Houston, the 2017 Superbowl host city, demonstrates how beatification (rather than billboards) can be used as a catalyst for redevelopment, investment, and tourism with its airport corridor project. Since 1980, Houston has prohibited new billboards and reduced existing billboards from more than 10,000 to less than 1,600.
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.
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.
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.
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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 – email@example.com.
Also 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.
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.
Please 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:
1504 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19146
If you have any questions regarding tickets please call Scenic Philadelphia at 856.428.7585.
Complimentary valet parking included with your ticket!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Five 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.
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…
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.
Bill No 130694 (School Advertising): This legislation passed out of Rules Committee but has now been removed from City Council’s calendar.
Veto of Councilman Squilla’s Digital Signage Bill by Rosanne Loesch
Callowhill and neighborhoods south of it, including Society Hill, had a narrow escape from the billboard district bill. Mayor Nutter vetoed the bill in January, and First District Councilman Mark Squilla, in an eleventh-hour move, decided not to ask City Council to override the veto. The bill (front page article in the Jan/Feb Reporter) would have allowed a seven-story digital advertising sign on the Electric Factory building, at 7th and Callow hill, owned by New York developer Myron Berman. Whether three court decisions (including the Pennsylvania and U.S. Supreme Courts) and two mayoral vetoes will finally squash Berman’s campaign to put a giant digital wall wrap on his building is anyone’s guess. However, we hope that we have heard the last of this matter. (Read the January 30, 2013, Philadelphia Inquirer editorial for more information on this bill.)
But the war against visual pollution in our city is not over. As Philadelphia Inquirer author writes, “But beyond the success in this one instance is the overriding question of whether we Philadelphians are going to let digital signs take over our historic city. (Read Inga Saffron, Philadelphia Inquirer February 12, 2013.) Billboard companies are moving aggressively to convert existing billboards to digital signs and expand into new areas where billboards were previously prohibited. For Philadelphia, a city where commercial and residential districts exist cheek by the jowl, the far-traveling, intense, pulsating light of digital signs could significantly affect the quality of life for residents and the look of this historic city.”
Click here to read the full story!
Production has begun on the debut episode of a new television series that will delve deeply into the issues affecting the visual environments of Philadelphia and beyond. Mary Tracy, executive director of Scenic Philadelphia and a longtime community organizer, will host the show. The show will feature in-depth interviews with scenic advocates, attorneys, public officials and others concerned with the quality of life in our city, state and country.
The launch date of The Mary Tracy Show will be announced soon. In the meantime you can learn more about Mary and her journey from schoolteacher to public advocate in the video below:
Click play above to watch a recent NBC10 segment on this billboard.
Towering over the sanctuary of the Chinese Christian Church and peering into the windows of newly renovated loft apartments is a huge billboard owned by Steen Outdoor Advertising. Steen wants to replace the existing billboard with a digital billboard whose bright flashing messages will change every 8 seconds. Local residents are opposed.
Scenic Philadelphia is representing Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Callowhill Neighbors, the Chinese Christian Church and Post Brothers in this case. This sign is located within the Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits the erection of new billboards and any reconstruction or changes to existing billboards.
Additional digital billboard cases will heard later this fall:
- 1933 West Moyamensing on Sept 19th at 2:00pm
- 400 North 5th Street on November 14th at 1:00pm
These hearings are opportunities for all Philadelphians to come out and influence the way your city looks. For more information on any of these hearings, or if you have questions about the visual environment in your neighborhood, please contact Scenic Philadelphia at 215-731-1775.
1933 W. Moyamensing
Digital in Packer Park- Scenic Philadelphia, representing nine neighbors and the interests of the Packer Park and Marco Civic Associations, battled Keystone Outdoor Advertising Company. Keystone is seeking a variance from the ZBA to install a new digital sign face, as well as elevating the supporting structure from 62 feet to 90 feet high at 1933 W. Moyamensing Avenue, in very close proximity to residents, schools, churches, ball fields and high speed highway interchanges. There was so much testimony about this tight knit South Philadelphia neighborhood location that the hearing had to be continued (for the 5th time!).
400 N. 5th Street
On the same day that Scenic Philadelphia fought to keep digital signage out of South Philadelphia, we also sought to protect one of our most historic districts, as well as residents of Northern Liberties, Society Hill, Old City and Callowhill. Keystone replaced static billboards on top of the Smart Cube building (not so smart!) and now these digital signs are shining into lofts, apartments, and homes, and can be seen from some of the most treasured historic areas of the city.
Click here for the coverage on Fox 29 news, where you witness the battle preparations all over Scenic’s office floor–a paper tornado of permits, variances, and letters from Council all in opposition to these two signs! Due to several factors, including the overwhelming interest in this matter, however, the hearing was continued to a later date. But you can sign the Petition by clicking here and let your opinion be heard when this hugely important is matter is rescheduled.
Executive Director Mike Dawida will appear this afternoon on 90.5FM Essential Radio to discuss Pittsburgh’s Night Skyline at 12:00PM.
Dear Friend of Scenic Pittsburgh,
Scenic Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Mike Dawida, will weigh in on advertising and the city skyline on 90.5FM Essential Public Radio’s afternoon talk show, Essential Pittsburgh. The conversation will be broadcast live at 12:00PM this afternoon. If you can’t tune in at noon, the interview will be rebroadcast at 8:00PM tonight and will be available online at www.essentialpublicradio.org. Check out the 90.5PM Essential Pittsburgh website for more information.
As always, thank you for your continued support of scenic preservation in our region.
The industry-sponsored Bill will allow dozens of condemned billboards to be reconstructed in currently prohibited areas located in the River Wards stretching from Allegheny to Rhawn Streets. Since 1991, billboards have been prohibited in areas within 300 feet of residences, and 660 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds. Councilman Henon sponsored Bill 120417 which exempts billboard companies from having to comply with these restrictions.
Bill 120417 will allow this towering billboard to be rebuilt in the midst of another block of homes, and contrary to Philadelphia’s 1991 sign laws prohibiting billboards near residences, schools, parks and playgrounds.
The legislation detracts from the neighborhoods’ efforts to create a more visually attractive and liveable community and squanders the best opportunity we have had in three decades to partially remove sign clutter from I-95. It also has an impact on property values according to a report released in December finding that properties located within 500 feet of a billboard were $30,825 less valuable.
Representatives of the impacted neighborhoods: Bridesburg Port Richmond, Tacony and Wissonoming are opposed to the bill.
What you can do:
1. Become a Scenic Philadelphia Member and join your neighbors who believe we are responsible for maintaining and protecting our beautiful city. William Penn had a vision of Philadelphia being known as Green Countrie, help us work towards William Penn’s vision.
Rules Committee Email
Bill.Greenlee@phila.gov (215) 686-3446
firstname.lastname@example.org (215) 686-3450
email@example.com (215) 686-3440
firstname.lastname@example.org (215) 686-3444
email@example.com (215) 686-3414
firstname.lastname@example.org (215) 686-3438
email@example.com (215) 686-3420
firstname.lastname@example.org (215) 686-3454
email@example.com (215) 686-3424
Scenic Philadelphia is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation also known as SCRUB (Society Created To Reduce Urban Blight). The official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.
Scenic Philadelphia would like to thank everyone who participated in our Clearing the Clutter Video Contest. We would like to congratulate our contest winner Andrew Guengerich! View Andrew’s winning video on our YouTube Page.
Andrew Guengerich is a 19 year-old from Austin, Texas. He’s an aspiring filmmaker and found the contest through a film contest database. The Clearing The Clutter Video Contest caught his eye because he felt the song had a positive message and liked how it sounded. He was able to make a video quickly because he believed it was a really powerful song and easy to imagine a story to. He thinks Scenic Philadelphia is doing a good thing trying to keep people from being overwhelmed by billboards and bombarded by commercialism.
“Clutter and Confusion” was generously written for Scenic Philadelphia by singer and songwriter Colin Kassekert, who took an interest in our work. Colin is a local talent who recently scored the documentary “Trial By Fire.” The newest Quietdrive record that Colin co-wrote is currently ranked #21 in Japan. If you are interested in finding out more about Colin and his work, please visit his website at www.myfavoriteepisode.com.
To view the other contest entries, click here.
We would like to thank our contest sponsor Demaio Allstate Agency in Drexel Hill, PA whose generous donation made this contest possible.
New signage laws in Philadelphia are being drafted right now. Send in your thoughts by tomorrow, March 30th to be included in the 2nd Draft Signage Code. Philadelphia has thousands of illegal billboards and no new construction or conversion should be allowed until properly funded processes for enforcement and compliance are in place.
• Send your comments directly to Eva Gladstein at firstname.lastname@example.org
Your feedback is critical and can make a difference.
The Rise of ‘Visual Pollution’ and the Fight to Stop It
The feature documentary This Space Available began as a discussion between a corporate branding guru, Marc Gobé, and his daughter, Gwenaëlle Gobé, a filmmaker who is passionately against advertising in public space. The debate blossomed into three-year investigation of outdoor advertising and its effect on communities, from São Paulo to Toronto, and what activists, street artists, and cities are doing to stop it.
Gwenaëlle Gobé, who directed the film, discusses the evolution of the project in an interview below. She also shares the trailer and an excerpt from the film, about activists whitewashing illegally placed billboards in New York City (and ironically, getting arrested for their efforts).
This Space Available (Trailer), courtesy of Emotional Branding
The Atlantic: What inspired you to document this topic?
Gwenaëlle Gobé: Well, I come from a very opinionated family. Marketing and the international promotion of brands were definitively a hot topic at the dinner table, since my dad, Marc, has developed the branding for huge companies around the world. I feel he has a post-WWII, rosy view of brands saving the world from destruction and decay. He still sees corporations with a “Helvetica” innocence of neutrality and righteousness. He would say, “Look at the all the colors, the emotions, and social change they are involved in.”
The front of your business is your face to the world. And, the way your shop looks sends a message to your potential customers. Customers may only give your store a glance before deciding if they’ll come in or keep going. A cheery, well-maintained, clearly-signed store says “Welcome! Come on in!” A faded sign, peeling paint, a jumble of signs and products in the window may make a customer hesitate for a moment, or just keep walking.
Your sign is one of the most important components of your storefront facade. Your sign is your opportunity to convey your message to potential customers. The first impression created by your sign and your storefront happens in a blink of an eye. Are your making the most of the opportunity?
This Signage Resource Center is a great place to start learning about a new sign for your business. You’ll learn how to make it attractive, how to make it effective and how to make it legal. You’ll find design guidelines and a gallery of signs to inspire you, the Philadelphia Zoning Code, and an outline of the city’s permitting process – everything you need to get going. By following the steps to the right, you’ll be on your way at an attractive new sign.
Haverford Township Residents joined together to protect their community from invasive billboards Thursday evening February 2, 2012. The Zoning Department attorney Jim Byrne along with Bill Kerr the attorney for Lower Merion gave excellent closing arguments. Four residents who are leading the opposition on behalf of several thousand prepared a statement for the zoning board, the statement read by Sandy Donato is below.
This website is a resource for any community threatened by the invasion of billboard blight. Please share your stories with us and let us know if you need our assistance. Read the statement below to learn about how to organize your strategy and work as a team like the residents of Haverford Township.
If you are fortunate enough to live, work or play in beautiful Haverford, Township Pennsylvania, thank your zoning board, commisioners and Sandy. They have worked dilligently on your behalf for three years.
Last Friday, January 13th, a fifty ton illegal New York Lottery billboard toppled over onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The billboard violated zoning regulations that prohibit billboards within 200 feet of a highway. The toppled billboard closed two lanes of westbound traffic on the BQE, left a hole in a body shop, severed a gas line and damaged a car.
To get the full story and watch live footage of the billboard toppling over, click here.
Proposed LED billboard sparks controversy
Area residents are hoping to defeat a modification plan for a placard adjacent to a Marconi banquet establishment.
Contrasting expressions claim “Rules are rules” and “Rules are meant to be broken.”
Marconi and Packer Park residents have worked to uphold the former’s finality since mid-November, while a Cheltenham-based business owner has desired a variation on the latter’s meaning since mid-October, insisting that modernization often necessitates change. The parties have centered their pleas on the state of a 44-year-old billboard within the parking lot of Galdo’s Catering & Entertainment, 1933 W. Moyamensing Ave.
To promote their beliefs, the locals and attorney Stephen G. Pollock, representing Dominick Cipollini of Keystone Outdoor Advertising Co., Inc., will gather 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at St. Richard School’s Hall, 1826 Pollock St., for a public forum. The first will argue to leave the structure alone, with the legal professional set to say it must go in favor of a towering replacement. Their appearances will serve as preludes to Jan. 18’s Center City date with the Zoning Board of Adjustment.
A new study shows that billboards negatively affect the values of neighboring properties. It also found that cities with strict billboard controls are experiencing greater economic prosperity than those with controls that are less strict.
The report, “Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity,” by urban planner Jonathan Snyder, is believed to be the first study on the economic impacts of billboards on nearby real estate value.
Snyder found that in Philadelphia there is a correlation between a home’s value and its proximity to billboards. He found that homes within 500 feet of a billboard are worth $30,826 less on average at the time of sale than those properties further away from billboards. The study also found that each additional billboard within a census tract resulted in a decrease in home values of nearly $1,000.
Additionally, Snyder performed a survey of billboard controls and economic prosperity in 20 cities across the United States. His report found that cities with stricter billboard controls have greater median incomes, lower poverty rates and lower home vacancy rates than city with less strict billboard controls.
Snyder is an urban planner from Philadelphia with a Master in City Planning degree and a concentration in Community and Economic Development from the University of Pennsylvania. His research was generously support by a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund.
A University of Pennsylvania study found that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society program to “green” nearly 4,500 vacant lots in Philadelphia resulted in a significant reduction in gun assaults across all four sections of Philadelphia and significant reductions in vandalism in one section of the city. In addition, the program has enhanced the health of residents, created jobs and increased surrounding property values.
The PHS program began in Philadelphia in 1999 and involves clearing trash, grading the land, planting grass and trees, and installing fences around each lot to prevent illegal dumping. The Penn study was led by Charles C. Branas, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine and compared ten years of data between vacant lots and improved vacant lots. “The large number of vacant lots we studied and the design of our analysis make this study some of the strongest evidence to date that greening vacant urban land is a promising approach to improving health and safety” Branas commented. The cleaner environment eliminates hiding places for firearms and signals that the city has regained control over those areas, discouraging crime.
A new tool is now available to address blight in your neighborhood: the Bandit Project can help you reclaim some of the beauty that your neighborhood deserves.
Bandit signs are a form of very “un-green” advertising and in many places, especially in Philadelphia; they are illegal simply for this reason. They come in a variety of formats but the most common one is the “coroplast” (corrugated plastic) rectangle. Many neighborhood groups are organizing a campaign to address this burden on their communities.
To report a bandit sign in your community click here.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 22, 2011
Contact: Mary C. Tracy
SCRUB Foundation Receives $26,000 Grant from the Philadelphia Foundation for Board of Directors Development
Mary C. Tracy, the Executive Director of SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space, is pleased to announce that SCRUB has received a $26,000 grant from the William J. McCahan 3rd Fund in Memory of Thomas C. McCahan and Florence M. McCahan to support SCRUB’s efforts to build and strengthen its Board. Announcement of the grant was made by Andrew Swinney, President of the Foundation. The Foundation’s Board of Managers approved the grant on September 16, 2011.
SCRUB began as a grassroots coalition in 1990 to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. In 1991, SCRUB effectively spearheaded the passage of a comprehensive sign control law. In 2000, SCRUB became a 501 (c) (3) organization. Today, SCRUB serves as a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and improving the city’s distinct visual environment through education, advocacy, and legal action. SCRUB has led volunteer attorneys and community partners in successfully challenging illegal billboards and in establishing legal precedents in land use law in Pennsylvania. SCRUB also advocates on behalf of Fairmount Park, having coordinated the legal effort to protect Burholme Park in Northeast Philadelphia from institutional development.
The Philadelphia Foundation, a public charity, is Southwestern Pennsylvania’s leading center for community philanthropic engagement and is committed to improving the quality of life in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties through funds established by its donors. Established in 1918, The Philadelphia Foundation continues to help donors harness their generosity and vision by providing tools, knowledge and financial stewardship directed to maximize the strategic impact of charitable contributions. Grants from more than 775 charitable funds strengthen the effectiveness of nonprofits and support programs that are vital to the people of this region.
Thanks to GreenfestPhilly and our sponsors, DiBruno Brothers and Macy’s. Thanks especially to all the visitors who stopped by our stand on Saturday! You made the event a great success, and we’re thrilled to have had the oppoprtunity to meet so many people who didn’t previously know about SCRUB. Greenfest was a great opportunity to meet people who share our concerns, frustrations, and our sense of a need for action against visual blight. Here are some photos from the event:
And here is Carmine Zulli (right) stopping by our office to claim his prize in our raffle: the $100 DiBruno Bros gift card. Congratulations, Mr. Zulli!
This August SCRUB’s own Mary Tracy, through her role as President of Scenic America, attended the annual conference for the National Alliance of Highway Beautification Agencies (NAHBA) in Charlotte, North Carolina. NAHBA is a think tank that aims to address issues concerning the Federal Highway Beautification Act. The organization seeks “to be an advocate for developing and promoting innovative ideas and consistent business practices for the control of outdoor advertising, junkyards, scenic and beautification programs; streamline the federal outdoor advertising control program through improved communication; facilitate the dissemination of information to members; and to encourage the integration of competing interests that serve the motoring public.”
Despite the expansiveness of this mission, Mary Tracy was the lone spokesperson at the conference to advocate for scenic beauty: the singular foil to the agenda of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). In Tracy’s words, the conference consisted of “the regulators and the regulated”-i.e. federal and state level highway personnel responsible for enforcement of the Highway Beautification Act and the billboard lobbyists, whose purpose it is to get as many billboards as possible along the highway regardless of the impact on safety, aesthetics, and the environment. Save the presence of Scenic America, there was no other group at this meeting to represent the public interest.
Tracy was a speaker on several panels at the NAHBA meeting including: segmentation of scenic byways, a review of a pilot program in South Carolina and Florida, and the presentation of the International Scan Report on Outdoor Advertising. As Tracy commented after the event, “the NAHBA conference provides an important forum to discuss outdoor advertising issues, but there is a need for greater public participation to offset the imbalance created by the well represented billboard lobbyists.”
Here at SCRUB, we work to build a community of informed citizens who can shape decisions that impact the visual character of their communities, cities and states. We cannot stress enough just how integral the public’s input is in this process to maintain beautiful public space. In the coming months, Philadelphia’s lawmakers and billboard lawmakers will be working to rewrite the sign laws protecting our city. We are counting on SCRUB’s members and friends to join us at the table where these laws are being made.
EE Anderson creative commons attribution non commercial share-alike license
Philadelphia has so many beautiful structures, views, waterways, and parks that our visual beauty and its protection should be a greater priority to all of us. There are several communities that are feverishly dedicated to enhancing the beauty of their sidewalks and sky lines; more communities need to rise to the occasion. This fact is especially apparent in light of the recent actions of Tacoma, Washington. In a 7-1 vote, Tacoma City Council passed legislation to restrict outdoor advertising. Tacoma’s effort is truly heroic, making the city vulnerable to the financial and legal threats of ClearChannel. It is disheartening that Philadelphia remains clueless despite the fact that Tacoma is willing to place itself on the chopping block in its fight against billboards.
Your feedback on this topic is appreciated. Your opinion can also be shared with your political leaders and the mayors office.
Marc Gobé, marketing pioneer, is concerned about the impact of outdoor advertising on brands. In this talk for the Sustainable Brands 2011 Conference, he discusses how the dominating presence of billboards injures goodwill for the brands that advertise.
In the video Gobé discusses the alienating effect of outdoor advertising on citizens, and the impact this has on the brands that use outdoor advertising. The tendency of the billboard industry not to take “no” for an answer, illegally erecting billboards and removing trees that obscure the view to those billboards impacts the public’s opinion of the brands advertised, more than of the billboard companies themselves.
Gobé concludes the talk by calling on brands to give citizens their cities back, by following the lead of cities like Sao Paulo and Houston; cities once plagued by billboards, and now home to thriving economies, prestigious companies, and tremendous increases in population and retail sales. His prescription for generating goodwill for brands:
- Don’t support illegal billboards; don’t let the public associate your brand with flouting the law.
- Don’t work with billboard companies that cut trees to clear views of their signs; these practices solidify the public’s sense of billboards as pollution.
- Don’t sponsor billboard companies that use the court system to support illegal billboards.
Changing Skyline: Warehouse-size billboard eyed for Philadelphia site near Delaware River
By Inga Saffron
Inquirer Architecture Critic
It’s as much a Philadelphia landmark as the statue of William Penn on City Hall, though hardly something that aspires to be an emblem of greatness. Is there anyone who has traveled the south Delaware waterfront and not marveled at the four-story concrete skeleton that lurks behind the RiverView shopping center on Columbus Boulevard, its naked columns flouting both gravity and civic decency?
That ruin, which looks as if it had been airlifted in from Kabul, was purchased more than 20 years ago by Bart Blatstein, who was a run-of-the-mill strip-mall developer before graduating to finer things in Northern Liberties. Blatstein unloaded the RiverView in 2003 – as part of a $75 million deal – but held onto its concrete companion in the hope of making a killing when a casino opened on the South Philadelphia waterfront.
Now it appears there will be no casino and no killing, and Blatstein is seeking other ways to turn a difficult piece of real estate into money. Since the structure hugs the edge of I-95, he’s appealing to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for permission to wrap its bones in advertisements, effectively converting the old Pennsylvania Railroad warehouse into a double-sided billboard.
In a preliminary review, a city building examiner turned the proposal down flat, noting that the wrap would violate at least nine zoning provisions. It’s too close to a dense rowhouse neighborhood (Pennsport), too close to a historic landmark (Old Swedes’ Church), too close to another billboard (Avalon Carpet Tile and Flooring). And although the examiner failed to mention it, Blatstein’s billboard would also violate the zoning guidelines recently put in place to turn the Delaware waterfront into something more than a dumping ground for big-box stores and their asphalt lots.
None of this seemed to bother the president of the Pennsport Civic Association, James Moylan. Without calling a membership meeting, he provided Blatstein with a letter of “non-opposition” – that’s the weaselly language used in Philadelphia to convey support for a zoning proposal – to submit to the zoning board at a hearing last week. Such letters carry great weight.
Moylan has been Pennsport’s president only since May, but it’s the second time he has given a thumbs-up to a controversial billboard. Right before a City Council vote in June to legalize a billboard on top of the Columbus Boulevard Club Risque, he told the district’s councilman, Frank DiCicco, that Pennsport would not fight the measure, the blog PlanPhilly reported. I wonder how many other Philadelphia civic groups would passively accept a billboard on a strip club.
Both Moylan and Blatstein argue that it’s better to look at a billboard than a blighted building. With the revenue from ads, Blatstein promises to seal the structure to keep out vandals and trash. The wrap is only temporary, Blatstein assured me in an interview, a stopgap until development takes off on the waterfront. “The day that someone breaks ground across the street, I’ll take it down,” he promised.
If you like that offer, I have a bridge upriver that’s for sale.
While it’s true the concrete relic doesn’t have great curb appeal, the solution isn’t to shroud it from view. The problem is that building wraps act as a disincentive to development. Why bother with the risk and stress of constructing something new when you can sit back and take in six figures annually for doing almost nothing?
Wraps are just like parking lots. Many Philadelphians would be surprised to learn that Center City’s surface lots are allowed only a five-year life span. But since there is no limit on renewals, some “temporary” lots have been earning a tidy income for more than half a century.
The advantage of the wrap, Moylan argues, is that it will force Blatstein to board up the structure’s openings. That’s a pretty weak excuse for granting Blatstein a gold mine. Owners are expected to maintain their properties, regardless of whether their speculative fantasies fall flat.
“We should be slapping him with fines rather than rewarding him with variances,” argued Steven Weixler, head of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, an alliance of Delaware riverfront neighborhoods, which opposes the wrap.
If the zoning board allows Blatstein to create a warehouse-size billboard off Washington Avenue, it will undermine the prospects for quality waterfront development. Philadelphia is just putting the finishing touches on the Delaware master plan, after years of public discussion. The goal is to get rid of the visual pollution from billboards so a real neighborhood can take root.
Ironically, one of the waterfront master plan’s biggest champions, Councilman DiCicco, also has been a big billboard supporter.
As a group, City Council has been especially generous with billboard companies, which tend to return the favor with campaign contributions. Council just passed legislation to make it easier for owners to relocate signs displaced by I-95 construction. With DiCicco’s support, the Club Risque billboard was legalized over the Planning Commission’s opposition.
Last week’s zoning hearing, which will resume sometime in the next few weeks, raised other disturbing issues. ZBA Chair Lynette Brown-Sow indicated that she would bar testimony from anyone outside the Pennsport Civic Association. If there is any justification for tolerating billboards in our midst, it’s for free-speech reasons. So how can we deny people the opportunity to speak out against them?
Brown-Sow’s stand also reinforces the notion that Philadelphia is a collection of fiefs run by bosses, rather that a big city where everyone has a stake in decisions. Thousands drive by Blatstein’s structure daily. Residents on the north side of Washington Avenue can see it from their front windows, even though they are outside Pennsport’s boundaries, in Queen Village. Their neighborhood group sent the ZBA a letter opposing the wrap, but it’s unclear whether Brown-Sow will admit it as testimony.
Old, ruined buildings are often an eyesore, but they can almost always be transformed into something better; their presence offers people hope for the future. All a billboard offers us is a passing glance.
Scenic Philadelphia has begun to work on some communications, outreach and programming efforts in collaboration with the Green Condo & Co-op Initiative (GCCI), a coalition of Greater Philadelphia area condos, co-ops and managers to advance environmental and economic sustainability in the region. GCCI is supported by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Center for Environmental Policy.
GCCI Mission Statement:
GCCI’s mission is to provide owners and managers with the resources they need to reduce operating costs and lessen their building’s impact on our local and global environment by adopting sustainable infrastructure improvements and practices.
If you are interested in contacting the Green Condo&Co-op and how the organization may be a resource, contact Erin Johnson 215.299.3791 Center for Environmental Policy The Academy of Natural Sciences.
Scenic Philadelphia and GCCI supports sustainable solutions for all our buildings in Philadelphia. To contact Scenic Philadelphia, email Jim Mullen email@example.com or call 215.731.1775
NEWS from Paris France. The citizens of Paris France have spoken and their city council has responded. Visual pollution is out of control, all billboards in Paris will be reduced by a third. The law gives billboard companies 18 months to comply. Philadelphia should take a page from their book and realize that consumers are not willing to live with visual pollution. When people think of beautiful places, billboards do not belong.
June 22, 2011, 2:47 p.m. EDT
Paris cuts the size of outdoor advertisments
By Thomas Varela
PARIS -(MarketWatch)- A decision by the Paris city council to cut the amount of outdoor advertising within the city is likely to dent the sales of outdoor billboard companies such as JCDecaux SA (DEC.FR), ClearChannel Outdoor Holding Inc /quotes/zigman/396374/quotes/nls/cco CCO -0.85% and CBS Outdoor, and could lead to similar restrictions across Europe.
At a meeting Tuesday, the Paris city council decided to restrict the largest authorized size of advertising panels to eight square meters down from 12 square meters, the council’s press office said Wednesday. Outdoor panel operators will have to replace their current panels with new, smaller ones. The city council’s decision also forces panel owners to leave a distance of at least 25 meters between them.
The move is a potential revenue blow to the billboard companies as fewer panels and smaller billboards are likely to prove less appealing to advertisers, analysts said.
The measures will reduce the ad space on display in Paris by about 30%, a spokeswoman for the Paris city council said. “We’re not opposed to advertising but we want to prevent it from being too intrusive,” she said. The city council will publish the official order enforcing the decision in early July, she said.
The restrictions will hurt all the players in the outdoor advertising space, but particularly JCDecaux, the world’s largest outdoor advertising group by revenue and the biggest in Paris, said Cheuvreux analyst Richard Houbron. He estimates the move will lead to a 1% fall in sales, even if it manages to increase its prices, as Paris represents 4% to 5% of its total revenue.
Houbron said the decision could “motivate other cities across France to follow suit, and possibly other European capitals to review their openness to what is described by opponents as visual pollution.”
“In countries such as Germany and Nordic countries where the green political power is particularly strong, we see risk of contagion over time,” he said.
For the March quarter, JCDecaux’s revenue rose 9.9% to EUR535.3 million compared with EUR487.2 million a year earlier. Organic revenue, which excludes acquisitions and the impact of foreign exchange variations, rose by 7.8%. Advertising revenue excluding sales related to the sale, rental and maintenance of street furniture products, rose by 7.7% on an organic basis.
The 2,300 outdoor panels in Paris are shared between JCDecaux, ClearChannel and CBS Outdoor, a unit of CBS Corp /quotes/zigman/393390/quotes/nls/cbs CBS +1.98% .
Both JCDecaux and ClearChannel declined to comment on the restrictions planned by the city of Paris, while no one at CBS Outdoor was immediately available to comment on the issue.
Shares in JCDecaux closed Wednesday flat at EUR21.45, while at 1638 GMT CBS was down 0.7% at $26.73 and Clear Channel Outdoor was down 0.5% at $13.37.
Stephane Dottelonde, head of the French outdoor advertising industry lobby Union de la Publicite Exterieure, downplayed the impact of the move, noting that customers rarely advertise in Paris only, and instead pay for access to a network of billboards across various French cities. Also, ads posted on street furniture such as bus stops aren’t subject to the new rules, he said.
Still, outdoor advertising companies are bracing for more details of a government-led plan to cut the number of outdoor panels right across France, which is expected to be put forward in coming months, Dottelonde said.
One of Scenic America’s Board members, Ossian Orr has made a new video telling the story of a Clear Channel partnership with a community that has created a great deal of animosity in a neighboring community.
However, it is primarily the story of a woman who has been trying to do something about it.
Despite a recovery in the advertising industry, leading billboard company Lamar’s stock is down 20% this year.
While there may be some increased demand for ad space in some markets in some locations, in many other markets there is an oversupply of space and the only way to fill that space is to offer deep discounts. Because of this, static billboards are drawing an average of only $5,500 annually.
For more information about this development, please see the CBS Interactive Business Network’s article “Why the Billboard Business Sucks, Even Though It Shouldn’t“.
The Portland Press Herald recently published an excellent Opinion piece on the importance of Maine’s continued committment to banning off-premise commercial signage.
Because the Portland Press Herald will not license stories for re-publication on other web sites, please visit the link below to read the article.
As Peggy Murr hunkered down in her assigned booth at Haverford Township Day in October 2009, the longtime local resident figured she’d simply collect a few signatures while taking in the parade and other festivities. Her clipboard filled with almost 600 names.
The object of the petitioners’ fervor: the prospect of billboards coming to their township. Not on their watch.
Due west at the Newtown Square Harvest Festival, there was a similar reaction from the citizenry. The numbers have since multiplied, as the community group No Billboards has broadcast its message in Springfield, Haverford, Marple and Newtown townships.
And the billboards remain at bay. So far.
Main Line Media News (mainlinemedianews.com)
Main Line Suburban Life: Opinion
Billboards: Looking for an off switch
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
By Henry Briggs
While you were enjoying the cold rain this Saturday I was in 80 degrees and sunny L.A., enjoying … the inside of a conference room. Well, not for the whole weekend. We also shot a YouTube video of one of what LA Weekly estimates are 4,000 illegal local billboards.
As a newly minted board member, I went a meeting of Scenic America (scenic.org), a nonprofit that grew out of Lyndon (and Ladybird) Johnson’s Highway Beautification Act. Remember those times? When idealism thrived on all sides of the political spectrum?
Since then the outdoor-advertising industry has grown exponentially, as has the nation’s cynicism. Of course linking the two directly would be unfair to politicians, other advertisers, major-league baseball, Wall Street…
By Derek P. Jensen
The Salt Lake Tribune
First published Apr 12 2011 10:42PM
Updated Apr 13, 2011 09:25AM
Utah’s powerful billboard industry, which sees its future in electronic signs, suddenly has a blackout zone – Salt Lake City.
By unanimous vote, the City Council elected Tuesday to ban any new electronic billboard or the conversion of existing billboards to digital along all major roadways throughout the state’s capital.
Urged by Mayor Ralph Becker to take action, the council agreed – in the face of heated billboard-industry pressure – that glowing, image-swapping signs are a public-safety distraction to freeway drivers. At the same time, the council agreed to revisit the new ordinance (along with new studies on the impact of e-billboards) and perhaps make tweaks within nine months.
Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said the prohibition is not meant to disparage billboard companies, particularly Young Electric Sign Company – a “great, corporate citizen” with a near-60-year legacy. Instead, Love said, the ban will give City Hall an opportunity to look at “how do we showcase our skyline and how do we showcase our mountains? We are the capital city and we are a beautiful city. For me, while there may be studies that show that billboards may not be a distraction, it’s just common sense. … I don’t need studies to tell me that.”
Becker, who called it a “passionate subject,” said the restriction is important for Utah’s progressive capital community. “We have a new form of billboards and we don’t have standards, really, for that,” the mayor said. “We need to get a handle on that before we’re overwhelmed by electronic billboards.”
The city’s blackout will not affect its six existing electronic billboards. Neither will it impact digital business signs, though the Mayor’s Office insists regulations on those so-called “on-premise” signs must be contemplated soon.
A team of billboard executives waited patiently for hours before Tuesday’s vote. They filed out without addressing the council.
To read more, click here
They’ve won a billboard battle, but not the war
Opponents of billboards in selected parts of Delaware County shouldn’t pop those champagne corks just yet.
True, they saw their first victory March 24 when the Springfield Zoning Board voted 4-0 to deny an application from the Bartkowski Investment Group to install six 672-square-foot billboards along Baltimore Pike. Their decision came after 15 hearings and 23 months of testimony.
Boiled down, all those hearings and all that testimony is really about whose rights are being violated the most. Residents say the signs infringe on their communities as blight and eyesores, creating traffic problems and other safety issues, as well as generating declining property values.
Billboard owners say the townships are intentionally challenging them by writing ordinances that specifically keep billboards out of their towns. BIG representatives argued in the Springfield case that their applications for billboards was a “validity challenge to the township zoning code … written to insure a prohibition on billboards.” “What was crafted so well is actually the flaw in the ordinance and it is invalid and unconstitutional,” commented attorney Carl Primavera, representing BIG. Springfield Solicitor Jim Byrne countered, “The only rights violated are the constitutional rights of the residents of Springfield.”
Similar scenarios are playing out in zoning challenges in Haverford, Marple, Morton, Newtown and Concord.
Since part of a zoning board’s mission is to take into account how an application impacts the residents in its town, there is a chance that other zoning boards will also vote down the billboard applications.
But it doesn’t end there. Bartkowski will no doubt challenge the ruling of the local zoning boards in court and it is in court, historically, that these types of applications have been approved. Judges have ruled in the past that townships cannot pass ordinances that prohibit against a particular type of use, like installing billboards, because such ordinances discriminate.
This time, though, it could go differently. Communities, from grass roots citizens to township officials, are better organized and better funded as they prepare to fight against billboards on the legal premise that they endanger the health, safety and welfare of their communities. Recently, a federal judge ruled in a different case that such an argument was a legitimate consideration.
So residents may have won the first salvo and perhaps a crack has appeared in the billboard defense. But this issue isn’t resolved yet.
One thing is certain. Regardless of the outcome, the consequences will be felt for a long time to come.
The Samuel S. Fels Fund recently awarded 15 grants to Philadelphia nonprofit organizations to support internships for graduate students during the summer of 2011. These internships are full-time and take place over the summer. The interns are paid a stipend of $6,000. The internship position description and contact information for applicants are below.
Dear Scenic PhiladelphiaMembers and Friends,
Today the Zoning Code Commission Voted to give 10 More Weeks for Review and Revisions to the Draft Zoning Code
The ZCC voted to extend the time period for review and revisions during today’s Wednesday, March 2nd Meeting rather than vote on the current draft and send it off to Council.
The revised Philadelphia Zoning Code will impact land use and development in neighborhoods, business districts, and the overall visual character of our city for decades to come.
To read the third draft version of the proposed code visit www.zoningmatters.org and select the “greenlined” draft.
Due to the complex nature of regulating signage and the competing interests of passionate community advocates and powerful sign industry lobbyists, the chapter on signage will be held for further review. We will be helping to enlist community participation and comments during this phase of the sign code rewrite and will count on your help to implement a sign code policy that will enhance the visual character of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, business corridors and gateways.
Scenic Philadelphia gave comment and the ZCC listened.
In the meantime, the current revised code contained several areas where we detected changes that could have had a negative impact on neighborhoods. We presented our observations and suggestions to the Zoning Code Commission staff. Here are some of the key issues addressed and their response:
Scenic Philadelphia Concerns / ZCC Response
|Digital Billboards & Accessory signage||ZCC to ensure L&I using correct standard currently and will consider limitations|
|“Interior Illumination”||ZCC to clean up language and consider limitations based on public input|
|“Adjacent Lots”||Scenic Philadelphia to propose new language that is broader yet able to be clearly defined by law|
|Building logo signs||ZCC to simplify language, will consider a size and building occupancy limitation|
|Billboards permitted in new I-2 District including Food Distribution Center where such signs are currently prohibited||ZCC consulting with Planning Commission to consider request to preserve protections.|
|Legislative Findings||Have been incorporated into the enacting ordinance. Scenic Philadelphia continues to have concerns regarding this issue.|
|Including Safety Standards as part of the criteria for approval of signs||ZCC will consider|
|Abatement (Enforcement) of sign codes||remains the same at Scenic Philadelphia’s request|
Please contact us with any questions or if you would like a copy of the full summary of Issues/Responses. We will work to keep you informed and engaged during this important public process.
Thank you for your support,
A Philadelphia business owner arrived to work one morning to find a billboard had crashed against the side and roof of her building, causing extensive damage. When the sign company ignored the law and began to replace the nonconforming billboard structure, an inspector from the city’s enforcement agency issued a stop order.
But, according to the City’s Law Department, the business owner had no basis to challenge the rebuilding of the billboard because of a Settlement Agreement signed by a former City Solicitor and members of certain billboard companies. The agreement purports to “legalize” certain signs and protect them from adhering to the city’s zoning laws.
The property owner came to Scenic Philadelphia for help and we recruited Attorney Charles Sweedler. Two plaintiffs are involved but the case will impact hundreds of illegal billboards and 9 million dollars in lost license fees, as well as potential fines and penalties. The City has had the case removed to Federal court, and now seeks to have it dismissed for lack of Federal standing. We expect to know whether the plaintiffs will be able to successfully remand to state court this coming Monday.
Philadelphia is not the only city where the attorneys for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and multi-national billboard companies have forged questionable agreements with Law Departments. A judge revoked a similar agreement in Los Angeles calling it “poison”. To read more about the settlement click here.
October 22, 2010
WASHINGTON – On October 22, 1965 President Johnson signed into law the Highway Beautification Act (HBA), legislation intended to clean up and protect the roadsides of America’s growing interstate and federal-aid primary highway systems.
The driving force behind the bill was Lady Bird Johnson, a special hero to Scenic America who believed that beauty is not a luxury, and that our landscapes have an intrinsic value that should not be ignored or defiled. Lady Bird intended for the HBA to result in a drastic reduction in the number of billboards lining our country’s roads, to be replaced by scenic landscaping enhancements such as wildflowers and native plants.
Unfortunately, the HBA has largely failed to live up to its promise, having been tainted from the earliest planning stages by the billboard lobby and other corporate interests. Crippled by amendments, loopholes, inadequate appropriations for the program and a lack of enforcement, the HBA has become a protective tool for the billboard industry, which, unsurprisingly, portrays it as “a law that works.”
The fact is, as the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General said in 1984, the HBA “has been ineffective in improving highway beautification as the number of signs located adjacent to the nation’s highways continues to increase…It has had little impact on enhancing the scenic and recreational value of our highways.”
Upon its signing President Johnson said, “This bill does not represent everything that we wanted. It does not represent what we need. It does not represent what the national interest requires. But it is a first step, and there will be other steps.”
As we recognize the 45th anniversary of the bill’s signing, it is clear that we will have to take many steps forward if the HBA is ever to be effective at achieving the goals of Lady Bird and all those who share her vision of a more beautiful America.
For more information on the Highway Beautification Act, visit: http://scenic.org/billboards/hba
Contact: Max Ashburn, Communications Director, Scenic America, firstname.lastname@example.org or 202.638.1839
The Parks Advisory Council, created by the Department of Parks and Recreation, has presented a draft ordinance that will amend chapter 15-100 of the Philadelphia zoning code.This new ordinance will allow the city to sell land that has previously been designated as public parkland for commercial, industrial, or residential purposes.Not only will this ordinance drastically change the make-up of Philadelphia’s current parkland environment, but it will potentially do so at the expense of the public’s interest. It directly contradicts long standing legal protections and precedents that have been in place for years for the sole purpose of protecting parks.
While the proposal includes a provision that states that there will be no net loss in the overall amount of parkland in the city, non-recreational development on dedicated parkland is not what many people had in mind when they voted to disband the Fairmount Park Commission. After all, the Fairmount Park Commission’s sole mission and purpose was to protect and preserve Fairmount Park for over 150 years. This public space that has been a safe haven from the hustle and bustle of urban and industrial development.The current ordinance stipulates that replacement land will be acquired and converted into parkland in other areas in the city. Instead of using the parks as a place of solace for the people of Philadelphia, it seems like the city would prefer to use it to generate revenue. Click here to see the video of the discussion of this issue hosted on Plan Philly.
Councilman DiCicco introduced legislation, bill 100553, that disregards the visual integrity of communities located along the I-95 corridor.According to Plan Philly, there is a provision that states that these owners can relocate without following any of the proper channels to receive permission or zoning code variances.So, hypothetically, there could currently exist illegal billboards that would be relocated to nearby locations while still retaining their illegal status.Essentially, this bill would allow billboard owners to circumvent the codes that are put in place to protect our city from the blight of visual pollution.
Neighborhoods across the city vigorously advocated for bills to be put in place that would protect As a result, it is imperative that the zoning codes be honored instead of disregarded so that the areas surrounding I-95 will not be further scarred by the blemishes of billboards.
Imagine a world where billboards are as present as street signs.Wherever one turns, one’s gaze will be abruptly interrupted by a bombardment of outdoor advertisement.A world like this must be plagued with a blatant disrespect for the beauty of the environment that is driven by a desire to increase profit margins.Now consider Philadelphia where organizations like SEPTA also show a similar disregard for this city’s environmental well-being; there is a fine line between the two.
If one didn’t know any better, it would be easy to mistake the above fantasy world for present-day Philadelphia.Billboards plague significant portions of the city of Philadelphia.With the way this problem is perpetuated by the lack enforcement of the very laws that guard against it, one would think that there are no laws in place to protect Philadelphia’s visual environment. However this is not the case, for there are complex long-standing codes that have been in place for years for the sole purpose of preventing the explosion of outdoor advertisement that has unfortunately taken place. This is epitomized by the outright disregard for codes and laws that actively prohibit the proliferation of billboards in our city. Instead of using an iron fist, the government turns a blind eye toward all of the advertisement companies and business owners who seek extra profit at our city’s expense.
We have seen examples of this in several different locations, but the latest act of defiance has been seen in the Old City district of Philadelphia.SEPTA has used one of their terminals as a platform for advertisement as the entire structure is completely covered with a Red Bull wall wrap-style sign.Not only is this sign in the public right of way, which is explicitly outlawed in the advertisement code, but it is also located in a historic district where any non-accessory signs are prohibited.This is just one of the many examples of how businesses neglect the law in order to earn some extra cash.This type of disregard for the law has gone on for too long and must be stopped.In order for this to happen, the movement must start from the top with improved leadership and judgment on behalf of those who are supposed to be the leaders of this great city.
We’ve contacted the SEPTA spokesperson, Richard Maloney, and we are waiting for a response.
Call 311 to report any such illegal advertisement in your neighborhood.
If state officials get their way, electronic signs along highways informing drivers of accidents, construction sites and traffic jams will also be used to display commercial advertising. Private billboard companies will update and maintain these signs as well as sell advertising space. The revenue will be shared with the state.
As appalling as it sounds, the same sign that tells you to slow down for safety reasons could be used to pitch you the buffet dinner at the next exit, the casinos in the nearest city or promotions for cell phone plans.
Pennsylvania has joined California and Florida in an application to the FHWA to waive the regulations that prohibit commercial advertisements on state controlled, overhead and roadside changeable signs in the right of way. The three states intend to contract with outdoor advertising companies to upgrade the current signs. The signs would be converted to digitalized ones, capable of showing fully colored, changeable, commercial images. They would be used like digital billboards, but they would target motorists looking for crucial traveling information!
Is the problem of visual pollution limited to the urban districts of the United States? Residents of Cairo and Mexico City would give a resounding “NO” to this question as the outdoor advertising epidemic has overtaken major cities in Africa, Central and South America.
In Cairo, Egypt, residents as well as government officials have begun to take notice of the growing need to regulate outdoor advertisement.Both have witnessed the natural and architectural beauty of this historic city become overshadowed by the visual pollution that is outdoor advertisement.Despite this glaring issue, little has been done to slow the spread of this cancerous blight.
According to the Denver Post, citizens elsewhere have taken more aggressive approaches.Mexico City, considered one of the busiest and largest cities in the world, has tried to control the explosion of billboard through several aggressive legislative attempts in recent years(some more successful than others). The sentiment is that “[the billboards] are ugly and distract drivers.”
The recent trend that has emerged in places like Mexico City and Sao Paulo, Brazil, show that some cities, where opposition to the dissemination of billboards has reached an all time high, are willing to take strong measures to gain control of their public space.
Looking at the epidemic that is outdoor advertisement in Philadelphia, one would not think that the same blight could be seen along the Nile River, one of the great natural wonders of the world. In previous years one could walk along the historic river and enjoy everything that it has to offer as an aesthetic beauty. However, now one’s attention will be jarred by the numerous billboards that sprawl over the once beautiful Egyptian landscape in Cairo, one the major centers of life in the African continent.
In his article appropriately titled, “Billboard Blitz (Drink This!) Alters Landscape (Buy That!) of City,” Michael Slackman of the NY Times discusses the emergence of a new issue for the everyday people of Cairo to deal with. This issue is one that stems from the recent outburst of outdoor advertisement throughout the city. This trend is seen throughout all of Africa’s major metropolises as the rate of commercialization has reached an all-time high. As a result, we are all witnesses to the atrocities that can take place when wise government policy making takes a backseat to maximizing profits.
The recent death of Gray Smith is a loss to us all. His passion and commitment to our built and natural environments will benefit our city for years to come.
Gray was a dedicated civic leader, preservationist, mentor, architect, and urban planner who used his knowledge and skills to benefit Philadelphia. Gray’s contributions to SCRUB were many. He provided expert testimony as an architect and a planner in many of our landmark cases including: Burholme Park, wallwraps at East Market Street, and at Callowhill Center on Vine Street, all of which preserved Philadelphia from further visual pollution. Gray Smith was a founding member of Scenic Philadelphia and supported our work for over 20 years.
When Councilman DiCicco introduced Bill 100013 in February 2010, amending Philadelphia’s billboard laws, Gray wrote to the Councilman,” Where did this awful thing come from?” Gray went on to warn, “You have not endeared yourself with the neighborhood groups with this outlandish proposal.” Gray could always be counted on not to mince words and to speak the truth.
Scenic Philadelphia mourns the loss of this great friend along with his guidance and wisdom.
Commercial Advertising Building Wraps and Digital Signs Coming to Market Street East
UPDATE: The May 12th hearing has been CANCELLED!
Hearing Scheduled for Wednesday, May 12, 2010 – 11:00AM – City Hall – Room 400
To testify contact the Sharon Ortiz or Linda Rios at 215- 686-3407.
For more information contact Scenic Philadelphia 215 731-1796.
Councilman DiCicco’s Outdoor Advertising Bill 100013 takes away the city’s ability to regulate signage and will allow massive outdoor advertising signs including LED digitals and rootop billboards along Market Street between 7th and 13th Street.
This Bill is counter to recommendations found in both the 2009 Strategic Plan for Market East and Center City District’s Planning for Growth on East Market Street written in 2007.
Philadelphia’s rich historical and architectural character are irreplaceable assets,setting Philadelphia apart from “anyplace, USA. Our rich collection of architecture, history, and pedestrian friendly streetscapes attract tourists, new businesses and residents. Relinquishing our streetscape to corporate advertisers whose logos and commercial messages will dominate rooftoop billboards, towering wallwraps and glaring digital signs is an ineffective strategy to revitalize this corridor. We think that there can be a better way to achieve the goal of improving East Market Street.
7th Street before (above) and after (below) outdoor advertising
How this Affects You
Neighborhoods and communities throughout the city will be stripped of their rights to enforce billboard laws in order to benefit select landlords and the billboard industry. Revitalization of this corridor can be achieved without billboards.
TAKE ACTION: Attend the Hearing for Bill 100013 on May 12, 2010 at 11:00 AM.
- Plan to testify. Contact the Councilman’s office (215-686-3458) and get on the list.
- Write a letter and phone Members of the Committee on Rules: Councilmembers Greenlee, Reynolds-Brown, Kenney,Verna, Clarke, Miller and DiCicco. See “Contact Information” below for details.
- Pass this on
Attend and Testify
Public Hearing will be held before the Rules Committee in City Hall, Room 400 on Wednesday, May 12th at 11:00.
13th Street before and after outdoor advertising.
Philadelphia issued a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) for a Street Furniture Program on March 25, 2010.
The RFP is designed to elicit bids from private companies to design, manufacture, install and maintain street furniture at no cost to the City while generating revenue for the City.
The street furniture included in this RFP are transit shelters, sheltered bike parking, arts, culture and public information panels (“info panels”) and corrals for boxes containing free newspapers.
The RFP also includes street objects designed, installed and maintained by the City such as the six transit head houses (entrances to underground transit on East Market Street between City Hall and 10th Street), solar powered compacting litter containers and recycling containers. Advertising may be installed on these items but the city will be responsible for design and maintenance.
Revenue and Costs
The City will receive an annual minimum fee, two bonus payments and a percentage of gross annual revenues.
This type of arrangement is often presented as a win-win situation because, done correctly, increasing the amount of bus shelters, bike parking and arts, culture and public information signage makes the City more livable while improving the City’s bottom line.
This RFP will dramatically increase the amount of legal outdoor advertising in the City of Philadelphia.
At a minimum, commercial advertising will be permitted on over 500 transit shelters (304 existing and approximately 250 new shelters at new locations), 113 information kiosks of which one side of the panel is reserved for commercial advertising, 48 advertising panels on 12 bike shelter structures (4 advertising panels per structure), and 6 transit headhouses. The RFP also invites advertising on honor box corrals, litter and recycling containers. (Read details of RFP)
- The contract will last for 20 years.
- The City will consider options based on increased revenue potential regarding the installation of digital advertising panels at any or all locations at any point during the 20 years. (Page 16 of the RFP). In other words, if the City feels that the financial rewards of permitting electronic signage is sufficient, it may allow digital advertising on any or all of the street furniture.
- Real Time Information will be installed on 50 transit shelters.
- Art, culture and public institution advertising will be available for reduced or no cost.
- Designs will vary depending on the area: commercial, residential or historical.
- Property owners adjacent to the proposed transit shelter will have input on location.
The winning vendor will be required to present a “charette” or display of proposed designs for public viewing and comment. SCRUB will let you know when and where that will take place. City Council will vote to approve the final contract.
Allowing the dazzling display of digitalized advertising on transit shelters and other signs within the public right of way is a new addition to the public furniture conversations. Distractions caused by electronic signs can jeopardize driver and pedestrian safety, compromise sustainability initiatives and detract from the city’s visual character. This clause should be removed from the final contract
Philadelphia Inquirer: Opinion
Posted on Tue, Mar. 2, 2010
Councilman Frank DiCicco claims that the way to bring crowds back to Market East is to allow bigger and brighter commercial signs (“Putting pizzazz into Market East,” Feb. 26). Other than the obvious benefits to the billboard industry, there is no reason to expect economic benefits from more and larger signs.
The blocks east of the mall managed to right themselves with a few public space improvements. Frighteningly empty after dark a decade ago, those sidewalks are now full of people, in part because of the substantial increase in Center City residents who can walk there and because the surroundings are a bit of old Philadelphia.
Inga Saffron suggests that dramatic new lighting could help Philadelphians see the Gallery “in a whole new light.” Perhaps. But would it induce more people to shop there or simply be a drive-by experience?
Eighth and Market is among the most attractive redevelopment sites in the city. It’s near public transit, the Convention Center, and a 50-story luxury apartment tower. Failure to use this valuable tract should be seen as a municipal disgrace. Lights and signs won’t do it.
The Zoning Code Commission released the draft first module of the new code at the ZCC meeting that took place on February 17, 2010. Scenic Philadelphia is in the process of reviewing and drafting comments on Module 1, but it is vitally important that your voice is heard at the upcoming ZCC community meetings. If you cannot make one of the meetings, the ZCC has also setup an online survey in order to solicit public feedback on Module 1.
Community Meetings to review and provide input on The Draft New Zoning Code: Administration & Procedures
Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010
The Enterprise Center
4548 Market Street, 19139
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010
Northeast High School
1601 Cottman Avenue, 19111
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Tuesday, Mar. 2, 2010
Central High School
1700 W. Olney Avenue, 19141
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Thursday, Mar. 4, 2010
Fels Community Center
2407 S. Broad Street, 19148
6:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Attention Philadelphians: You Are Losing Your Voice
Loss of Taxpayer Standing
In August 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court dealt Philadelphians a severe blow by ruling that taxpayers and community organizations no longer have“standing”or the right to appeal decisions made by the Zoning Board of Adjustments unless the taxpayer is detrimentally harmed and can show a direct and immediate interest.
Prior to this ruling community organizations and citizens were permitted to participate in Zoning Board hearings and appeal unjustified decisions. This right is critical since Zoning Board hearings occur during business hours (9-5), and community groups could represent members and property owners who were unable to attend due to work commitments. While waiting for state legislators to restore standing through a legislative amendment, community groups should be prepared to defend their standing to participate in zoning board hearings. For more information, contact SCRUB.
Proposed Zoning Code Revisions Limit Public Review and Legal Processess in Land Use Decisions
This is a critical time for the public to pay attention to the newly released Draft Recommendations for a Revised Zoning Code. Four meetings have been scheduled to get feedback from the public. The process is moving at top speed and many residents have not had a chance to even read the proposed changes to the code.
Parkland is in Jeopardy
When the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter was amended last November to dissolve the FairmountPark Commission, it was replaced with an advisory board which will work under the direction of a newly appointed Commissioner of Parks and Recreation. Protecting the sale, lease or gifting of dedicated parkland to private interests for non-recreational use is a major concern for many Philadelphians. You have a chance to share these concerns with the new Commissioner Michael Di Beraditis during his visits to neighborhoods throughout the city where he plans to share the new vision for parks and recreation. Click here for information on dates and meeting places.
What do all of these changes mean and more importantly how do they affect you?
Philadelphia has the potential to become a vastly different place. Everything from the look, size, location of homes and businesses, commercial or industrial uses permitted in your neighborhood, population density, available parking, procedural time and expense associated with improving and reinvesting in existing buildings, notice and input regarding project developments and more is open for discussion. Since the Fairmount Park Commission has been dissolved, even the quantity and quality of public parkland is at issue.The loss of taxpayer standing in Philadelphia zoning matters could means more legal hurdles for community groups who choose to appeal a zoning decision.
Voice your opinion
Public input on policies affecting our public spaces are being sought by the Zoning Code Commission and the Department of Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Public hearings and community meetings are scheduled throughout the city. Links to the dates and locations are available on our website. Plan to attend these meetings to voice your concerns and suggestions; be a voice that helps guide the reshaping of our city.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 27, 2009
Contact: Lynn McConville
The Board of Directors of Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space, is pleased to announce that Mary Cawley Tracy, a founding member and Executive Director of SCRUB, has been elected as President of Scenic America, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the visual character of America’s communities and countryside.
Ms. Tracy will remain at the helm of Scenic Philadelphia as she takes over leadership responsibilities at Scenic America.
Scenic Philadelphia began as a grassroots coalition in 1990 to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. In 1991, Scenic Philadelphia effectively spearheaded the passage of a comprehensive sign control law. Since that time, Tracy has led volunteer attorneys and community partners in successfully challenging illegal billboards and in establishing legal precedents in land use law in Pennsylvania. Scenic Philadelphia is now at the forefront of advocating for public parkland, having recently coordinated the legal efforts to protect Burholme Park from institutional development.
Eric Elliff, chairman of Scenic America’s Board of Directors, announced Tracy’s election at the Summer Board Meeting of Scenic America held in Newport, Rhode Island. “We are thrilled to welcome Mary Tracy…given her extensive background in grassroots organizing and non-profit management, we are confident she’s going to do a fantastic job”. Lynn McConville, Chair of the Board of Directors of Scenic Philadelphia seconded Elliff and added, “Mary’s dual leadership positions provide Scenic Philadelphia with a wonderful opportunity to bring its expertise to the federal level and for Scenic Philadelphia to gain additional resources for its work in Philadelphia. Mary is known for her motivation, vision and tenacity and her ability to work with citizens, political leaders and administrative agencies to produce positive change. Scenic America and Scenic Philadelphia will both benefit greatly from her efforts”.
In a crushing defeat for Callowhill Center Associates, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox issued an Opinion on July 9, 2009 which unreservedly upheld the ZBA’s denial in 2006 of a variance for a 9,750 square foot commercial advertising wall wrap.
Callowhill Center Associates (CCA) proposed the wall wrap at 417 North 7th Street in 2005. The owner sought to re-erect a seven story vinyl advertising wrap that he had illegally erected on the building in 1999. The building is located within the specially protected Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits outdoor advertising signage.
After being denied a hearing by the United States Supreme Court, the owner returned to the Zoning Board again, this time arguing that the city’s outdoor advertising sign controls were “unconstitutional”.
In her July 9th decision Judge Fox disagreed:
“Philadelphia is a historical city: we pride ourselves on our monuments, our skyline and our history. The ZBA had more than ample testimony and evidence to establish the purpose of the ordinance in question.”
Judge Fox found that the city’s ordinances are constitutional and explained it this way:
“Although CCA[Callowhill Center Assoc.] presented testimony to show that the wall wrap advertisement at issue was safe and presented no hazard, they failed (to) establish that the ordinances in question were not constitutional.
CCA argues that these ordinances were enacted to appease a small group of individuals who find outdoor advertisements in general distasteful.
However, our democratic form of government ensures that ordinances of this nature are vetted through our elected officials who must balance the whims of individuals and groups with the safety and needs of our City.
In the balancing test CCA cannot overcome the City’s substantial need to maintain the area in question which includes the zoning and use restrictions at issue herein.”
The case has a long history, which began when Callowhill illegally erected the huge advertising wrap on its building in 1999.
Philadelphia is, indeed, a city with pride in our monuments, our skyline and our history. Scenic Philadelphia, the public voice for public space in Philadelphia is proud of our role in continuing to protect and defend this tradition.
A company called FUEL Outdoor has erected dozens of outdoor advertising signs bolted on free-standing poles or on the walls of parking garages. These signs are very similar to the old “eight-sheet” billboards. They are currently located in parking garages and parking lots in areas that prohibit outdoor advertising signs.
A King’s Bench Appeal is a special request for the high court to accept jurisdiction over an appeal rather than having to go through the lower court appeal process. Fox Chase Cancer Center filed appeals to both the Supreme Court and the Commonwealth Court challenging the decision of Orphans’ Court Judge John Herron, denying a request to allow 19.4 acres of dedicated parkland to be used for private development. The Court ruled that under the Public Trust Doctrine, Burholme Park, must remain a park.
According to an article appearing in the Daily News a spokesman for Fox Chase stated that the administration is exploring options for expansion, including building within their own 14.5 acre campus. The Supreme Court’s denial for special jurisdiction does not impact Fox Chase Cancer Center’s earlier appeal filed to the Commonwealth Court. The Court has ordered attorneys representing Fox Chase to submit their brief with a copy of the reproduced record. Attorney Samuel C. Stretton, representing the neighbors and users of the Park, will submit a brief 30 days later.
Read Judge Herron’s Opinion
Read Judge Herron’s Ruling Granting Taxpayer Standing to Neighborhood Residents
Laws regulating outdoor advertising signs have enabled Scenic Philadelphia to help residents breathe new life into neighborhoods once blighted by the proliferation of billboards. These laws are under threat by Bill 090015, which was voted out of committee last Tuesday by Councilmembers DiCicco, Green, Jones, Greenlee, and Quinones-Sanchez.
Over 500,000 square feet of outdoor advertising signs, including 8-sheets, wall wraps, graffiti ad campaigns, and towering billboard structures do not exist in Philadelphia as a result of the existing outdoor advertising sign laws and the successful legal challenges brought by neighborhoods and SCRUB in leveraging these laws.