Voters should reject billboards’ ubiquity

On Nov. 2, St. Paul residents will decide on a surprisingly contentious topic: the fate of billboard advertising in the city. As part of a citywide referendum, residents will decide if billboards are worth the prices they exact. While billboards can be an effective advertising method, they are an intrusion into the physical environments of cities. St. Paul residents should adopt measures similar to those approved by other cities by voting to drastically reduce billboard advertising.
The proposal would ban new billboard construction and declare as many as half of the existing billboards as nuisances. The nuisance billboards would then have to be removed within five years. Scenic St. Paul, a community organization chaired by former St. Paul Councilwoman Bobbi Megard, is primarily responsible for the renewed interest in this issue.
Billboards are unsightly, intrusive and visually disturb the aesthetics of most neighborhoods. The current industry standard size, 672 square feet, is much too large to be integrated into the surrounding environs. Neighborhoods without billboards are much more pleasant to inhabit because residents are not constantly beset by their messages. Living in an advertisement-free neighborhood is appealing to residents.
If the referendum is approved and the amount of billboards is significantly reduced, the cityscape will be much more attractive. Instead of being constantly exposed to advertisements, St. Paul residents could enjoy their surroundings.
In the past, billboards provided smaller businesses with a less expensive advertising opportunity. Recently, however, many larger, national corporations have purchased local billboards and have both raised the prices and reduced the amount of smaller businesses that are able to employ this technique.
Other municipalities have enacted policies to reduce the number and size of billboards in acknowledgement of their intrusiveness. The policy that Minneapolis has enacted does not prohibit billboards but discourages them by placing size constraints on billboards in low-traffic areas. Instead, billboards are relegated to high-density, high-traffic areas such as on interstates or some of the main thoroughfares. Other states have also enacted policies to reduce billboards, and four states — Alaska, Hawaii, Maine and Vermont — have prohibited them completely.
Advertising pervades our culture. In most instances, it is used to financially support certain industries, as it does on television or in print media. However, billboards rarely offer any benefits beyond advertising. By replacing views of the sky or becoming unnecessary appendages to buildings, billboards are not worth the advertising they provide. St. Paul voters should acknowledge that billboards do not offer enough benefits to compensate for the negative impact they have on the quality of life.