Ban Everything Except Hand-Painted Billboards

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People obviously have a free speech right to hang signs on their properties, but the idea that this necessarily includes the right to erect a gigantic metal pole structure to hold the sign is ridiculous and wrong. Too many jurisdictions don’t draw this distinction, and they should.

We’re debating this in Philly right now and one good idea that deserves to be debated is whether we should allow only hand-painted billboards.

Basically everybody agrees that giant regular billboards and digital billboards are blight-tastic and awful, so this effort is all about how to de facto ban them without inviting an avalanche of litigation from the billboard industry.

If we banned everything except for hand-painted billboards, we would be on solid legal grounds. The power to regulate materials is pretty firmly established in US zoning law, as we see in so many historic districts across our state.

I’ve seen a lot of hand-painted billboards in NYC and they look pretty nice. Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim has a hand-painted billboard space on the side of a building on Bedford Ave in Williamsburg that they rotate every couple months, and it looks great. It adds to the aesthetic of the neighborhood rather than blighting it.

Also, hand-painting a billboard is something only a human can do (for now) so with this regulation we’d be creating a nice privately-funded jobs program for the many unemployed artists in our city.

This entry was posted in Economic Development, Land Use.

8 Responses to Ban Everything Except Hand-Painted Billboards

  1. Matt Thomas says:

    You’re at risk of turning into a crank.
    Better digital billboards than giant graffiti by some jerk who thinks everyone should be forced to have his no-talent efforts shoved in the public’s face.
    Yeah…that subway cartoon “art” displayed in your photo is just what one needs throughout Philadelphia’s historic district….fits right in with Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross, does it not?

    • Jon Geeting says:

      If you like digital billboards, you’re the crank.

      • Matt Thomas says:

        I do not particularly “like” the digitals…simply finding them rather unremarkable as a form of commercial art. As to who is the genuine crank, it is not myself who is in a sweaty twist over the issue.
        Indeed, “Ban everything except hand-painted billboards!”
        Sounds like yet another crusade by the same crank who made a fool of himself over Halloween, attracting the attention of no one other than a couple of racists.
        Keep this up and in a few years you might find yourself on street corners screaming at people.
        Calm down…lighten up…Philadelphia will not live or die on the issue of flickering billboards.

        • Jon Geeting says:

          Matt – as I said, this is an issue that basically everyone on City Council thinks is important. There are live bills right now attempting to make billboards illegal. This is not an issue I invented. I am merely proposing a cleaner alternative that avoids the tricky legal questions that arise with the current bills. PA state law, I believe, forces municipalities to provide some areas where billboards are legal. That’s too bad, but municipalities do have the zoning power to regulate materials, and would be well within their legal rights to require that all future billboards be hand-painted.

          • Matt Thomas says:

            Why not simply ban the electronic versions entirely and severely restrict the more traditional commercial billboards. I’m also fine with the hand-painted so long as they’re not the work of amateurs.
            Actually we owe the limited use of billboards along the interstate highway system to Lady Bird Johnson back in the 1960′s. What irritates me more than billboards are the obnoxious screaming commercials by car dealers that greet one with the 6:00 o’clock news each morning.

          • Jon Geeting says:

            Because the regular billboards are ugly too. I want to figure out how we can not grandfather in the ones along 95 and elsewhere, and start making them take billboards down.

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  3. Michael Noda says:

    As an addendum to the billboard issue, one reason the Blue Route is so much less aggravating than most other area roads is that it’s a Pennsylvania Scenic Byway, and billboards are entirely banned. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_Scenic_Byways

    Now, this isn’t a solution for either I-95 or Broad Street (heavy industry and urban neighborhoods are not “scenic”, and I have no desire to even attempt to distort the English language to try it), but it seems like there’s a slam-dunk case for including the Schuylkill Expressway in that register, at least north of Spring Garden Street. Something for the Greater Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg to consider.