Friday, July 16, 2010

Billboards Are Obsolete And Communities Have The Obligation To Preserve View-Shed

The only argument by Fairway Outdoor Advertising that resonates with me is that the company has (been granted) a right (really a privilege) to do business. But Fairway has a lot of other, better options for selling outdoor advertising space besides billboards.

Large, fixed billboards along roadways are simply obsolete even when updated with bells and whistles like digital technology. They simply don't provide value that offsets the cost of cluttering the public view-shed. If it hasn’t already, long ago, Fairway should have diversified into far less intrusive and growth businesses like wrapping trucks and buses with advertising. Billboards need to go the way of the telegraph, telex, fax machine, 8-track tape and floppy disk.250px-Calvin_Coolidge-Garo

But the Georgia based (in North Carolina, Raleigh based) company has had Durham, North Carolina under a siege for a couple of years now in an often heavy handed effort to undermine the community’s longstanding ban on billboards. While complaining about fairness, Fairway has not always played fair. There's been enough hyperbole to go around.

But In my opinion, even if objective, third party, scientific public opinion polls didn’t clearly document that a clear majority of every segment of the Durham community is in support of retaining the current ordinance, local officials (and state and federal for that matter) have a clear obligation, for the public good, to protect our “view-sheds” just as they protect open space, water-shed etc. for the public good.

A century ago as billboards migrated from being painted on the sides of buildings such as barns to alongside the actual roadway, there may have been a short term argument in support…although even back then, as governor of Massachusetts, Calvin Coolidge, who became our most conservative, laissez-faire, anti-regulation president, had already curbed billboards in the early 1900’s.

And large, roadway billboards are especially obsolete today when the average American is now exposed to several thousand ad messages a day via 24/7 radio, television, internet, newspaper, magazine, above urinals, in airports, on the back of restroom stalls, on grocery carts…not to mention alternatives like GPS and official, much less obtrusive and more accessible “highway exit” logo advertising.

Long ago, view-shed which very much belongs to the public, not private businesses, emerged as a priority as so much of our natural countryside and farms disappear altogether and the distinctive sense of place of our communities is very much at risk.

In my opinion, after looking deeply into all sides, Durham should stay the course with regard to billboards also in my opinion, Fairway needs to grow into this century and pursue alternatives to billboards as a product.

But regardless, Fairway at a minimum must respect this community's decisions and overall public opinion.

No comments: