition of hulking advertising kiosks if an advertising company’s proposal is approved by city officials. The Philadelphia Art Commission has given conceptual approval for the kiosks, and it is important that they hear from the public before they give final approval for the kiosks.  Click here to let city officials know you don’t want these kiosks on our city’s sidewalks.

NYC sidewalk kiosks
Sidewalk kiosks in New York City have become hubs for loitering and illicit activities.

Rising out of the ground like unsightly pillars, similar kiosks have already caused a stir in New York City, where they were installed in January of 2016. Kiosk operators tout supposed public benefits of the structures, including free public WiFi, phone charging stations, and a built-in-tablet that can used to browse the internet, but the majority of the structure is composed of LED screens that flash distracting advertisements to both pedestrians and drivers. Aside from the kiosks being detrimental to the unique and authentic appearance of Philadelphia, there are several issues that have emerged with these kiosks in New York City that will surely arise in Philadelphia if they are approved by the Art Commission.

New York City officials began receiving complaints about the kiosks shortly after their installation.  The kiosks quickly became gathering places for people looking to make use the free Wifi, internet access and phone charging ports.  Small encampments began to grow around the kiosks, with people dragging newspaper vending boxes, discarded furniture and other objects to the kiosks to act as impromptu furniture from which to use the kiosks for hours at a time.  City officials in New York like Bronx Borough President Rubèn Dìaz have raised concerns about these people creating personal spaces for themselves by the kiosks where drugs and alcohol are consumed publicly.

Such uses of the kiosks are creating major public nuisances for city residents like Judith Barnes, a resident of the Cobble Hill neighborhood in Brooklyn, who told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle that a “massive” kiosk was installed just a few feet from her front window. She described the new kiosks as an eyesore in her neighborhood that creates light and noise pollution issues for she and her neighbors. Ms. Barnes is also worried about people attracted to the kiosk congregating on the sidewalk in front of her home, and of the potential for personal privacy invasion since the kiosks have built in cameras.  New York City government provided no opportunity to be a part of the decision-making process about these kiosks before installing them in neighborhoods, a move that is being mirrored by the Philadelphia officials.

Intersection, the advertising firm behind the kiosks in New York and potential kiosks in Philadelphia, is preparing a mock kiosk for the Philadelphia Art Commission. If they receive the Art Commission’s approval for the kiosks then Philadelphia will soon be oversaturated with distracting and unsightly advertisements on almost every city block in Center City, not to mention the public nuisance risks posed by the kiosks.  It is important that you contact the Art Commission today to let them know you disapprove of this proposal for commercial advertising kiosks on Philadelphia’s city streets.

 

The Spring Garden Bridge Billboard Goes Dark and Reveals a Dark Side of the Billboard Industry

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Amidst a push to light up our city with digital advertising, one digital sign visible from the Schuylkill Expressway and the Spring Garden Bridge sits dark.  Thanks to the Department of License & Inspections, Streets Department, and Law Department’s combined enforcement efforts, the billboard company’s attempt to circumvent the law was caught and sign went dark.

Dark digital sign at the Spring Garden Bridge and I-76

SpringGardenBridgeTakeDown2

Conduit (before) removal on March 1, 2017

Spring Garden Bridge Wall (after)
now features a beautiful mural instead of the previous unsightly and illegal conduit.

The Spring Garden sign is owned by Steen Outdoor Advertising and sits on Conrail/Norfolk Southern railroad property. (It is common of many non-conforming signs in Philadelphia to be located on railroad property) This particular sign does not comply with the Federal Highway Beautification Act due to its proximity to other signs.  The sign also does not conform to the Philadelphia City code due to:

  • Proximity to the Schuylkill River –  City Code 14-905 (2)
  • Proximity to the Schuylkill Expressway ramps – City Code 14-905 (10)

Philadelphia allowed the non-conforming Spring Garden bridge billboard to convert to digital based on a now changed memo from Law Department.  However, no structural changes were allowed to be made to the billboard.  When applying for the permit to change the sign from static to digital, Steen testified that no structural or electrical changes to the non-conforming billboard would be needed to convert the existing billboard to digital.

Contrary to the testimony, when the billboard changed from static to digital cement footings and additional poles were added to secure the sign.   Even worse, the billboard company encroached on public property in making the sign changes.  Steen added electrical conduits and a private meter to the new Spring Garden bridge, which is part of a recent $6.6 million PennDot rehabilitation project.  Thus, the Spring Garden sign violated another city code 14-905 (14):

A prohibited sign shall not be reconstructed if for any reason it becomes necessary to replace the entire sign, including the sign face, the farm and any supporting mechanism.

Sign in 2011 before changes

Sign in 2011 before changes

Spring Garden Bridge - March 13, 2014

Sign in 2014 after structural changes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stories of circumvention, deception, and law breaking by the Philadelphia billboard industry are common.  We are thankful to have city leaders are willing to enforce the law and hold billboard companies accountable for their actions.

Finally, we are thankful for the public who inform us of suspicious activity surrounding billboards.  The darkening of the Spring Garden sign started with a complaint filed by Scenic Philadelphia in response to a Powelton Village neighbor’s report.  With your help we can have more signs go dark and/or come down!

 

 

SpringGardenWires

Before (top) and after (bottom) removal of wires and conduit on Spring Garden Bridge

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New Spring Garden Street Bridge beautification (March 8, 2017)

 

 

Help Stop the PPA’s Push to Put Billboards on Neighborhood Lots

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On January 4th 2017 a proposal was brought before the Art Commission to erect a new billboard on the Parking Authority parking lot located at 1339 S. 12th Street, one of five billboards PPA plans to erect on its lots located around the city.

Proposed PPA lots

Proposed PPA lots

Sign Specifications Five Proposed PPA Signs Neighborhoods Effected
  • Structure height: 19’6”
  • Sign width: 13’
  • Sign height: 7’
  • For reference the Fire Station next to the lot is 16’
  1. 1900 Callowhill St
  2. 738 S 7th St
  3. 1012 E. Passyunk Ave
  4. 1339 S. 12th St
  5. 1628 E. Passyunk Ave
  • Greater Art Museum Area
  • Bella Vista
  • Queen Village
  • Passyunk

 

PPA_AlcoholSign

This prohibited billboard, across was removed from the PPA parking lot at 1339 S.12th across from Colombus Square. Neighbors oppose a proposal to erect new larger billboard .

These proposals are the result of the little known 2013 amendment made by City Council exempting municipal properties from our billboard laws 14-905 (15) (c). PPA  proposes to erect these billboards within 660 feet of a parks, schools, and playgrounds which are prohibited areas 14-905 (10) (n) and (o).  If approved by the Art Commission, PPA’s proposal will  turn billboard law on its head, allowing billboards near homes, schools, parks and playgrounds throughout the city.

 

Write to the Planning Commission today and request that the regulations comply with all zoning regulations governing accessory and non-accessory signs.

PPA rendering of proposed billboard is misleading. The actual billboard will be 2 stories high.

PPA rendering of proposed billboard is misleading. The actual billboard will be 2 stories high.

Thanks to Your Support, Art Commission Takes a Stand for Public Art

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On January 4, 2017, the Art Commission heard a proposal by Intersection and City of Philadelphia to deaccession (aka take down, sell, or possibly repurpose) the public art bus shelters on Chestnut Street from 7th to 17th Street.  Scenic Philadelphia President Mary Tracy presented emails from the public as part of a testimony against the removal of the public art displays on 11 bus shelters.

Chestnut Public Art Shelter

The proposal involves the public art bus shelters being replaced by new shelters with seating, lighting, and digital advertising like the one below.  The city officials and Intersection argued that the art shelters must be replaced, cannot be repaired, and the public art could not be preserved.  The Art Commission strongly spoke out against the removal of the public art in replace of ads, especially since no feasibility study was done regarding the cost of repairing, rather than replacing the art shelters.  Further, given that the public art shelters account for only 11 of the 600 bus shelters in the Intersection contract, the Art Commission disregarded Intersection’s claim that replacing the art shelters with ad shelters is necessary to finance the cost of the contract.

new-septa-bus-shelter-nutter-940x540

Intersection and the city withdrew today’s proposal and agreed to develop a preservation feasibility study and meet with a sub-committee of the Art Commission to develop a plan.  The public comment emails presented by Scenic Philadelphia helped strengthen the arguments made against today’s proposal.  It makes a critical difference when the Art Commission hears from the public.  The heartfelt emails describing how important these public art displays are to Philadelphia and its citizens resonated with the Art Commission, who echoed your sentiments.  Thank you for helping us be a public voice for public space!

Feel free to send the Art Commission a thank you (artcommission@phila.gov).

Less Art More Advertising?

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On January 4th, the Art Commission will vote to approve deaccession of Pablo Tauler public art on bus shelters along Chestnut Street in Center City between 7th and 17th street.  The bus shelter public art is part of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority (PRA) Percent for Art program.  The program requires developers who are building on land acquired and assembled by the PRA to dedicate at least one percent of the total building construction costs toward the commissioning of original, site-specific works of art.

Septa will replace the art bus shelters with new shelters and commercial advertising space, further deteriorating the quality of Philadelphia’s streetscape and public space. Sacrificing public art for commercial advertising space is another example of city officials devaluing our public space.  Join us at the Art Commission meeting on January 4th at 9:30am at 1515 Arch St on the 18th floor where we will be a public voice for public space or send email to the Art Commission to voice your opinion – artcommission@phila.gov
Philadelphia Bus ShelterAlso on the agenda is an outdoor advertising display proposal for 1339 South 12th Street on a PPA parking lot.  The lot is directly across from a park, surrounded by residences, and is another example of the continued encroachment of advertisements on public space as a result of a bill passed in May 2013 that allows ads on city-owned property.

Is 2017 the year Philly finally says “goodbye” to illegal billboards?

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In 2016, we saw the City of Philadelphia lose most of its control over outdoor advertising enforcement after failing to uphold its agreement with the State of Pennsylvania to enforce regulations required by the Federal Highway Beautification Act.  Weak enforcement in years past has resulted in the proliferation of illegal billboards like the one pictured below polluting the visual landscape of our city.  PennDOT now has the authority to regulate outdoor advertising on Federal Aid Highways in Philadelphia.

Illegal billboard on recreation zoned land adjacent to McDevitt Recreation Center and Roosevelt Boulevard in East Falls

Illegal billboard on recreation zoned land adjacent to McDevitt Recreation Center and Roosevelt Boulevard in East Falls

On November 29, 2016, representatives of Scenic Philadelphia met with PennDOT to discuss the billboard permitting process, which will be PennDOT’s main tool of enforcement.  PennDOT representatives explained that the permitting process could take up to two years to complete.  However, we hope that we will start seeing some of the illegal billboards come down in 2017!

At the meeting, Scenic Philadelphia provided PennDOT with information on billboards in Philadelphia that we know know to be illegal due to size, spacing, zoning, or various elements of noncompliance with the Federal Highway Beautification Act.  In addition, several other outdoor advertising topics and emerging issues in Philadelphia were discussed including recreational zoning overlay Roosevelt Boulevard, advertising on Municipal Buildings, SEPTA signage, and East Market Street digital displays.

Finally, PennDOT representatives explained the Highway Beautification Management System to Scenic Philadelphia representatives.  Using the GIS feature one can see where billboards are located that have been granted an outdoor advertising device permit by PennDOT and various information on the permitted billboards including dimensions.

Concerned about a billboard in your neighborhood? Share those concerns with PennDOT point of contact vcole@pa.gov.

Want to know what roads in Philly are Federal Aid Highways and under the purview of PennDOT?   Check out the PennDOT map or Federal Aid Highways PHL

Flashing Lights and Conflicting Interests on Market East

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Philadelphia is not New York.  Market East is not Times Square.  As architecture critic Igna Saffron explains, Philadelphia’s attempts to make the Market East Corridor what it is not have resulted in conflicting commercial and residential interests as well as the city losing control of its digital sign authority.

Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia signage proposal | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015

Fashion Outlets of Philadelphia signage proposal | Planning Commission, Sept. 2015

 

 

 

Act now to stop billboards on Philadelphia’s public buildings

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A billboard company wants to put advertising signs like this one on Philadelphia's public buildings.

A billboard company wants to put advertising signs like this one on Philadelphia’s public buildings.

A billboard company is lobbying Philadelphia officials to allow huge billboards to be hung on the sides of municipal buildings right in the middle of Center City.  The preliminary proposal from NJ-based Interstate Outdoor Advertising would see 3 multi-story advertisements attached to the Municipal Services Building at 1401 John F. Kennedy Blvd. and 2 on the One Parkway Building at 1515 Arch Street.

This proposal is the latest and most outrageous, incursion of commercial advertising into the public space.   These billboards would literally be covering up publicly owned buildings, which is a sad, terrible thing.  In recent years City Council has allowed outdoor advertising on news kiosks, SEPTA subway entrances, historic Market Street buildings and elsewhere.  Outdoor advertising is so out of control in the city that PennDOT recently revoked Philadelphia’s ability to regulate billboards in the city.

It is important that you speak up now to tell the Arts Commission and City Council that you do not want public buildings covered in billboards.  The intrinsic character of historic Philadelphia is being lost to rampant outdoor advertising, and this proposal would only further erode the visual environment of the country’s only World-Heritage City.

Take Action:  Use the link below to tell Arts Commission members, Councilmembers and Mayor Kenney that you oppose billboards on Philadelphia’s public buildings.  Simply fill in your contact information and hit submit and your letter will be delivered!  We strongly encourage you to personalize the message to make it even more impactful. 

Click to tell Philadelphia city officials that you oppose billboards on public buildings. 

Market East Sign District Placed Under State Control

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The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has turned over responsibility of all federal and primary aid highways in Philadelphia to PennDOT. Earlier this year, an initial move revoking Philadephia’s certification and returning to state control had exempted the so-called “Market Street East Sign District,” but the new FHWA announcement transfers all control to PennDOT.

For the past four decades Philadelphia was allowed by the State to enforce the provisions of the federal Highway Beautification Act (HBA) within city limits. The Act requires Pennsylvania to maintain control of outdoor advertising and ensure protection of the public’s investment in roadways, promote driver safety, and preserve the scenic beauty of the our roadways. Failure to uphold the Act can result in a penalty of a 10 percent loss in the state’s federal highway funding.

When Philadelphia lost the privilege to regulate signage in April 2015, the “Market Street East Sign District” was initially exempted from state control. But after further review and public input, FHWA made the decision to further revoke Philadelphia’s control over Market Street East as well.

“To date Philadelphia has lacked the resources and the political will to adequately control outdoor advertising and protect our streetscapes from visual blight,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic Philadelphia

“Market Street East is a key part of our downtown and deserves the City’s best consideration,” Tracy continued. “it also deserves the protections included in the Highway Beautification Act. The Federal Highway Administration’s decision to transfer control, including Market Street East, back to the state is the right move for the citizens of Philadelphia.”

Scenic Philadelphia Summer Soirée

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Scenic soiree logoPlease join us for Scenic Philadelphia’s Summer Soirée, celebrating 25 years of protecting the visual character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods and the beauty of its scenic vistas, on Wednesday, July 13 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM at the Presidential City’s Sora Pool Club.

Register at www.scenic.org/soiree

If you would like to purchase tickets with a check please mail to: 

Scenic Philadelphia
1504 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146

If you have any questions regarding tickets please call Scenic Philadelphia at 856.428.7585.

Hosted by:

post brothers logo

Complimentary valet parking included with your ticket!

City Council hearing Tuesday, June 7 on billboards in park space

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pennypackparksign5-25

Pennypack Park- Council Hearing Tuesday, June 7 10:00 AM in Room 400

Philadelphia City Council’s Rules Committee will hear testimony regarding Pennypack Park Rezoning Bill NO. 160275 to rezone a parcel of Pennypack Park for industrial use, accompanied by Pennypack Park Billboard Exemption Bill NO. 160276  to allow Keystone Outdoor Advertising to erect a 55 foot high digital billboard on the rezoned parcel.  The bill removes a critical buffer bordering the banks of Pennypack Creek, which flows into the Delaware River  (see above photo).  Philadelphia’s billboard laws prohibit billboards in areas zoned for parks and open space and also within 660 feet of a park. Philadelphia laws limit heights to 45 feet, (Keystone proposes 55 feet and digital at this location).  The City code also requires equal square footage of signs be removed before a new billboard is erected.  The legislation exempts Keystone from having to comply with these restrictions.

6601 New State Road

The Committee will also hear testimony regarding Keystone Billboard Legalization Bill No. 160272 which will legalize and digitize an illegal billboard, located at 6601 New State Road adjacent to the future site of Mast Community Charter School.  The billboard was denied a permit on May 14th 1997 because it is located within 660 feet of a park, and was 86 feet high (almost twice as high as allowed in the City of Philadelphia).   Both the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied Keystone’s appeal, exhausting all legal options in 2002. 

Finally Philadelphia Municipal Judge Alan Silberstein ordered Keystone Outdoor Advertising to remove the illegal billboard or pay a fine of $150.00 a day for every day that the billboard remained.  It has been 5,123 days since the billboard Judge Silberstein’s order.  Keystone Outdoor Advertising has accrued $768,450.00 in daily fines, never complied with the removal order and now seeks a reprieve from City Council to Court decisions and the law of the land.  Keystone obviously doesn’t care about protecting parks, playgrounds, or schools, but hopefully our elected City Council members will.  It would be a travesty of justice to pass legislation that would legitimize this billboard.

What you can do:

Attend/Testify at Council’s hearing – Tuesday June 7 at 10:00 AM.  City Hall Rm 400.

Let Council know that you oppose this legislation by clicking here.

Call Council Members on Rules Committee:

Chair William K. Greenlee- (215) 686-3446, (215) 686-3447

Vice Chair Mark Squilla- (215) 686-3458, (215) 686-3459

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

Blondell Reynolds Brown(215) 686-3438, (215) 686-3439

Kenyatta Johnson- (215) 686-3412, (215) 686-3413

Bobby Henon (sponsor)- (215) 686-3444, (215) 686-3445

Maria D. Quiñones Sanchez- (215) 686-3448, (215) 686-3449

Curtis Jones, Jr.- (215) 686-3416, (215) 686-3417

Al Taubenberger- (215) 686-3440, (215) 686-3441

 

PennDOT Takes Over Control of Philadelphia’s Outdoor Advertising

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Scenic Philadelphia recently attended a briefing in Harrisburg regarding  PennDOT’s transition plan for the state’s takeover of billboard control in Philadelphia which was approved by the Federal Highway Administration on December 3rd.

In April the state revoked Philadelphia’s Outdoor Advertising Certification after the City Council passed legislation allowing towering 3-D billboard structures in Center City.

urban-experiential-display-screenshot-from-promotional-video-catalyst-outdoor.0.87.961.453.752.355.c

State control will prevent signs like this from being built in Center City.

PennDOT immediately issued a moratorium on alterations to city billboards until new governing rules could be established. PennDOT is currently creating an inventory of city billboards, which they expect to complete by July 1. All signs on that inventory must be properly permitted with PennDOT. If a sign is found to be unlawful removal action will be taken within 30 days. This could result in a number of signs coming down and be a great boost to our city’s visual character!

There are several other positive aspects to PennDOT’s takeover, but the bottom line is that billboards in Philadelphia will be subject to much more serious scrutiny, and violations dealt with much more quickly than they were under city control.

Click here to read the Federal Highway Administrator’s Letter of Agreement.

This change is a huge step forward for those of us who care about how billboard blight negatively impacts our city, and Scenic Philadelphia has been pushing for this change for nearly 20 years. We are ecstatic about what this means for our city’s visual environment and we are grateful for the support of friends like you who make our work possible.

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

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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.

Come See Our Presentation to the Design Advocacy Group Thursday 3.2.2017

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A billboard company wants to put advertising signs like this one on Philadelphia's public buildings.

A billboard company wants to put advertising signs like this one on Philadelphia’s public buildings.

Advertising in the Public Realm: Putting a Price Tag on Philadelphia’s Assets
Thursday, March 2nd
8:00 AM

Center for Architecture + Design, 1218 Arch Street

​“As the first and only World Heritage City in the U.S., Philadelphia’s unique beauty is now under siege by the rush to place outdoor advertising throughout our public commons, raising the question of whether the paltry sum of money the city might gain from allowing massive billboards to cover up our public buildings makes up for the denigration of our streetscapes’ integrity and character,” says Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America and executive director of Scenic Philadelphia.

Mary will discuss recent proposals for hanging billboards on Philadelphia’s public property, including the Municipal Services Building, One Parkway, subway stairway entrances and PPA’s neighborhood parking lots.

Joining her will be Jonathan Snyder, author of Beyond Aesthetics: The Economic Impact of Outdoor Advertising on Philadelphia’s Property Values, who will discuss the impact of billboards on real estate and home values within census tracts in the City of Philadelphia and the effect of billboards on median income, poverty rates and vacancy rates in different cities in the United States.

Surprise Edits to Zoning Code Proposal

Yesterday the Zoning Code Commission released its “Blueline Draft” of the new zoning code proposal. The Commission will vote on the draft next Wednesday.  The Commission is likely to vote “yes” on the draft, after which the proposal could go before City Council as early as February 17th.

After repeatedly assuring SCRUB and other interested parties that the signage chapter of the code would not be touched – and would function essentially as a placeholder operating under the provisions of the current code – until significantly later than the main body of the zoning code, the Zoning Code Commission has made sweeping revisions to the signage code in its latest round of edits. The “Blueline Draft” of the signage code appears to be made up mostly of newly edited blue text.

To put this chapter in context, you may wish to consult these charts relating the current zoning districts to the designations used in the proposed code, and this map which will help you know your zoning district.

Because the draft was only released yesterday, SCRUB is still reeling from the implications of the surprise edit, but among the changes, this version of the code would appear to allow animated digital signage in store windows as a matter of right.  It also appears to remove prohibitions on signs on tree gaurds, tree supports, and utility poles.

 

*** UPDATE ***

The final vote on the new zoning code has been postponed two weeks, but the Commission will still hear public comments at this week’s meeting.  SCRUB plans to testify, and encourages anyone with concerns about the Blueline Draft to do likewise.

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 the Facebook page updates on the campaign.

 

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.

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 🙂

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