, Salem, MA

October 22, 2012

Letter: Beauty sells, blight repels

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

In regards to the Oct. 15 article (“Peabody seeks more control over billboards”), while it’s true that the Highway Beautification Act of 1965 is the landmark piece of federal legislation dealing with billboards, communities have been trying to limit outdoor advertising since long before that.

The Outdoor Circle formed in Hawaii 100 years ago and by 1926 had rid the islands of all billboards. The state is now one of four with no billboards (the others are Maine, Vermont and Alaska). Hundreds of other cities and counties have banned construction of billboards, realizing that “beauty sells and blight repels.”

All around the country the billboard industry, finding itself increasingly unpopular with the public, is approaching city leaders with the mantra: “Let’s stop fighting and make money together!”

While it may be tempting for municipalities facing budget shortfalls to get in bed with the billboard industry, local officials should remember that these signs will change the way their community looks, and for a very long time.

The new generation of digital billboards are essentially TVs-on-a-stick that project ambient light into the night sky and into the windows of neighboring homes and businesses.

As marketing experts are saying that billboards are a deprecated and increasingly ineffective form of advertising, city leaders should ask themselves: Is it worth surrendering the public realm to advertisers in exchange for a bit of money, while at the same time encouraging residents and businesses to seek out places that are more visually appealing?

Max R. Ashburn

Scenic America

Washington, D.C.