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Billboards: Are They the Scourge of the City?

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Watch out, Philly: The Franklin Institute is hellbent on tearing the "calm grandeur" of the Ben Franklin Parkway asunder. Its weapon of choice? A 10 ft by 6ft electronic sign. But if you've been following the news, you know that the Franklin Institute isn't the only peace-destroying billboard proponent at large. In fact, billboards have been at the center of several recent kerfuffles involving the visual and architectural fate of the city.

The sign that the Franklin Institute wants to put up would replace the 10x6 sign they've already got up and would have two sides. Though zoning code prohibits electronic signage within 200 ft of Fairmount Park grounds, the Franklin Institute is seeking a variance, presumably because they hate beauty, or maybe because they'd like people to see the sign at night. Scenic Philadelphia worries that the sign would set a precedent and open the door to slow slide toward neon Gomorrah yawning horribly down the parkway toward oblivion (or I-76, whatever.)

The Central Delaware Advocacy group is also concerned about billboards: they're pushing for restrictions on billboards along the Delaware riverfront. And earlier this week, Philaphilia published an excellent and foul-mouthed rant about some billboards on Spring Garden.

On the one hand, fears about a relatively small sign might be just a bit overblown, and these kinds of disagreements tend to sound a just a little silly. On the other hand, lots of anti-blight and city-planning activists take billboards seriously, and for good reason. Billboard revenues can encourage property owners to leave land vacant, save for a billboard support. Restrictive zoning codes can seem absurd and nit-picky, but good zoning can go a long way toward improving quality of life for city residents.

So maybe concerns about billboards are a little overblown, but it is important to consider long term impacts of small changes to the urban landscape. Even so, we're guessing a 10x6 electronic sign on the parkway won't ruin the "calm grandeur."
· Franklin Institute's Proposed Digital Billboard Draws Fire From Anti-Blight Groups [CBS Philly]
· Billboard Blocking View at Center of Zoning Controversy [Curbed Philly]
· Empty Lot of the Week: Spring Garden Violation Shit Lot [City Paper/Philaphilia]