Scenic America Board Chair talks aesthetic regulations in NYC
Scenic America Board Chair Ronald Lee Fleming was a featured speaker during a recent public symposium on aesthetic regulations at the historic Arsenal building in Central Park.
The event was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the 1913 report
by the Mayor's Billboard Advertising Commission of the City of New York. Panelists discussed the origins of aesthetic regulation in New York, delved into present day situations where policy has fallen short in protecting historic and scenic views, and discussed potential tools to solve these shortcomings.
Anthony C. Wood, author of Preserving New York: Winning the Right to Protect a City's Landmarks
, gave a presentation on the history of the city’s scenic regulations and moderated a panel that in addition to Mr. Fleming included Matthew Goebel, author of Aesthetics, Community Character, and the Law, and Carol Clark, Adjunct Associate Professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture Planning and Preservation.
The event was co-sponsored by the New York Preservation Archive Project
, Scenic America, the Historic Districts Council
, the Neighborhood Preservation Center
, the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center
, and the Historic House Trust of New York City
Watch video of the event below:
Lawsuit over digital billboards gets green light to proceed
Scenic America won a preliminary legal victory when a federal judge ruled that the group has standing to challenge a 2007 Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ruling that allowed digital billboards to proliferate on federal-aid highways across the country.
Scenic America, represented by the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown Law School, filed the lawsuit in January 2013 asking the Court to overturn the 2007 FHWA memorandum that reversed decades of policy that prohibited signs with "flashing, blinking or intermittent" lighting on federal-aid highways.
Click here to download the Court's ruling (PDF).
Scenic America is pleased with Judge Boasberg’s decision that we have standing to bring this lawsuit. It has been six years since a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) ruling allowed digital billboards to start proliferating on federal-aid highways around the country, contravening both the spirit and letter of the Highway Beautification Act. As a result traffic safety is being compromised and quality of life is being degraded for people who live, work or travel in the vicinity of these bright, blinking billboards. Scenic America filed this lawsuit only after waiting years for FHWA officials to take action on our properly filed administrative review petition. We look forward to the Court hearing the full merits of the case.
Middletown, Rhode Island receives award for removing billboards
Scenic America has presented town officials in Middletown, Rhode Island with an award for "Excellence in Leadership" for removing billboards along one of the main gateway roads into the town. (Click here to watch video of the award presentation).
The removal of East Main Road billboards (seen at right in before/after photos) came earlier this year after the town's lease with the billboard company expired. Despite some pressure to retain the billboards, town leaders decided it was more important to improve Middletown's visual environment by removing the billboards.
Scenic America Board Chair Ronald Lee Fleming congratulated Middletown Town Council President Christopher Semonelli for his commitment to preserve Middletown’s scenic character and for town leaders' resolve in pursuing the matter. The town council has been trying to figure out how to evict the billboards since 2009. Last year, in a 4-2 vote, the council voted to let the contract expire and remove the billboards.
"There were three others that formed the majority in the vote," said Semonelli as he accepted the award. "It looks so much more beautiful. Now there isn’t a billboard, there is a beautiful trail that leads off to the forests."
Governor Chafee receives Stafford Award for beautification program
Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee has received Scenic America’s Stafford Award for his leadership in establishing a highway beautification program aimed at improving the visual appearance of the state’s roadways. The award was presented
during a recent reception in Newport hosted by the group’s chairman, Ronald Lee Fleming. An award for excellence in transportation leadership was given to Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RI DOT) Director Michael P. Lewis for his skill in implementing the program.
Gov. Chafee receives the Stafford Award from Ronald Lee Fleming, Board Chair, and Mary Tracy, President. Photo courtesy Newport Seen.
"We applaud Governor Chafee for his visionary leadership and Director Lewis for guiding this exciting initiative," said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. "Communities all over the country are recognizing the value of attractive gateways, and Rhode Island is leading the way in creating beautiful scenes for all to enjoy."
Begun in 2012, the beautification program
seeks to strengthen tourism and promote economic development while also improving the aesthetic character of key gateway areas to the state. One unique aspect of the program involves commissioning local artists to design murals depicting scenes of historic, aesthetic or cultural significance to Rhode Island. The images are then installed by professional muralists on abutments and retaining walls along some of the state’s busiest roadways.
Scenic America President Mary Tracy gives an award to RI DOT Director Mike Lewis.
The first mural went up last year
on the Wampanoag Overpass Bridge, visible on I-195 West in East Providence, and depicts sailboats in a Narragansett Bay waterscape. The image was designed by renowned local artist Anthony Russo and was selected by the Governor. In addition to improving the visual appearance of the state’s roadways, the murals are intended to help discourage vandalism and graffiti.Former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic candidate for president, was a guest of honor at the event. Also present were Newport Mayor Henry F. Winthrop, Christopher T. Semonelli, President of the Middletown Town Council, and Jonathan Stevens, Gov. Chafee's Director of Special Projects. Both Gov. Chafee and RI DOT Director Lewis gave much of the credit for the project's success to Mr. Stevens.
Governor Chafee and Governor Dukakis.
Also in attendance were representatives from a dozen Scenic affiliates around the country, including Massachusetts, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Florida and Georgia.
The Stafford Award is named for former U.S. Senator Robert Stafford of Vermont, for his concern for the environment and efforts to strengthen federal highway beautification laws. In 1993 Scenic America presented the award to the Governor’s father, Senator John Chaffee, for his longtime support of scenic byways and context-sensitive road design. Other previous recipients include Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Governor Pete Wilson of California and U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.
Newport, R.I. declares July 12 to be "Ronald Lee Fleming Day"
For his nearly boundless efforts to amplify beauty, preserve historic character and cultivate civic pride, Newport, R.I. has declared July 12 to be “Ronald Lee Fleming Day” in the city, under a proclamation signed by Mayor Harry Winthrop. Mr. Fleming is currently Chair of Scenic America's Board of Directors.
"Mr. Fleming is a recognized authority in the role of art in creating vibrant, livable places, adding luster to Newport’s worldwide reputation as a showcase of art and architecture," reads the first paragraph of the proclamation.
"I can think of no one who has done more to help beautify not only the communities in which he lives, but in many ways our whole country," said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. "Ron has an amazing ability to envision what a place could be, and the energy, passion and commitment to see it through. He is a tremendous leader for our organization, as well as a wonderful friend. We congratulate Ron on this well-deserved honor."
Mr. Fleming's Bellevue House occupies a prominent place at the beginning of the famed boulevard of the same name in Newport. Thanks to Mr. Fleming’s generosity, the city has planted more than 20,000 daffodil bulbs a year for the past eight years, for a total of more than 160,000 bulbs. The daffodils can be seen every spring at the entrances to the city and extend from Farewell Street to Memorial Boulevard and along the Cliff Walk.
He is the author of several books, most recently "The Art of Placemaking: Interpreting Community Through Public Art and Urban Design." Previous books include, "Place Makers: Creating Public Art That Tells You Where You Are," "On Common Ground: Caring for Shared Land from Village Green to Urban Park,"” and "Facade Stories: Changing Faces of Main Street and How to Care for Them."
Mr. Fleming has been involved in various philanthropic efforts in Newport over the years. He donated the funding to research and create the Bellevue Avenue History Trail, a series of markers that detail the history and preservation of Bellevue Avenue buildings from the Newport Casino to Rough Point. He paid to replace concrete and asphalt on a traffic island located at the intersection of Bellevue, Coggeshall and Ocean avenues, just east of Bailey’s Beach, with a garden featuring beach roses, native junipers and grasses, dark mulch and accent stones.
Click here to read more in the Newport Daily News.
Miami becoming a "Billboard Jungle" according to new article
The August 2013 cover story of the Biscayne Times takes an in-depth look at how the outdoor advertising industry, with help from complicit local and state officials, has succeeded in covering up much of the city with billboards, wall wraps and other outdoor advertising. If something isn't done to stop them, Miami will truly be a "Billboard Jungle."
Which would you rather look at: A nice example of contemporary architecture or a beer bottle?
While the city has seen a proliferation of all types of outdoor advertising, it has seen an alarming increase in what billboard companies are calling "murals," but what in reality are billboards plastered onto the sides of buildings: condos, office towers and even municipal properties.
Covering the west wall of the Miami River Center, the city’s administrative office building, is a huge advertising mural. The Van Wagner company pays Miami $9250 per month plus a percentage of revenue for the privilege of using its building as a giant billboard. The murals draped over the Miami River Center have included ads for Heineken beer, a Spike TV show called Auction Hunters, and most recently, CNN’s new morning show A New Day.
Advertising such as this is not permitted within 600 feet of an interstate highway. The city's building is less than 300 feet from Interstate 95.
Bill Brinton calls this sign "the most illegal billboard in America."
"A billboard at this particular site represents the most egregious violation of the Highway Beautification Act that I have ever seen," said Bill Brinton, outside counsel to Scenic America. "And I can tell you that I have seen thousands of violations over the past 30 years. Behind these billboards are the 7th floor offices for the Miami Code Enforcement Department, the 8th floor offices for the Miami Public Works Department, and the 9th floor offices of the Office of the City Attorney."
Brinton calls this sign "the most illegal billboard in America."
Click here to read the full article.
Vista, Calif. rejects digital billboards on city property
Faced with mounting opposition, the City of Vista, Calif. has cancelled a controversial plan to erect two double-sided digital billboards on City-owned parcels adjacent to State Route 78, a major east-west freeway in Northern San Diego County.
The project would have constituted the largest influx of digital billboard blight in San Diego County to date, and abandonment of the proposal is a major victory for those who care about traffic safety, community character and aesthetics, energy conservation and property values.
Click here to learn more.
City of Ann Arbor passes ban on digital billboards
The Ann Arbor City Council has passed an amendment to the city’s outdoor advertising ordinance to prohibit digital billboards, including the conversion of existing static signs to digital.
“[Billboards] were described on the council floor as blight. I think they intrude on the visual environment of the city,” said Councilmember Chris Taylor. He said digital billboards only increase the level of intrusion and therefore the ordinance was changed to protect the residents of Ann Arbor.
“We applaud city leaders in Ann Arbor for taking this bold and forward-thinking step,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “Cities all across the country are under immense pressure from a powerful industry to allow these glaring, blinking digital billboards within their borders. Ann Arbor is among the cities leading the way by saying ‘No’ to these new forms of visual pollution.”
Municipalities around the country are moving to prohibit digital billboards over safety, aesthetic and quality of life concerns. Ann Arbor joins other cities such as Denver, St. Louis, San Francisco and Knoxville in banning the signs.
“The case against digital billboards grows every day,” said Tracy, citing numerous incidents of neighborhoods and cityscapes being dramatically altered by the introduction of the bright, constantly-changing signs. “We get many calls from residents whose quality of life has been greatly diminished by a digital billboard glaring into their bedrooms, living rooms or back porches.”
Tracy also cites a growing body of evidence that suggests digital billboards pose a threat to traffic safety. Experts agree that anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increase the risk of a crash. “Bright, constantly-changing digital billboards are designed expressly to attract and hold the attention of drivers,” she said.
Scenic America has filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the lawfulness of a 2007 Federal Highway Administration ruling that allowed digital billboards to start proliferating along Interstate and federal-aid highways.
Neal Peirce column urges an end to spread of digital billboards
Legendary syndicated columnist Neal Peirce has written an article condemning the unchecked proliferation of digital billboards, particularly those along federal roads that are supposed to be protected by the Highway Beautification Act.
In his column
, Peirce says, "there have been no nationwide U.S. surveys to gauge Americans’ opinion of the digital boards. But there’s little question — in communities where citizens have a strong voice, opposition is high."
Responding to the industry's claim that digital billboards should be tolerated because of their potential safety uses, Peirce asks: "Aren’t such warnings fundamentally the responsibility of state and local governments? Must drivers be watching private advertising billboards to catch crucial emergency information?"
Peirce, a member of the Washington Post Writers Group, has long been a foremost writer among American journalists on state and local governments, metropolitan regions and their political and economic dynamics
California State Sen. Mark Leno gets Stafford Award
Scenic America presented its Stafford Award to California State Senator Mark Leno for his longtime support of scenic beauty and his bold efforts to combat billboard blight in the state.
While on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Leno introduced legislation to restrict the placement of advertising on the sides of buildings, increased fines for illegal signs and required all billboards to display license numbers. "For the first time, billboards operators were held accountable,” said Milo Hanke, Past President of San Francisco Beautiful. "We found more than half of the billboards in the city to be operating illegally, and it was Mark Leno's legislation that led the way to taking them down."
Left to right: Mary Tracy, Sen. Mark Leno, Milo Hanke
More recently, Leno introduced Senate Bill 690, which sought to give local governments the authority to force owners to remove or modify billboards that violate their original conditions. At the bill’s introduction Leno said that it made no sense that the billboard industry’s ill-gotten gains were protected by state law, which was obviously "written for the industry, not the community."
"We are thrilled to present this award to Senator Leno for standing tall against the forces of blight," said Mary Tracy, Scenic America President. "We commend him for not backing down against a billboard industry that has deep pockets and a track record of using intimidation to get what it wants."
The Stafford Award is named for former U.S. Senator Robert Stafford of Vermont, for his concern for the environment and efforts to strengthen federal highway beautification laws. Previous recipients include Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Governor Pete Wilson of California, Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island and U.S. Transportation Secretary Federico Pena.