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For sale: Canberra sky, barely used

By Chris Endrey - 20 June 2017 21

Canberra has had a ban on billboards since the 1930s, should we overturn that now?

There’s growing noise in the community surrounding a Parliamentary Inquiry which will review the restriction of billboard advertising in the ACT. Chief Minister Andrew Barr has flagged the need for the review in light of mobile traffic billboards and banners being draped from buildings that are stretching the current restrictions. However, this cynic is not alone in noting that the timing coincides with an opportunity for the Government to cash in on the skyline real estate opening along with our new light rail routes.

Submissions for the inquiry close COB 20 June and I think it’s a great opportunity to reflect on how we value our public space and consider who advertising really best serves.

It goes without saying that, for better or worse, Northbourne Avenue is our Champs Élysées. This key axis was inked by Marion’s own hand and typically only the fly-in-fly-out dorks of the Hill live their lives without intersecting with it.

Who wins when every new traveller to Canberra is directed to Subway™ and not Bite To Eat or Smith’s Alternative? Probably not our visitors, certainly not our society, and quite likely not our fragile reputation either.

The products and atmosphere of so many local businesses obliterate those of the big dog advertisers by the measure of anyone but the coldest of free market psychos – yet you can imagine the exponential difference in their daily takings.

The capacity to fill public space is sadly determined by profitability and scale rather than value or quality. To introduce billboards is to punish those businesses that invest profits into our vibrant community and deliver a free kick for those whose money chiefly goes to Sydney moorings or maintaining empty offices in Panama.

How we use our public space may seem an abstract triviality, but the skewed flow of information can have an enormous impact on our lives.

The deleterious effect of advertising upon our psychological wellbeing is also widely studied, with the American Psyhchological Association having called for strict regulation of ads targeting children in particular for decades. A taskforce from that same organisation linked depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and low self-esteem to the sexualisation of girls in advertising. The rate of these symptoms across the general population are the face of a costly social crisis, with a nexus of causes that are admittedly extremely difficult to address.

I’m not pretending that protecting a few square metres on Limestone will safeguard all of our mental health. But knowing with full certainty that exposure to advertising is a factor in such severe harm, do we then willingly sell these problems more terrain in our society for mere thousands of dollars?

We are increasingly wary of gambling ads during sports matches and outright uncomfortable with junk food ads that target children. The national ban on cigarette advertising is a well-accepted reality. We tacitly share the understanding that advertising’s social cost isn’t always worth the trade.

To this absurdist, going out of our way to give up Canberra’s uniquely quiet skyline seems beyond absurd.

Regrettably, I am a good-for-nothing smartarse, and if the ban is relaxed, I’ll be tempted to pass around a hat to buy a billboard saying ‘The ACT Hates You’ – just to subtly sledgehammer the point home.

Public space that is sold off is almost never reclaimed. If we are to fundamentally change the aesthetic of our fair town, we must be certain that it actually is to the benefit of all.

If you have a position on the matter (even if you’re the type of raging weirdo who disagrees with me), I recommend you make a contribution to the Inquiry into Billboards before COB Tuesday 20 June and join in the discussion below. Even just a sentence or two will be lodged with the Committee and adds your voice to the matter.

Billboard

What’s Your opinion?


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21 Responses to
For sale: Canberra sky, barely used
1
David Jukes 7:49 am
20 Jun 17
#

We are facing a growing problem of motor vehicle driver distraction. Please don’t give driver’s another excuse to take their eyes off the road!

I don’t really accept that advertisers believe they will attract they eyeballs of light rail passengers who will probably be focused on smartphones, books and more immediate concerns.

2
watto23 8:36 am
20 Jun 17
#

I just can’t see how there is any benefit to Canberra to allow billboards. Even earning money from allowing them is a pittance compared to other revenue streams. The unfortunate side effect of Capitalism is things that make money are good and things that don’t make money are bad and the cost and value to society is often under or over valued to suit those with a vested interest. Its partly why a CBA of the NBN or light rail is almost impossible to do, because what one person values highly is what another person thinks is unimportant.

But surely even in Canberra we all agree billboards are not needed and would not raise enough money for them to even justify their existence.

3
Stephanie Lopez 8:39 am
20 Jun 17
#

No, no, no, no! Chris – I think you are onto something there – love the slogan #KeepCBRNude

4
Lucy Wilson 9:03 am
20 Jun 17
#

Billboards look horrible! Let’s keep them out of Canberra. I’m sure the government will cash in on advertising down the side of the trams.

5
CanberraStreets 9:21 am
20 Jun 17
#

How big does a roadside advertisement have to be to stop being a legal-ish placard (like the rash of voting advisories that appear near election times) and become an illegal billboard?

6
dungfungus 9:28 am
20 Jun 17
#

David Jukes said :

We are facing a growing problem of motor vehicle driver distraction. Please don’t give driver’s another excuse to take their eyes off the road!

I don’t really accept that advertisers believe they will attract they eyeballs of light rail passengers who will probably be focused on smartphones, books and more immediate concerns.

When was the last time you rode on a tram? Passengers generally stand and this is the “immediate concern” as hands are needed to grab a strap or a rail. This makes it virtually impossible to do the other things you alluded to.

And on the subject of the tram, aren’t the enclosures surrounding the construction areas adorned with advertising about the project? Why is this different to a billboard?

7
dungfungus 9:30 am
20 Jun 17
#

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the mobile billboards AKA ACTION busses.

8
Chris Endrey 10:34 am
20 Jun 17
#

dungfungus said :

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the mobile billboards AKA ACTION busses.

I think this is unfair, I recently saw a daytime ACTION bus with as many as some passengers.

9
dungfungus 10:40 am
20 Jun 17
#

Chris Endrey said :

dungfungus said :

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the mobile billboards AKA ACTION busses.

I think this is unfair, I recently saw a daytime ACTION bus with as many as some passengers.

It must have been one without sign-writing then because the ones with the windows covered with advertising make it impossible to see inside.

For all we know, the passengers (if any) could be have been nude!

10
bronal 10:47 am
20 Jun 17
#

But surely billboards will make Canberra more ‘vibrant’.

11
Josh Mulrine 11:00 am
20 Jun 17
#

Well researched article Chris. I think the number of billboards we have now is ok. I don’t mind seeing them on buildings like the back of Canberra Theatre or even the Canberra Centre carpark. I mostly filter them out anyway.

If we were to litter them down Northbourne Av then we risk losing our image of The Bush Capital. Then we will have to recast our votes for next year’s number plate slogan. Perhaps it could read ‘losing our identity’.

12
Imogen Ebsworth 11:41 am
20 Jun 17
#

couldn’t agree more Chris. As a new resident to Canberra it is downright refreshing to be in a city with minimal outdoor advertising and such a strong emphasis on greenspace and connection to Australia’s environment. This is Canberra’s core point of differentiation, and as the home of most of our major national cultural institutions, surely the point of difference can be increased by showcasing public art displays, creating dynamic and inclusive public space that is everyone’s.

13
dungfungus 12:05 pm
20 Jun 17
#

Josh Mulrine said :

Well researched article Chris. I think the number of billboards we have now is ok. I don’t mind seeing them on buildings like the back of Canberra Theatre or even the Canberra Centre carpark. I mostly filter them out anyway.

If we were to litter them down Northbourne Av then we risk losing our image of The Bush Capital. Then we will have to recast our votes for next year’s number plate slogan. Perhaps it could read ‘losing our identity’.

Signs down Northbourne Avenue with bullet holes would ensure we would retain a bush capital identity.

14
dungfungus 2:01 pm
20 Jun 17
#

“Northbourne Avenue is our Champs Élysées.”

Well, not for long as soon our Northbourne Avenue, with all wires currently underground, will be scarred permanently by the ugly wire-scape that goes wherever trams are.

The one in Paris is free of that vista impediment.

15
Rol 2:35 pm
20 Jun 17
#

How about everyone commenting here goes and puts in a submission?
I have! act!

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