Monday, June 11, 2012

The Ironies of Sense-of-Place Desecration

If you were to ride a motorcycle, as I do from time to time, through Burlington, Graham and Mebane, North Carolina, you would know they are cool little towns. Unfortunately that isn’t the first or last impression of visitors or other people who pass through by traveling in well more than 100,000 vehicles on I 85/40 each day, about 1 for every 1.4 residents who live there.

According to a transportation planning survey, residents in that area care about their quality of place with 80% wanting to preserve natural areas, open space or farmland and improve air quality, while 90% support the planting of trees and shrubs along roadways and 100% support the preservation of historic buildings and sites.

Returning home to Durham last week from a presentation on strategic thinking to B-school grads at Appalachian State University, I counted approximately 156 huge roadside billboards (counting those that are two-sided) in just the approximately 13 miles from the western edge of Burlington to the eastern edge of Mebane or 1 every 4 seconds at the 5 miles per hour over the speed limit set on my cruise control.

Since it takes approximately 2.5 seconds at the very least to decipher a message on a billboard at all, the advertising placed on those monstrosities is a waste of money even in an attempt to reach the 1 out of 10 consumers who use them regularly according to surveys while, at the same time, the messages are sure to turn-off the 7 out of 10 who never use them and view them as a desecration.

Not exactly what those advertisers were hoping.  The desecration was just as great as I traveled further west through Greensboro cementing first and last impressions of North Carolina’s third largest city while de-greening the boro.

Making the desecration even more memorable is that there were no or relatively few billboards along the other stretches of my route.

One lonely billboard though drew an ironic smile as I neared Boone, NC where ASU is located.  It proclaimed the spectacular views from Grandfather Mountain, now a state park, while desecrating the view of the forest and mountains behind the billboard.

Unfortunately this irony is too often lost on enablers of these obsolete forms of advertising.  In Durham, where I live and where billboards have been banned since 1984, a local government agency is using one of the few billboards remaining (gratis I’m sure) to advertise the smoking ban here while enabling the desecration of oxygen-generating trees and vegetation.

That may be a double, triple or quadruple irony.

Some one who hasn’t connected the dots hoping hypocritically to connect the dots about one ban while lending credibility to the circumvention of another with a message about freeing our lungs of smoke on a structure enabled during by the last session of the legislature to clear cut huge swaths of oxygen-generating trees and vegetation.

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