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Vancouver is not alone in its battle over light: The anti-light pollution, anti-digital-billboard revolution is going strong

January 28th, 2012 · 25 Comments

BC Place and PavCo have no idea what they walked into by putting up three digital billboards on the side of the arena when it re-opened after renovations last fall.

We’ve tended to look at the flashing signs — and the local resident complaints about it — as just some local piece of whininess or outrageous and insensitive behaviour, depending on your point of view.

But, as I discovered when I got the exceptionally fun job of checking into the issues of urban light, this is far from a Vancouver-only issue. Digital billboards and digital signs are the new frontier of urban debate in cities all around North America, as I mention in my Globe feature here. I mentioned the anti-digital billboard fight in Los Angeles, where activist Dennis Hathaway told me all about his group’s opposition to a deal that LA city council cut with CBS Outdoors and Clear Channel Outdoors to allow them to convert 840 conventional bill boards to digital.

I didn’t get to squeeze in the fact that Denver and Tacoma, among several other cities, have banned digital billboards. That Arizona went to court to prevent them along highways and, I’ve been told, won the most recent round. That people in LA are also fighting the creation of new “sign districts” — commercial strips where advertisers can put up any number of corporate logos and digital advertising signs on buildings.

So the BC Place wrangle is just the beginning of what could be more fights over digital advertising, because the outdoor-advertising people looooove these signs. They allow for much more advertising in the same space, since the ads change constantly. They can be controlled from a remote computer. And they attract more attention.

And this, as I note, is coming at a time when cities are actually trying to minimize light pollution, by putting caps on streetlights, dimming them, trying new light technologies and so on.


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