SCRUB: Paris decreases visual pollution, Philadelphia increases

By Willa Granger
For SCRUB

This past June, Paris City Council passed a new law restricting outdoor advertising.

The decision, which will likely put a dent in the sales of local advertising companies, will reduce current display space by 30%, limiting signage to a mere 8 square meters (86 square feet) as opposed to the much larger 12 square meters (129 square feet). Moreover, the new regulations stipulate that signs must be at least 25 meters (82 feet) apart and 50 meters (164 feet) away from any school location.

Of the current 2,300 outdoor panels, all of which are shared between three advertising companies—JCDecaux, ClearChannel, and CBS Outdoor—roughly 1,400 billboards will be taken down. As Mairie de Paris official Danièle Pourtaud commented in a recent article for Le Figaro, “This ruling is not anti-advertising, but responds to people’s wishes that advertising should be less intrusive.” Moreover, the restriction will be confined only to the city center.

Despite, the regulation will impact the advertising industry negatively. JCDecaux, the world’s largest outdoor advertising group, predicts a 1% fall in sales. Proponents of the legislation hope that the new restrictions will influence other European city centers to impose tighter constraints on signage.

While representatives of Paris’ outdoor advertising industry have sought to downplay the repercussions of the law, more damaging decisions lie ahead. One such decision is a proposed nation-wide strategy to cut outdoor advertising across France; details will follow in the upcoming months.

The news from Paris comes at the heels of other efforts across the world to decrease outdoor advertising, including legislation enacted in Sao Paulo, Brazil providing for a sweeping ban on all outdoor signage. The ban was met with the protestations of advertising and market representatives, worried that the ruling would cripple business. From adversity, however, came adaptation—market executives, scrambling to find advertising outlets, were forced to create innovative and highly successful ways to promote their products, including digital media and social networking outlets.

As Anna Freitag, the marketing manager of Hewlett-Packard Brazil, remarked in a network2media article, “A billboard is media on the road. In rational purchases it means less effectiveness… as people are involved in so many things that it makes it difficult to execute the call to action.” Both Paris and Sao Paulo have taken visionary and progressive steps towards beautifying their historic and beloved public space.

Stricter advertising regulations, however, have yet to find solid ground here in the states. Philadelphia has taken steps in the opposite direction, having recently embraced three pieces of pro-advertising legislation: bills 100678, 100720, and 100720, the latter of which will allow for large scale animated billboards along the historic Market East corridor.

So relaxed is the American attitude towards signage that in recent years cities like Philadelphia have increasingly attracted foreign advertising groups. JCDecaux, the world’s largest advertising company, has hinted at plans to buy its US competitor CBS Outdoor. Such an acquisition would drastically expand JCDecaux’s presence in the American advertising business. American cities should not be prey to excessive advertising because of their lax policies; Philadelphia must learn a lesson from Paris and create stricter advertising policies. It is telling that the “City of Lights”—illuminated by its culture, vitality, and history—has restricted outdoor advertising. Philadelphia should follow suit. 

 For more information please visitwww.publicvoiceforpublicspace.org or call SCRUB at 215-731-1775.

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