The Billboard Ban Debate The Billboard Ban Debate

The Billboard Ban Debate

by Andrew Price

December 19, 2009
You know those ubiquitous outdoor billboards? Do you like them? Toronto doesn't. After a long fight, the city has finally agreed to adopt new bylaws that impose a per-sign tax and stricter regulations on billboards. It was the culmination of a years-long battle between grassroots anti-ugly-billboard organizations (and their allies in government) and the outdoor advertising industry (and its allies in government).The Globe and Mail has the story:
The new rules will restrict the required distance between billboards, as well as the type of electronic or animated signs permitted in certain parts of the city.Outdoor advertisers spent months fighting the bylaw and tax, which they argue will cripple the industry. Councillors opposing the tax agreed – councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called it an unfair "shakedown" of an entire industry.
These kinds of laws aren't unique. Maine's Travelers Information Act, passed in 1977 and still in effect, bans billboards entirely in the state. Vermont, Hawaii, and Alaska also have bans. In Maine's case there are reasonable exceptions in the law for small roadside ads for fresh produce and tall logo signs on business property.In Maine there were some complaints from small, local businesses who took a hit when their billboards had to come down, and from farmers who made money by allowing billboards on their land. The issues are sometimes complex.But the big fight always comes from the outdoor advertising industry, and the idea that businesses have some a priori right to post their messages in the public landscape is totally bunk. There's no natural law that says you can buy space in everyone's field of vision. Citizens should decide what they want for public space without disproportionate corporate influence.Personally, I'd vote to ban billboards along California's highways, even if it means I miss important information about what's new at McDonald's on my way to work.The billboard pictured above (credit) was posted in Vancouver.
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The Billboard Ban Debate