Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Sign up to sign off

I recently visited a city in Central America where protruding signage was banned, along with digital, neon or billboards signs. All signage was flat against the wall of a building, including corner street signs. At first I was struggling to find destination points but within a short period of time I became accustomed to the area and rather liked not being visually assaulted by advertisers.

I am not suggesting that the city move totally in that direction, but I personally find the advertising signage in the city to be an urban blight. Everywhere you look in this city is plastered with advertising. Buses have become ugly moving billboards. The rotating and flashing digital signs are the worst for distracting drivers. It is difficult not to be distracted these signs. If talking or texting on a cell phone is deemed dangerous because it distracts drivers from concentrating on the other road traffic, then surely this meets that standard.

All of this is done to convince us to buy things we never knew we needed. And we all fall prey to this action. In today's SP (June 23/10) Lanny Labelle, owner of Digital Skies sign company says banning these signs would hurt his business and that "They add to a vibrant city landscape." Brian Storey of Pelican Signs also claims a ban would hurt his business and states . . ."a couple of stunning digital signs can be a real asset to the city." and that there is a place for them in downtown where vehicles move slowly. If your one ton car hits a pedestrian or cylist at 30 kms you still do a lot of damage.

I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder - and to my eye this signage is neither vibrant or an asset to anyone other than those who commission it and those who produce it.

Since the city itself, or some of its facilities, use digital signage I expect little or no change on the signage bylaw. Money talks and most politicians listen to the money.


  1. Although this post is ideologically inconsistent with most of CM's neoliberal-client rants (advertisements on places like Transit subsidize the public services she so frequently complains are economically inefficient; and restricting private-sector advertising originating from a privately-held location is a form of censorship, a concept she proclaims to "despise"), it is interesting that Pat Lorje raised the issue and asked for a report on out-of-hand billboard advertising back in March of 2009.

    Could it be the Mistress has stumbled onto common ground with Lorje?

  2. Helloooo Melba S. It feels good to actually have a name attached to a comment. Most of the NDP that respond here are named Anon - and I was starting to get concerned about in-breeding within the party.

    For the record I have always been opposed to selling off public space or facilities to corporations who get the cheapest advertising possible and then contribute very little to the community. It has nothing to do with party politics, its simply a personal dislike.

    As for transit, if it provided better service it might increase ridership and actually pay for itself. That concept would fall into "economy of scale."

  3. Oh yes, we must get rid of fancy billboards. Imagine how much more interesting Times Square would be without all that advertising. This investigation is such a great use of the city administration's time and energy.

  4. North American public transit systems do not turn profits, despite any hopes of "economy of scale" accomplishing such. This is due to predominant urban planning principles that fail to centralize populations. This is not to say they do not provide financial benefit.

    With regard to transit and public goods in general, due to their fundamental objective of raising standards of living and working to actualize societal goals, while most public goods are inherently unable to raise direct profits this does not mean they are money pits. Quite the opposite. In practice, they raise the overall wealth of a society.

    The economic payoff from public goods comes in the provision of societal, health, and environmental benefits that the private sector will not provide due to their nature of externalizing costs. By filling these demands, public goods actually support private sectors by removing the private sector's burden for providing wages and benefits which workers will demand if these goods are not provided publicly.

    And by providing certain goods publicly for a society as a whole, the "economies of scale" we talk about are achieved. Such policies thus enable lower wages for the private sector while providing more disposable income for consumers to spend in the private sector.

    While I agree that selling off public space to the private sector's highest bidder is abhorrent, because we spend so much time not so much being stewards of public revenues, but instead convincing ourselves that tax revenue can only be spent in one manner - inefficiently - we starve off both public goods (upon which we all rely as a capitalist society to achieve our wealth) and any reasonable opportunity to have intelligent discourse about their functions.

  5. Although I would love to read all of Melba's comments she lost me when changing the subject from signs to transit. We could spend millions and do on getting that department operating anywhere close to break even let alone making a profit.

    Now as far as the sign issue goes. My issue is the lack of compliance the city is able to induce on those that break the sign bylaws. I would far rather a company have a nice digital sign as opposed to all these so called "temporary" ugly black structures that are sitting in front of every business in the city. Lets get rid of these eye soars first and then take an even approach to these new signs. Restrictions that would allow them but limit their location and size. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder yes but information is for all.

  6. The Mistress's blog post addressed advertising on public spaces such as Transit. Her subsequent comment further elaborated this position, and discussed how the Mistress believed Transit should be able to pay for itself.

    Thus, the topic hasn't been changed. Rather the premise behind Civic Mistress's position on making Transit "pay for itself" through "economies of scale" has been challenged.

  7. "The economic payoff from public goods comes in the provision of societal, health, and environmental benefits that the private sector will not provide due to their nature of externalizing costs."

    This statement represents the flaw in your theory Melba S, you (like many on the extreme left) fail to acknowledge that some private sector enterprises will provide societal, health and environmental benefits. Granted not all do (just like all people don't necessarily do the right thing), but to generalize and make broad based statements such as that above and attempt to pass it along as fact do nothing but diminish your points.

    The real question becomes to what extent do we require societal, health and environmental benefits? Herein lies the debate, there seems to be a split between what levels these should be provided at, and unfortunately it is a rather subjective answer to the question. To say otherwise is to essentially say "my opinion is right and your opinion is wrong".

  8. The private sector will only provide such benefits that proves beneficial to their bottom line - that is the nature of market economies. And even the likes of Adam Smith acknowledged that this is a problematic aspect of market proposals.

    With regard to what you believe is the real question, the issue then becomes finding a way to measure societal, health, and environmental benefits in a commodified fashion when, in essence, these are not commodities with a dollar value attached, but instead measures of a society's well-being.

    Your point is taken with regard to the debate on the extent these services should be provided, and thank you for stepping up to the plate on that.

  9. Melba S,

    I am not advocating to quantify the societal, health, and environmental benefits. I'm simply saying that opinions on satisfying these objectives vary quite significantly. For example, someone from Russia might step into Saskatchewan and believe that we have more than satisfied the necessary societal, health and environmental objectives, whereas someone from Sweden may step in and be under the impression that we have fallen quite short of these objectives. To narrow the gap slightly, in Saskatchewan NDP supporters tend to advocate for much higher societal, health and environmental benefits than the SaskParty. I don't mean to generalize between the two parties because to be honest, I know SaskParty members who are much more concerned for the above mentioned benefits than some members of the NDP I know, and vice versa.

    So in short form, before we can set out to accomplish and satisfy these benefits we need to have a clear understanding what they are. Both political parties have done an amazing job polarizing their respective supporters, so we are left with a situation where neither side can agree on at what point those benefits become satisfied. If we cannot even agree on that point it becomes moot in attempting to solve those issues to a certain degree (this is not an argument against providing any more support to societal, health or environmental benefits, but rather saying we are fighting an endless battle). There will always be someone who believes we have satisfied and exceeded our obligations to provide certain qualities of life, or societal well-being.

    You mention that these things are not commodities that you can attach a dollar amount too, not sure how you reached that conclusion from what I said. Rather you say they are a measure of society's well-being, I then pose what terms of measurement are you proposing? How is this determined? Is the measurement based on the "Western creation" of Human Rights?

    Finally, your point on the private sector only being concerned to the extent of their bottom line is another broad based statement that insinuates all companies, corporations and business is greedy and in it for themselves. I can litter you with examples of philanthropists and businesses who have willingly used their positions for the betterment of society. Not all business is evil Melba. Take for example Edward Rawlinson, successful business person who has poured significant amounts of money to the University of Saskatchewan. This was not done to advance his business (unless you propose to argue that he only did so on condition the building was named after him- for the record, he didn't) interests through name recognition. The private sector is not the enemy in achieving societal, health and environmental benefit, but rather a party to work with cooperatively in achieving our goals. Taking your positions simply divides a deeper wedge and perpetuates misinformation.

  10. As for your references to Adam Smith and market economies, they are irrelevant on the current debate. We run a perverted version of a market economy and that is not changing, especially in Saskatchewan. A market economy does not support monopolies (such as SGI or SaskPower), that we love in Saskatchewan. It does not support bailouts to failing companies (hello Auto manufacturers- other than Ford). So please leave the market economy references out of this debate, we do not have a pure market economy which Adam Smith was referencing and acknowledged. Those words are not applicable when looking at our current system.

  11. Anon...

    The basic guidelines of western society are primarily indoctrinated in market dogma. Decisions are made with a great deal of influence from economic determinists, hence the neoliberal bent of every political party in power - NDP, SaskParty, Liberal, Conservative, Labour, whatever. Yet, the more market measures and values are applied to allocation of health care, education, and the environment (concepts that should be measured in multifarious factors, not just economic ones), the greater social and economic stratification become.

    Thus, to have such a debate means that one first must disprove that market values are the only effective allocator of goods and the only effective solution to problems facing public goods: the folly of Adam Smith's theory is fair game if we want to apply market values in our society.

    With regard to acts by philanthropists, your offer to litter one-off examples are just that - litter - the evidence as a whole clearly has proven that business will externalize costs. This is exactly why we have a regulated market system.

    I never said the private sector was the enemy - they are of significant value in creating societal well-being, and the primary vehicle for doing so in our current societal structure. However, left to their own devices, unregulated markets will never raise the tide for all. And until we deconstruct this "miracle of the markets" framing of public discourse, we will never be able to get to a point where we define what values we want to shape the public sphere.

  12. that's what she said


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