Digital video billboards: a vibrant addition to the landscape or ad creep? Planners didn’t have them in mind when they originally drew up rules about ads and signage in the city. These new flashy signs present their own set of problems and issues.
Casino expansion. In spite strong numbers opposed to the latest proposal to expand gaming and casinos downtown, and some notable opponents, it seems to be an uphill battle. The leaders of the movement lament that it’s just not as easy to get people interested in actively opposing it.
** I’ve since heard from Vancouver, Not Vegas that things are not as dire as the article suggests, that their list of supporters has gained the attention of City Hall and that they are gaining support as more people hear about the proposed casino expansion.
Bike lanes. The City released the usage stats for the Dunsmuir and Hornby bike lanes and is seeking public input on how to make them work better. For doubters, a City engineer issues a challenge: check the data yourself.
Canada Line vs. small business. A decision to award damages to a business owner affected by Canada Line construction has been overturned by the BC Court of Appeal.
#1. For the fifth year in a row, The Economist has ranked Vancouver as the most liveable city in the world, but don’t rejoice just yet because the rankings don’t take income or cost of living into account.
Olympic Village again. Sales have resumed and the new prices have been announced, but some advance sales have roused some complaints about the process. Meanwhile, sales companies are going after buyers who have backed out of their purchases.
Please drive. Not enough people are using the Golden Ears Bridge, so toll revenues are far below expected and what is needed to pay for it’s costs. TransLink is planning a marketing campaign to get people to use the bridge more. Stephen Rees comments and considers how to pay for transportation.
Image: rufousfelix, via flickr.
Is it possible Vancouver has taken the wrong approach to billboards all this time?
Since the 1970s, when City Hall restricted the use and location of billboards—notably only a few years after banning new neon signs—Vancouver has waged war on outdoor advertising, seeing it as an affront to public space. A series of amendments passed between 1996 and 2009, brought further restrictions. According to a 2009 City Hall report, “between 2003 and 2008, about 300 billboards were removed largely due to site redevelopment. In the same period, about 35 billboards were added, generally in industrial areas.”
Remember the billboard atop the Lee Building at Main and Broadway? It was removed after a protracted legal battle between the building’s owner and the City that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada. (More on the story on CBC.ca; a picture of the now-billboard-free building appears above.)
Recently, the billboard issue resurfaced when the Squamish Nation erected a digital billboard on band land at the south end of the Burrard Street Bridge (details here). The sign was a long time coming; planned for years and protested by residents for just as many. Originally, the plan called for 18 billboards to be put up on various reserves and Squamish land around Vancouver, the North Shore, and Squamish. Ultimately, they decided on just six signs in four locations. The dimensions of the signs were scaled back, too.
Other cities take a far harder line on outdoor advertising than we do: West Vancouver prohibits ads on bus shelters; in 2007, São Paolo enacted a Clean City Law, effectively banning all billboards, making pamphleteering in public spaces illegal, and putting new restrictions on the size of storefront signage. According to this story in Adbusters magazine, 70% of São Paolo residents approve of the new measures.
What’s most interesting to us in all this is how extreme people’s reactions are to billboards: loved (”they’re a part of living in a big city”) or loathed (”like driving through a giant Yellow Pages advertising section”). Beloved public squares in Europe are covered in advertising. And what would New York’s Times Square be without their massive, flickering screens? None of this is to say that we’re New York, or that we want to see the kind of concentration of billboards that lines ferry terminals or the island highway between Victoria and Nanaimo, but just how far will we go to create a message-free city? Is there a middle ground between bland and saturated we’ve yet to explore?
In the 1940s and ’50s, downtown Vancouver streets were visually arresting and lined with artful, occasionally garish, neon signs and billboard signs. (Fred Herzog photographed this billboard on Georgia Street in 1968.) Today, it seems we’re less a city to look at than one to look through. So-called “view corridors” direct eyes through glass towers to the water and mountains beyond.
There are some signs of life on the streets, however. The Vancouver Art Gallery is using its exterior walls more and more as exhibit space. Currently, the Georgia Street facade is covered by a hand-painted floral mural by artist Michael Lin. The Robson Square side of the building is running a loop of incredible films that are drawing crowds. The redesign of Granville Street is all about recapturing our lit-up past—albeit carefully—from the lamp standards to the proposed screening space on the Sears building. Would we be willing to trade some outdoor advertising space here to help fund such public events and new public art?
Here’s another idea we find inspiring: in Los Angeles, the MAK Center for Art and Architecture procured 30-day billboard donations and commissioned 21 artists to create new works and effectively “take over what is perhaps one of the most exclusively commercial sites of public architecture we’ve got.” Dwell magazine has an online slideshow of the various works; it’s well worth a look. We think it’s the kind of intelligent thinking that makes a city a vibrant, compelling place, and maybe, just maybe, justifies looking at advertising now and then.
Image credits from top to bottom: