Advocacy, education and outreach in support of Vancouver's public spaces

By VPSN

August 20, 2019 at 2:36 PM

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Big Ideas for the City: Billboard Strategies

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Would you complain if your view of the mountains was blocked by an advertisement?

Would you complain if your view of the mountains was blocked by an advertisement?

Billboards in public spaces are ugly and offensive. They block views of the mountains, distract drivers and allow private individuals to profit from publicly funded spaces. Furthermore, over 50% of outdoor advertising billboards in Vancouver do not meet present bylaw guidelines. Emerging digital signage technology promises to make outdoor advertising still more intrusive and needs to be addressed. A lengthy review process was initiated a number of years ago and yet non-compliant billboards remain and new digital signage has been installed at BC Place, the Burrard and Lions Gate Bridges and elsewhere in the city.

Given these propositions, the VPSN suggests that the City of Vancouver remove or repurpose existing non-compliant billboards and facilitate a comprehensive plan for both digital and ordinary billboards. The VPSN is asking for:

1. Enforcement of existing Sign Bylaw to remove non-compliant billboards

2. Broad, inclusive public consultation/review of proposed revisions to the Sign Bylaw

3. Consideration on the place of digital signage and other emerging technologies in the city.

More than 50% of billboards in Vancouver are non-compliant; they are located too close to residential areas, adjacent to bridges or public transit or are too big or too bright too often.

If a neighbour was playing obnoxiously loud music, would you be offended? The likely answer is yes. You may ask them to turn it down, or perhaps phone the City to stop the racket. This is noise pollution and collectively we have agreed that certain rules should be followed in order to make everyone a little happier.

What about visual pollution? Would you complain if your view of the mountains was blocked by an advertisement for yogurt or a new juice? The answer is likely yes. Unknown to many people is the fact that the City of Vancouver has a sign bylaw limiting the size, brightness and location of billboards.

Also unknown to many people more than half of all billboards in Vancouver are non-compliant; they are located too close to residential areas, adjacent to bridges or public transit or are too big or too bright, too often. It’s just as if we are surrounded by neighbours playing loud music and the enforcement officers are not answering the phone.

In 2003 the City of Vancouver approved a tough new sign by-law that would limit the number and location of billboards in public space. Included in this bylaw was a five year time limit for removing non-compliant billboards. In 2008 this limit expired and rather than issuing violations the City decided to suspend and review the sign bylaw following the 2010 Olympics.

This review should be complete sometime this year. However, in the interim new outdoor advertising technology has entered the market including programmable digital billboards. How should these technologies be allowed in public space? How could citizens and the city derive public benefits? Who should own these spaces?

Like loud music at concerts, there is perhaps a time and place for billboards and digital signage in the city. However, that time and place needs to be decided on by the citizens of Vancouver, not by private or corporate interests. Civic authorities need to enforce existing rules and consider how to integrate outdoor signage into a vibrant and beautiful city.

The Big Ideas are 12 Priority Areas we see as an early release of the VPSN Manifesto on public space policy. We’ve made online access to the Routemap 2012-2014 and the original Manifesto 2008-2011.To learn more about this initiative and to get involved, please write us an email.

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