Ads-Free City?

Next December, a new bylaw is planned to dictate that all billboards should be eliminated in the capital, in order to clean up the landscape and limit the amount of advertising we are bombarded with on a daily basis.

The 400-year-old city is proposing a bylaw to wipe out large ad panels across much of the Quebec capital region in the next five years.

Serge Viau, the city's assistant director general, says billboards mask Quebec City's European architecture and stunning views.

"With the goal of cleaning up the urban landscape in mind, we decided to make the signs disappear," Viau said of proposed changes to the city's urban plan.

He says in today's age of junk mail and overloaded e-mail inboxes, there's no need for imposing visual pollution.

"These days, there are lots of ways to advertise," Viau said. "We are inundated by advertising everywhere."

This morning, Le Soleil reported that the three most important companies that own these billboards will fight back in the coming months, after being almost absent from the debate until now.

The main argument against this sort of advertising is that it doesn't fit with the scenery in Quebec and I completely agree...to a certain extent.

You will soon see that I'm all about "the middle ground", meaning the extremes rarely provide good solutions or insights and only bring the worst out of every situation.

In this case, nobody can really argue that a huge billboard in the Old Quebec district is appealing or even remotely good for anybody.

However, like it's often the case, the people in power have this tendency to declare an all-out war on the phenomenon, although it would be hard for them to convince most citizens that a billboard on the side of the Autoroute de la Capitale really worsens the landscape.  

Not only do these ads bring in revenue for the city, but they also create jobs in the region and that should be the bottom line when you consider how unharmful a billboard can be in an industrialized zone.

In the same edition, Le Soleil presents what happened in Oakville, a city midway between Toronto and Hamilton in Ontario. What bothers me is that the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the bylaw in courts against advertising company, at a time when cities could spend the money elsewhere.

"The cost has never been a problem", confides the mayor (Rob Burton), "that's a decision by the community that has survived many different city administrations".

Can anyone else see the error in that picture?

As with any other problems, there is a solution, but both parties have to be ready to give up a little in order to gain a lot.  That's a start:

CBS Outdoor would consider relocating unwanted billboards to accommodate the changing urban landscape, Lefebvre (billboard company executive) added.

I don't think Quebec City has a big problem with billboards. The ones that are here seem to be well maintained and inadvertantly attractive. Compared to some cities, our billboards are well placed and are not lined up like soldiers in a row along major arteries. Don't see a problem. JP