I read an article the other day about billboards which are the planning stage in East Norriton. From the article, it appears that there are many residents that are opposed to the idea and the zoning hearing board is currently in litigation about it. Billboards have been around for a very long time and it is very evident that many residents object to them cluttering the visual landscape.
There is an organization in Philadelphia that has been looking to get rid of billboards for many years. It’s known as Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB). Its mission, as per their website is “is to promote healthy, vibrant and beautiful public spaces throughout all of Philadelphia by using advocacy, public awareness and education, community mobilization and legal action”.
Another organization called Scenic America has fought on the national scene for many years. They call billboards “visual pollution. Sky Trash. Litter on a stick. The junk mail of the American highway.” Their reason for doing all this is that they feel the billboards destroy the natural beauty of the countryside and that the proliferation of billboards threatens American’s communities. They list several alternatives to information about the background of billboards in America. Both of these organizations provide a wealth of information. I remember when I was on council that we tried to enlist the help of both of these organizations to fight the billboards on the corner of Markley and West Marshall Streets. We lost that battle.
On the other side, you have billboard advertising companies and advertisers themselves arguing for the right of commercial free speech. This is the argument that is currently be used against the Norristown handbill ordinance. It seems as if opponents to litter and scenic beauty proponents are up against some pretty powerful people as commercial companies have more at their disposal than the average citizen arguing for personal free speech.
It remains to be seen as the battle rages on between who is right and who will win. Personally I hate billboards but can understand the need for businesses and organizations to spread the word about their product or service. The very existence of billboards in an area has historically been areas of low income often observed by the pictures used on the advertising, and in my opinion it keeps potential residents and businesses away for that area. I hope the residents in East Norriton make their voices heard and they succeed, but know it will be a hard battle because they are fighting with a corporation with many resources at their disposal.