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Get a Billboard Taken Down (or at Least Complain About One)


\nIf you don’t happen to live in one of the states where billboards are illegal (Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, and Vermont), you probably live, work, or play within spitting distance a 20-foot hamburger, say, or a three-story bottle of gin. “Billboards are the only form of advertising you can’t turn off,” says Ed McMahon a fellow at the Urban Land Institute, which has been fighting outdoor advertising since the 1980s through the organization Scenic America. If you think your neighborhood would be better off without that giant calzone hovering over it, here’s what to do.

Get the facts

Find a copy of your local sign ordinance and familiarize yourself with the laws controlling billboards in your area. You may find that some of your local billboards are already illegal. If that’s the case, take pictures, go to the regulating agency, and make your case.

Team up with a group that cares about your issue\n

Find a neighborhood association, environmental preservation group, or local architects’ association. As a group, lobby your state or local government to ban the construction of new billboards.

Encourage the entity that regulates billboards to negotiate with outdoor advertising companies. Suggest that companies be required to take down a certain number of old billboards on secondary roads before being allowed to put up a new one on a main road, or remove 10 traditional billboards for each new digital billboard installed.
Buy ’em out

The federal government makes “Transportation Enhancements” funds available for highway projects, including the purchase of billboards in order to remove them permanently. Local governments may apply for funds in partnership with nonprofit or community groups. See for details.
Embrace a challenge

Getting rid of billboards can be difficult. “The outdoor advertising industry is well organized and experienced in fighting regulation on every level,” says McMahon. But groups like SCRUB in Philadelphia and Scenic Texas have won significant victories in their areas—proof positive that success is possible.

Illustration by Trevor Burks.

This article first appeared in The GOOD Guide to Better Neighborhoods. You can read more of the guide here, or you can read more of the GOOD Neighborhoods Issue here.

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