For some time I have been meaning to highlight a remarkable piece in Design Observer about the war between the people of Los Angeles and the advertisers that have turned their city into a billboard hell:
In 2002, reacting to increasing outcries from newly-minted neighborhood councils that increasingly sought to control their local surrounds, the City banned all new “off-site” signage, typically deployed as billboards (existing billboards were “grandfathered:” as long as they are not altered they can remain). But the outdoor advertising industry struck back. They allocated $400,000 of free outdoor advertising to a successful candidate for City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo. And lo and behold; upon Delgadillo’s election he authorized a sweetheart deal that allowed the industry to convert, with little penalty, almost 900 of Los Angeles’ 10,000 now non-conforming billboards to massive slide-shows of digital displays.
Meanwhile outside of the lawyers offices various Los Angeles City Councilpersons championed exceptions to the billboard ban in exchange for directed revenues for parks and social programs. The City also established special districts that allowed even more signage, and Los Angeles sold off the rights to advertise at bus stops on City property. Political inconsistency engendered environmental design chaos. In a fine example of giving an inch and taking a mile, outdoor advertising industry players sued the City, claiming that Los Angeles’s granting of continuous exceptions limited the industry’s rights to commercial and protected speech.
Limits on advertising may do some good, but I suspect that much of Los Angeles and, of course, Las Vegas, is only reaching its natural expression in such hideous visual pollution. Environments that are created to annihilate people with their vastness and desolation, environments that can only be taken in at 45 mph, are too far gone to be redeemed by limits on billboard ads.