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Above the Law Report Sarah Richards – 2/18/13

Scenic Philadelphia Press Release

PHILADELPHIA, February 20, 2013    Above the Law and Under the Radar: The Philadelphia Billboard Industry’s Failure to Comply with Local, State, and Federal Laws identifies over 100 billboards located along Philadelphia’s federal aid highways in violation of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA).  This widespread failure to comply with the HBA is expected to trigger a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) audit and possible penalties which could cost the City millions of dollars in lost federal-aid highway funding unless the billboard structures and sign faces are brought into compliance.

Continue reading Above the Law Report Sarah Richards – 2/18/13

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Billboard Ban in Mount Laurel Upheld by Federal Court

Jan Hefler, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

In a 14-page opinion released this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third District in Philadelphia upheld Mount Laurel’s 2008 billboard ban the township’s stretches of I-295 and the New Jersey Turnpike.

Interstate Outdoor Advertising L.P. appealed, saying the ordinance was unconstitutional because it limited free speech and was based on flawed traffic studies.

The court said that the town’s “conclusion that billboards affect traffic safety and aesthetics” was reasonable, and that municipalities have the right to regulate billboards.

Interstate Outdoor, a regional billboard company, had sought permission from the town’s zoning board to erect four billboards along I-295, a six-lane highway, the opinion said. Drew A. Katz, chief executive of Interstate Outdoor, also is a director of Interstate General Media, the company that owns The Inquirer. His father, Lewis Katz, a partner in Interstate General Media, is former chairman of Interstate Outdoor.

Interstate Outdoor presented an expert witness who testified that an analysis of accidents on I-295 revealed it was not a hazardous highway in Mount Laurel. But the court noted that it was possible the “precise reason the accident rate is so low” is the lack of billboards.

The ruling means Mount Laurel “will retain its existing ‘billboard-free’ ” character, said Christopher J. Norman, the township’s special counsel in the case. Only two small billboards appear within the town’s borders because they were erected before the ordinance was adopted.

Norman said “the opinion sets the law on regulating billboards” in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. Louis L. D’Arminio, who represented Interstate Outdoor, did not return a call for comment.

The court agreed that the town’s ordinance limited Interstate’s speech but said that was overshadowed by regulatory interests. “Interstate alleges that the complete ban on billboard messages does not allow for alternative channels for communication . . . to the specific target audience of the drivers traveling on I-295,” the court wrote.

But there are many alternative ways to get the message out, including Internet advertising, direct mail, radio, newspapers, and television, the court said.

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Inga Saffron: Digital Signs – 2/8/13

Philadelphia Inquirer Article
You might think television sets can’t get any bigger than they already are, yet last week, Philadelphia came close to installing one of the world’s largest: a seven-story-high digital screen on the south facade of the Electric Factory building at Seventh and Callowhill Streets. Instead of broadcasting your favorite shows, this jumbo tube would have beamed advertisements across the city 24 hours a day.
Click here to read more
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We had a victory…but it’s not over!

Digital billboards on Vine Street

Do we want this to be the future of the Electric Factory building?

Round One: Mayor Nutter Vetoed the Digital Wallwrap Bill 120920 because, among many good reasons is the fact that Philadelphia will lose upwards of $100 million dollars in federal highway fundingby allowing this one giant digital advertising sign. Councilman Squilla did NOT call for a vote to override the veto.

Round Two: Next Thursday, Jan 31st at 10:00 Room 400 City Hall, Councilman Squilla will have his last chance to call for an override of the Mayor’s veto of Bill 120920. Please continue to contact our seven at- large council members and ten district council members.

The Bill’s sponsor, Councilman Squilla may still try to round up the 12 votes needed to override the Mayor’s veto and has until next Thursday to do so. So take a few moments this week to contact our at-large and your district council members.

Thank you for your advocacy in protecting Philadelphia’s scenic gateway!

Click Here to read Mayor Nutters letter to the City Council!

Click Here to read PennDot’s letter to the President of the City Council!

Email City Council!

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Billboard Industry Cites Discredited Report in Response to Safety Study

Swedish digital billboardThe investigative journalism group FairWarning exposes the billboard industry for citing discredited research in their efforts to diminish a recent Swedish study that found digital billboards to be quite distracting.

“In an effort to dismiss the findings, the industry’s top trade group quickly cited an unpublished U.S. government study to argue that the electronic displays pose no traffic safety hazard.

But as FairWarning reported last February, publication of the federal study has been delayed indefinitely because expert reviewers concluded that its key findings were not believable.”

Click here to read their report.

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Digital billboards dangerously distracting to drivers says new study

A new study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish National Road and Transport Research Institute and funded by the Swedish Transport Administration, concludes that digital billboards attract and hold the gazes of drivers for far longer than a threshold that previous studies have shown to be dangerous.The Swedish government had given temporary authorization to erect digital billboards in 2009.  As a result of this and related studies, however, the government has ordered the removal of all digital billboards.

According to the research, drivers looked at digital billboards significantly longer than at other signs along the same route, in fact, often for more two seconds at a time. Study results were recently published in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention.

The study’s authors noted that it’s not surprising that digital billboards attract greater attention from drivers: the signs are brighter, visible from greater distances and display a constantly-changing series of advertisements. They concluded that digital billboards “have the potential ability to keep up the driver’s curiosity over an extended period of time.” Previous human behavior studies have shown that drivers are hardwired to notice bright, changing lights in their peripheral vision and to anticipate additional motion.

“This study validates what is common sense when it comes to digital billboards,” said Mary Tracy, president of Scenic America. “Bright, constantly-changing signs on the side of the road are meant to attract and keep the attention of drivers, and this study confirms that is exactly what they do.”

An earlier study by Virginia Tech in 2006 for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that anything that takes a driver’s eyes off the road for more than two seconds greatly increases the risk of a crash. The study also found that nearly 80% of all crashes involved driver inattention just prior to (within 3 seconds) of the crash.

The powerful pull of digital billboards is a topic that flickers across the news media in the U. S. now and then, but not long enough to create a wave of general protest or national regulation, at least not thus far.  In 2010, for example, the New York Times published a story called Driven to Distraction, in which the author noted that digital billboard critics refer to the medium as “television on a stick,” writing that: “These high-tech billboards marry the glow of Times Square with the immediacy of the Internet.”

Some cities have stepped in to ban digital billboards, but not many, and the billboard industry has been vocal in their defense.

The new Swedish study, as well as two other recently completed studies of digital billboards, will be presented during the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board in Washington, DC, on January 16, 2013.

To read the article online

Click here to read the report


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Court Orders Removal of 100 Digital Billboards Across L.A.

A digital billboard on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice. A panel ruled Monday that 100 of these digital billboards in Los Angeles must be taken down. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

A three-judge panel on Monday ruled that roughly 100 digital billboards installed in Los Angeles under a 2006 legal settlement approved by the Los Angeles City Council must be removed.

The panel from the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal said sign companies CBS Outdoor and Clear Channel outdoor should not have been allowed to convert their existing billboards to electronic formats when existing laws prohibited such changes. “We do not see how the language could be plainer,” the ruling states.

The panel instructed a lower court to order the removal of digital billboards already permitted under the agreement, many of which were on the Westside.

Dennis Hathaway, president of the Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight, hailed the ruling. “Needless to say, [it’s] a very happy day for us,” he said in an email.

Of the billboards that are at issue, 79 are operated by Clear Channel. The remainder were owned by CBS.

CBS and Clear Channel sued the city nearly a decade ago, seeking to block implementation of an ordinance banning the installation of new billboards except in special sign districts. In 2006, the council backed a settlement with the two companies that allowed them to convert up to 840 existing billboards to electronic formats.

Summit Outdoor, a smaller sign company, went to court to invalidate the agreement, calling it a sweetheart deal.

A judge sided with Summit, calling the agreement “poison” and blocking the city from allowing new digital signs to go up. But he refused to order the removal of the 100 or so billboards that had already been converted to digital formats under the 2006 settlement.

“It’s fantastic,” said Barbara Broide, president of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Blvd. Homeowners Assn., which filed an amicus brief in support of Summit Media’s lawsuit. “I think this is a hard-fought win. This city should be grateful to Summit for having brought the suit.”

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Fifteen Thirty Front Street

Neighbors and Church oppose 93 foot Billboard in their neighborhood

Scenic Philadelphia argued today before Court of Common Pleas Judge Idee Fox, that a billboard located in the Pennsport neighborhood should not be allowed to expand to a soaring 93 feet.  The sign would tower above homes, the National Landmark Old Swedes Church, playgrounds and graveyards.

The case, ongoing since 2011 has neighbors and community leaders unified against the sign.  Letter after letter was sent to the Zoning Board of Adjustment urging them not to grant a variance to raise the height of the sign… all to no effect.  The ZBA granted the variance and Scenic Philadelphia representing a neighbor living directly under the sign appealed to the Court of Common Pleas.  Stay tuned for the result.

If you would like to learn more about this case, or learn more about the upcoming City Council review of the proposed signage code (set for public hearing on Nov. 28th)  Please contact 215.731.1775 to learn more.  To view the proposed new code go to and search for bill # 120430.

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Digital billboard opposed by Chinatown residents

Click play above to watch a recent NBC10 segment on this billboard.

Towering over the sanctuary of the Chinese Christian Church and peering into the windows of newly renovated loft apartments is a huge billboard owned by Steen Outdoor Advertising. Steen wants to replace the existing billboard with a digital billboard whose bright flashing messages will change every 8 seconds. Local residents are opposed.

Scenic Philadelphia is representing Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Callowhill Neighbors, the Chinese Christian Church and Post Brothers in this case. This sign is located within the Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits the erection of new billboards and any reconstruction or changes to existing billboards.

Another digital billboard case will be heard later this fall:

  • 400 North 5th Street – Date to be determined

These hearings are opportunities for all Philadelphians to come out and influence the way your city looks. For more information on any of these hearings, or if you have questions about the visual environment in your neighborhood, please contact Scenic Philadelphia at 215-731-1775.

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Coming soon: The Mary Tracy Show

Production has begun on the debut episode of a new television series that will delve deeply into the issues affecting the visual environments of Philadelphia and beyond.  Mary Tracy, executive director of Scenic Philadelphia and a longtime community organizer, will host the show.  The show will feature in-depth interviews with scenic advocates, attorneys, public officials and others concerned with the quality of life in our city, state and country.

The launch date of The Mary Tracy Show will be announced soon.  In the meantime you can learn more about Mary and her journey from schoolteacher to public advocate in the video below:

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Digital billboard opposed by Chinatown residents

Click play above to watch a recent NBC10 segment on this billboard.

Towering over the sanctuary of the Chinese Christian Church and peering into the windows of newly renovated loft apartments is a huge billboard owned by Steen Outdoor Advertising.  Steen wants to replace the existing billboard with a digital billboard whose bright flashing messages will change every 8 seconds. Local residents are opposed.

Scenic Philadelphia is representing Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation, Callowhill Neighbors, the Chinese Christian Church and Post Brothers in this case. This sign is located within the Vine Street Parkway Area which prohibits the erection of new billboards and any reconstruction or changes to existing billboards.

Additional digital billboard cases will heard later this fall:

  • 1933 West Moyamensing on Sept 19th at 2:00pm
  • 400 North 5th Street on November 14th at 1:00pm

These hearings are opportunities for all Philadelphians to come out and influence the way your city looks.  For more information on any of these hearings, or if you have questions about the visual environment in your neighborhood, please contact Scenic Philadelphia at 215-731-1775.

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Scenic Philadelphia Represents Neighbors and Community Groups in Front of the Zoning Board of Adjustment to Prevent Digital Billboards from Taking Over the City

view from the other side2

1933 W. Moyamensing

Digital in Packer Park- Scenic Philadelphia, representing nine neighbors and the interests of the Packer Park and Marco Civic Associations, battled Keystone Outdoor Advertising Company.  Keystone is seeking a variance from the ZBA to install a new digital sign face, as well as elevating the supporting structure from 62 feet to 90 feet high at 1933 W. Moyamensing Avenue, in very close proximity to residents, schools, churches, ball fields and high speed highway interchanges.  There was so much testimony about this tight knit South Philadelphia neighborhood location that the hearing had to be continued (for the 5th time!).


400 N. 5th Street

On the same day that Scenic Philadelphia fought to keep digital signage out of South Philadelphia, we also sought to protect one of our most historic districts, as well as residents of Northern Liberties, Society Hill, Old City and Callowhill. Keystone replaced static billboards on top of the Smart Cube building (not so smart!) and now these digital signs are shining into lofts, apartments, and homes, and can be seen from some of the most treasured historic areas of the city.

Click here for the coverage on Fox 29 news,  where you witness the battle preparations all over Scenic’s office floor–a paper tornado of permits, variances, and letters from Council all in opposition to these two signs!  Due to several factors, including the overwhelming interest in this matter, however, the hearing was continued to a later date. But you can sign the Petition by clicking here and let your opinion be heard when this hugely important is matter is rescheduled.

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Pittsburgh July 9, 2012

Executive Director Mike Dawida will appear this afternoon on 90.5FM Essential Radio to discuss Pittsburgh’s Night Skyline at 12:00PM.

Dear Friend of Scenic Pittsburgh,

Scenic Pittsburgh’s Executive Director, Mike Dawida, will weigh in on advertising and the city skyline on 90.5FM Essential Public Radio’s afternoon talk show, Essential Pittsburgh.  The conversation will be broadcast live at 12:00PM this afternoon. If you can’t tune in at noon, the interview will be rebroadcast at 8:00PM tonight and will be available online at Check out the 90.5PM Essential Pittsburgh website for more information.

As always, thank you for your continued support of scenic preservation in our region.


Nichole Huff

Communications Director

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Billboard Industry is Successful in Gaining City Councils Approval to Pass Billboard Protection Bill 120417

The industry-sponsored Bill will allow dozens of condemned billboards to be reconstructed in currently prohibited areas located in the River Wards stretching from Allegheny to Rhawn Streets.   Since 1991, billboards have been prohibited in areas within 300 feet of residences, and 660 feet of schools, parks and playgrounds.  Councilman Henon sponsored Bill 120417 which exempts billboard companies from having to comply with these restrictions.

bill 120417 june 11 2012

Bill 120417 will allow this towering billboard to be rebuilt in the midst of another block of homes, and contrary to Philadelphia’s 1991 sign laws prohibiting billboards near residences, schools, parks and playgrounds.

The legislation detracts from the neighborhoods’ efforts to create a more visually attractive and liveable community and squanders the best opportunity we have had in three decades to partially remove sign clutter from I-95.  It also has an impact on property values according to a report released in December finding that properties located within 500 feet of a billboard were $30,825 less valuable.

Representatives of the impacted neighborhoods: Bridesburg Port Richmond, Tacony and Wissonoming are opposed to the bill.

What you can do:
1. Become a Scenic Philadelphia Member and join your neighbors who believe we are responsible for maintaining and protecting our beautiful city.  William Penn had a vision of Philadelphia being known as Green Countrie, help us work towards William Penn’s vision.

Rules Committee Email                        (215) 686-3446                      (215) 686-3450                      (215) 686-3440                        (215) 686-3444                        (215) 686-3414       (215) 686-3438                              (215) 686-3420                        (215) 686-3454                            (215) 686-3424

Scenic Philadelphia is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation also known as SCRUB (Society Created To Reduce Urban Blight). The official registration and financial information may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll-free, within Pennsylvania 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.

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Clearing the Clutter Video Contest Winner

Scenic Philadelphia would like to thank everyone who participated in our Clearing the Clutter Video Contest. We would like to congratulate our contest winner Andrew Guengerich! View Andrew’s winning video on our YouTube Page.

Andrew Guengerich is a 19 year-old from Austin, Texas. He’s an aspiring filmmaker and found the contest through a film contest database. The Clearing The Clutter Video Contest caught his eye because he felt the song had a positive message and liked how it sounded. He was able to make a video quickly because he believed it was a really powerful song and easy to imagine a story to. He thinks Scenic Philadelphia is doing a good thing trying to keep people from being overwhelmed by billboards and bombarded by commercialism.


“Clutter and Confusion” was generously written for Scenic Philadelphia by singer and songwriter Colin Kassekert, who took an interest in our work. Colin is a local talent who recently scored the documentary “Trial By Fire.” The newest Quietdrive record that Colin co-wrote is currently ranked #21 in Japan. If you are interested in finding out more about Colin and his work, please visit his website at

To view the other contest entries, click here.

We would like to thank our contest sponsor Demaio Allstate Agency in Drexel Hill, PA whose generous donation made this contest possible.

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One Day Left to Shape New Sign Code


New signage laws in Philadelphia are being drafted right now. Send in your thoughts by tomorrow, March 30th to be included in the 2nd Draft Signage Code. Philadelphia has thousands of illegal billboards and no new construction or conversion should be allowed until properly funded processes for enforcement and compliance are in place.

• Send your comments directly to Eva Gladstein at

Take the signage survey now

View the draft signage code

Your feedback is critical and can make a difference.

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Documentary-This Space Available


By Sabrine Tribié, Civic House- University of Pennsylvania Intern

March 28, 2012  The Philadelphia Free Library was the venue for the showing of the documentary “This Space Available” produced by international branding expert Marc Gobé, for an audience of approximately two hundred and fifty people. In the movie, Gobé and his daughter, director Gwenaëlle Gobé, tell the stories of people around the world fighting to reclaim their public spaces from visual pollution. The event included an audience discussion with Marc Gobé, moderated by Avi Eden, a director of The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.

The discussion opened with the question of what is an effective method of advertising.  How do you spend your energy if you’re not spending it on outdoor advertising? Gobé described his conversation with the CEO of The Coca-Cola Company in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  The city underwent a remarkable transformation when Mayor Gilberto Kassab passed the “Clean City Law” that banned outdoor advertising in 2006.  How did Coca-Cola spend its time and efforts after the ban?  Gobé says they focused on enhancing their products’ presentation in supermarkets.  These efforts were met with an astounding 4% increase in sales.

The ban on outdoor advertising was actually a relief for the Coca-Cola CEO.  Gobé described outdoor advertising as an arms race, with Coca-Cola having to constantly compete with Pepsi for bigger and better signage.  “Whenever Pepsi put up a sign, Coke had to put up an even bigger sign,” Gobé remarked. He then discussed what Philadelphians should do to address the issue of outdoor advertising.  Moving away from the notion created by New York City that big cities should be covered with colorful signage and flashy lights, Philadelphians should realize that their brand is different.  Rather than compete with New York City, they should strive to make Philadelphia more attractive and livable, and brand the city in a unique way.

Mary Tracy, Executive Director of SCRUB also used the forum to announce that SCRUB, formerly known as Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight, has changed its name to Scenic Philadelphia. SCRUB was founded in 1990 as a grassroots coalition to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. Since its inception, SCRUB has been responsible for the removal of 1000 illegal billboards and its volunteer attorneys have represented community organizations and local taxpayers in forty court appeals. In addition to fighting billboards, recent accomplishments include preventing the expansion of Fox Chase Cancer Center into Burholme Park, conducting a seminar on digital signage with the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Planning Association and partnering with Philadelphia Futures to provide a three week summer enrichment program for local high school students.  SCRUB currently provides leadership as a coordinating member of the Crosstown Coalition; a group comprised of over twenty five civic associations and neighborhood associations across the city providing input on Philadelphia’s new zoning code.

The new name, Scenic Philadelphia, more accurately reflects the broad focus of the organization. The name change also is indicative of the organization’s affiliation with Scenic America. Scenic America is the only national nonprofit organization dedicated solely to preserving and enhancing the scenic character and visual quality of America’s communities and countryside. Scenic Philadelphia’s work isn’t an isolated activity; it’s based on a value system that guides Scenic America and is shared by over thirty five affiliates nationwide.

Please take a momet to look at he trailer for this thought provoking documentary.

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Atlantic Online Article

The Rise of ‘Visual Pollution’ and the Fight to Stop It


By Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg  –  Atlantic Online

The feature documentary This Space Available began as a discussion between a corporate branding guru, Marc Gobé, and his daughter, Gwenaëlle Gobé, a filmmaker who is passionately against advertising in public space. The debate blossomed into three-year investigation of outdoor advertising and its effect on communities, from São Paulo to Toronto, and what activists, street artists, and cities are doing to stop it.

Gwenaëlle Gobé, who directed the film, discusses the evolution of the project in an interview below. She also shares the trailer and an excerpt from the film, about activists whitewashing illegally placed billboards in New York City (and ironically, getting arrested for their efforts).

This Space Available (Trailer), courtesy of Emotional Branding

The Atlantic: What inspired you to document this topic?

Gwenaëlle Gobé: Well, I come from a very opinionated family. Marketing and the international promotion of brands were definitively a hot topic at the dinner table, since my dad, Marc, has developed the branding for huge companies around the world. I feel he has a post-WWII, rosy view of brands saving the world from destruction and decay. He still sees corporations with a “Helvetica” innocence of neutrality and righteousness. He would say, “Look at the all the colors, the emotions, and social change they are involved in.”

To read the entire article

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Signage Committee Meetings Being Scheduled

The front of your business is your face to the world. And, the way your shop looks sends a message to your potential customers. Customers may only give your store a glance before deciding if they’ll come in or keep going. A cheery, well-maintained, clearly-signed store says “Welcome! Come on in!” A faded sign, peeling paint, a jumble of signs and products in the window may make a customer hesitate for a moment, or just keep walking.

Your sign is one of the most important components of your storefront facade. Your sign is your opportunity to convey your message to potential customers. The first impression created by your sign and your storefront happens in a blink of an eye. Are your making the most of the opportunity?

This Signage Resource Center is a great place to start learning about a new sign for your business. You’ll learn how to make it attractive, how to make it effective and how to make it legal. You’ll find design guidelines and a gallery of signs to inspire you, the Philadelphia Zoning Code, and an outline of the city’s permitting process – everything you need to get going. By following the steps to the right, you’ll be on your way at an attractive new sign.







What kind of signs would you like to see in your neighborhood?  The Signage Working Group, Eva Gladstein would like your input.
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Haverford Township Residents “No Billboards”

Haverford Township Residents joined together to protect their community from invasive billboards Thursday evening February 2, 2012.   The Zoning Department attorney Jim Byrne along with Bill Kerr the attorney for Lower Merion gave excellent closing arguments.   Four residents who are leading the opposition on behalf of several thousand prepared a statement for the zoning board, the statement read by Sandy Donato is below.

This website is a resource for any community threatened by the invasion of billboard blight.  Please share your stories with us and let us know if you need our assistance.  Read the statement below to learn about how to organize your strategy and work as a team like the residents of Haverford Township.

If you are fortunate enough to live, work or play in beautiful Haverford, Township Pennsylvania, thank your zoning board, commisioners and Sandy. They have worked dilligently on your behalf for three years.



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Billboard news from Scenic Philadelphia- 1/26/12

January 26, 2012

Billboard news from Scenic Philadelphia


Dear Scenic Philadelphia Members and Friends,

Miraculously no one was hurt, but on January 13th, New Yorkers learned that 50 tons of steel towering over a Brooklyn neighborhood was a disaster waiting to happen.Watch this clip.

Meanwhile, last week, here in Philadelphia, the ZBA granted a variance to Clear Channel Outdoor allowing them to rebuild a non-conforming billboard located next to a row of townhouses and to increase the height to 9 stories. Actions prohibited under the Philadelphia zoning law.

The 1530 S. Front Street billboard existed before stricter sign control laws were enacted in 1991 and is allowed to remain as it is but cannot be altered because:

It is within 500 feet of another billboard
It is within 300 feet of a residences
It already exceeds the 25 ft height requirement

Scenic Philadelphia will recruit volunteer attorneys to represent the neighbors in appealing this decision as we have done over the past 20 years. The Commonweath Court of Pennsylvania has published many of our court victories dismissing the ZBA ‘s variances allowing billboards in protected areas.


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Nutter Vetoes Controversial Wall Wrap Bill

December 15, 2011

Nutter Vetoes Controversial Wall Wrap Bill

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Mayor Michael Nutter has vetoed a controversial zoning bill that allowed large wall wrap advertising on buildings between Spring Garden, Willow, 6th and 7th streets.

The bill, recently approved by city council and introduced by outgoing First District Councilman Frank DiCicco, would have allowed such a sign to be hung on The Electric Factory.

DiCicco did not call for a vote to override the veto. After the council session, he said the vote would have been close, and he also did not want to pressure any council colleagues who don’t like the idea to go along because it was his last council session. “I didn’t feel it was appropriate,” he said.


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Nutter vetoes are called for

December 14, 2011

Nutter vetoes are called for

By Doron Taussig
Daily News

An IOM editorial in the Daily News:

TOMORROW, City Council is expected to make history by voting to approve a new simplified zoning code. The code hasn’t been updated for 50 years, so this is a momentus day that could put the city on track for more coherent and streamlined dealings over what gets built and where.

It’s been a long and winding road, but Council has shown a commitment to do the right thing.

So why did it take two steps back by approving a spot-zoning change that is not only inadvisable, but, according to the City Solictor’s Office, illegal?

The bill, sponsored by Frank DiCicco, would allow a building on 7th Street near Callowhill to be wrapped with a giant ad. Right before the vote, City Solicitor Shelley Smith wrote a six-page letter detailing legal issues with the bill, and said that allowing the ad could jeopardize Federal Highway Administration funding.


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“Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity”

December 13, 2011
“Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity”

By Sabrine Tribié


SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space recently released a ground breaking study entitled “Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity“. The paper was written by urban planner Jonathan Snyder with the support of a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund. Snyder received a Master of City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 2011 with a concentration in Community and Economic Development.

Snyder’s research focused on whether economic prosperity is best served by strict sign control laws. He combined US Census, local home price and zoning code data with geographic information system (GIS) and statistical analysis tools in order to address three key questions: What impact do billboards have on real estate prices in the City of Philadelphia? What impact do billboards have on home value within census tracts in the City of Philadelphia? What impact do billboard regulations have on median income, poverty rates and vacancy rates in different cities in the United States? No other known studies examine how billboards affect their surrounding area, or explore the relationship between billboard controls and the economic condition of U.S. cities.

Click here to read the report


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DiCicco Drawing Attention by Spot Zoning that Favors Developers

November 18, 2011

DiCicco Drawing Attention by Spot Zoning that Favors Developers

By Valerie Russ
Daily News

COUNCILMAN Frank DiCicco may be on his way out of office this year, but he’s not leaving quietly.

DiCicco, who decided not to run for a fifth term representing the 1st Council District, has pushed numerous measures in his last months in office favoring developments that have generated concern from some observers.

They are questioning whether he’s trying to make friends and connections with developers as he prepares for a career as a political consultant and lobbyist after leaving Council.

“I’m just absolutely amazed at what he’s doing,” said lawyer Samuel C. Stretton, who is representing the anti-blight organization SCRUB in a fight against a billboard for which DiCicco has pushed.


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Phila. Billboard Agreement Undermines Residents’ Rights

October 25, 2011

Phila. Billboard Agreement Undermines Residents’ Rights

By Charles C. Sweedler

The Legal Intelligencer

Editor’s note: The author represents the plaintiffs in McConville v. City of Philadelphia.

A well-placed billboard can quickly earn back the cost of construction and land acquisition, and then become a reliable cash cow. Consequently, as City Council has noted in legislative findings, “there exist throughout every area of the City numerous illegally erected commercial outdoor advertising signs that negatively impact upon the general welfare of those neighborhoods.” (See Phila. Code § 9-602(e).)

Philadelphia law grants taxpayers the right to appear before the Zoning Board of Adjustment. (See Philadelphia Code § 14-1805; and the Commonwealth Court’s 1999 opinion in Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight v. Zoning Board of Adjustment.)

A taxpayer who entered his or her appearance before the ZBA may appeal an adverse ZBA decision to state court and, of course, defend an appeal of a favorable ZBA decision. (See the 2010 Commonwealth Court opinion in Callowhill Center Associates LLC v. Zoning Board of Adjustment.) Even if he or she did not appear before the ZBA, a taxpayer may appeal the decision to state court if he or she is “aggrieved,” generally because of proximity to the illegal billboard. (See 53 P.S. 13131.1.)


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SCRUB: How trees make way for billboards

October 13, 2011

SCRUB: How trees make way for billboards


By Frances V. Ryan and Sabrine Tribié

This summer, SCRUB was contacted by a distraught Philadelphian who observed the cutting of a large swath of greenery along the south side of the Vine Street Expressway between 23rd street and the Schuylkill River. It is an area that many Philadelphians can see from their high rises near the Art Museum and it is busy with traffic as cars head to the nearby interchange of interstates 76 & 676. Trees and bushes were completely removed, some trees were harshly “topped”. Our concerned citizen made inquiries and confirmed what was painfully obvious… the cutting was done in order to enhance the visibility of a huge billboard soaring above the roadway.

The cutting of trees to clear a view of billboards is becoming a hot button issue. Outdoor advertising companies want to protect their business as well as the businesses being advertised. Nearby residents want to protect the trees, their view and the environment. Legislative and legal battles have erupted in many states and municipalities. As the value of trees becomes more evident, more conflict is guaranteed.


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Those Stinkin Bandit Signs

September 9, 2011

Those Stinkin Bandit Signs

By J.R. King

On almost every street corner of my “up and coming” South Philly neighborhood, local “entrepreneurs” – the kind who buy houses for cash or run Medicare scams – have decided that the best way to advertise is to post ugly and illegal signs on every utility pole and street sign in sight.

I don’t know who started this advertising arms race. Maybe it was one of the companies who will buy my house for cash. Maybe it was the person who wants to commit insurance fraud by buying diabetic test strips (presumably to sell them on some sort of black market).

I do know that the city never enforces the law that makes each sign a $75 offense. Worse, seeing the Free Advertising Pioneer get away with it caused a wave of competitors to litter our corner of the world with these so-called bandit signs.

“Bandit signs stigmatize neighborhoods,” says Mary Tracy, executive director of the Society Created to Reduce Urban Blight (SCRUB). “What’s worse, when laws are not enforced, it sends a message to residents and the renegade sign companies blighting their neighborhoods that the city doesn’t care about quality of life.”


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Marc Gobe speaks about emotional branding cities and advertising

August 18, 2011

Marc Gobe speaks about emotional branding cities and advertising

By Frances V. Ryan


Earlier this summer, nearly 800 business leaders from 19 countries attended the Sustainable Brands Conference in Monterey, California. The global sustainable brands community is made up of sustainability, brand, and design professionals from global companies, socially responsible start-ups, investors, NGOs and government officials as well as service and solutions providers. The annual conference has become the locus for individuals and companies around the world that are committed to leveraging sustainable innovation as a driver of business and brand value.

One of the prominent speakers at the conference was Marc Gobé. Gobé co-founded Desgrippes Gobé, one of the world’s top five global branding firms when the company was sold in 2008. Gobé is considered a pioneer in combining the disciplines of brand strategy, human factor research, product and graphic design and architecture to emotionally engage consumers along different points of the brand experience.

His client representation has included Coca-Cola, Air France, AOL, Estée Lauder, Banana Republic, Victoria’s Secret, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Hy-Vee, Samsung and others. In 2008 Gobé created Emotional Branding LLC, an experimental think tank, as both a branding best practice standard and visionary branding philosophy. He believes that his clients are best served by fostering their brand’s emotional relationship with those consumers who care about their impact on the world. As an advertising professional, Gobé is concerned about the impact of outdoor advertising on brands.


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Waterfront advocacy group says three billboard proposals run counter to the long-term ricerfront goals

August 11, 2011

Waterfront advocacy group says three billboard proposals run counter to the long-term ricerfront goals

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Members of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group say that three billboard proposals along the waterfront are both inconsistent with the city’s long-range vision for the waterfront and in violation of a waterfront zoning overlay.

Two of the projects are in Pennsport.

Riverview Development Corp. hopes to wrap a long-abandoned building – one which has no windows and looks rather bombed out – at 1100 S. Columbus boulevard and place three billboards on it. The building is owned by developer Bart Blatstein.

City Council has already passed a zoning bill legalizing a conventional Pennsport billboard advertising Club Risque and a suburban body shop that the Department of Licenses & Inspection ruled should come down. The bill, passed by City Council on June 16 but awaiting Mayor Michael Nutter’s signature, would also allow the billboard to be digital.


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Scenic Philadelphia Facilitates Summer Academic Program for High School Students

August 3, 2011

Scenic Philadelphia Facilitates Summer Academic Program for High School Students

By Willa Granger


This past July, SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space, partnered with Philadelphia Futures to create a three-week summer academic program for local high school students. Philadelphia Futures is a city-wide college success program that seeks to prepare low-income students for college. Through personalized college guidance, financial programs, and supplemental academic courses, Philadelphia Futures has helped 98% of its student body enroll in college. The intensive class, which culminated in a final research paper and PowerPoint competition, was taught by Sam Quinney, a Villanova grad who began his career in education through Teach for America.



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Changing Skyline: Warehouse-size billboard eyed for Philadelphia site near Delaware River

July 22, 2011

Changing Skyline: Warehouse-size billboard eyed for Philadelphia site near Delaware River

By Inga Saffron

It’s as much a Philadelphia landmark as the statue of William Penn on City Hall, though hardly something that aspires to be an emblem of greatness. Is there anyone who has traveled the south Delaware waterfront and not marveled at the four-story concrete skeleton that lurks behind the RiverView shopping center on Columbus Boulevard, its naked columns flouting both gravity and civic decency?

That ruin, which looks as if it had been airlifted in from Kabul, was purchased more than 20 years ago by Bart Blatstein, who was a run-of-the-mill strip-mall developer before graduating to finer things in Northern Liberties. Blatstein unloaded the RiverView in 2003 – as part of a $75 million deal – but held onto its concrete companion in the hope of making a killing when a casino opened on the South Philadelphia waterfront.


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Opponents Line Up Against Waterfront Billboard

July 14, 2011

Opponents Line Up Against Waterfront Billboard

By Anthony Campisi
For PlanPhilly

A zoning hearing to place three flatwall billboards on a vacant property along Columbus Boulevard was put off so the developer could continue negotiations with SCRUB, the blight advocacy group, and concerned neighborhood groups.

The developer, Riverview Development Corp., is seeking the variance for 1100 S. Columbus Blvd. Though it won the support of the Pennsport Civic Association, an array of neighborhood activists showed up at a hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment to voice their concerns.

Among them was Amy Rivera, a lawyer representing the Queen Village Neighbors Association, who said that residents of that neighborhood would be able to see the billboard and that it caused “massive visual clutter.”


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Paris Decreases Visual Pollution

June 28, 2011

Paris Decreases Visual Pollution

By Willa Grange  Civic House Intern-University of Pennsylvania


This past June, Paris City Council passed a new law restricting outdoor advertising.

The decision, which will likely put a dent in the sales of local advertising companies, will reduce current display space by 30%, limiting signage to a mere 8 square meters (86 square feet) as opposed to the much larger 12 square meters (129 square feet). Moreover, the new regulations stipulate that signs must be at least 25 meters (82 feet) apart and 50 meters (164 feet) away from any school location.

Of the current 2,300 outdoor panels, all of which are shared between three advertising companies-JCDecaux, ClearChannel, and CBS Outdoor-roughly 1,400 billboards will be taken down. As Mairie de Paris official Danièle Pourtaud commented in a recent article for Le Figaro, “This ruling is not anti-advertising, but responds to people’s wishes that advertising should be less intrusive.” Moreover, the restriction will be confined only to the city center.


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Korean Contingent Visits the Scenic Philadelphia Foundation

Posted June 22, 2011

Korean Contingent Visits the Scenic Philadelphia Foundation

By Willa Granger


This past June the Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space, recently hosted a group of representatives of the Gyeonggi Province (South Korea) to discuss Scenic Philadelphia’s mission and its impact on shared space. Guests included members of the Gyeonggi government’s New City Development Division, Land Development Planning Division, and several other departments as well as representatives of the advertising industry. The group, which discovered Scenic Philadelphia through its website, was in the process of conducting a national tour of America, stopping in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Their stop in Philadelphia was planned solely to visit the Scenic Philadelphia. The visit represented another step forward in the growing international dialogue about public space and outdoor advertising.


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Planning Commission to City Council: Don’t Allow Condemned I-95 Billboards to Relocate Near Houses

Posted June 15, 2011

Planning Commission to City Council: Don’t Allow Condemned I-95 Billboards to Relocate Near Houses

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Planning commissioners say they don’t oppose a bill that would allow owners of billboards condemned to make way for the expansion of I-95 to relocate them without going through the usual permitting process. But they have a condition.

As written, Zoning Bill 100678 would allow any billboard that is currently closer to a home than code requires to retain that distance. So if a sign is now 100 feet from a residence, its new location is legal as long as the billboard is not closer than 100 feet from any residential structure.

Commissioners said Tuesday that they want City Council to amend the bill so that any relocated billboard must meet the code requirement to be no closer than 300 feet from a residentially zoned property, regardless of how close the billboard’s original location was.

Council is expected to vote on the legislation, which has passed out of Rules Committee, on Thursday.


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Scenic Philadelphia Available to Give Signage Workshops

Posted March 22, 2011

Scenic Philadelphia Available to Give Signage Workshops



Recently, Scenic Philadelphia, the Public Voice for Public Space presented a workshop on legal and attractive accessory signage for business owners in Lower Moyamensing. Scenic Phialdelphia was joined by representatives of the Community Design Collaborative, the City Commerce Department, the Department of Licenses and Inspections, and Councilman Frank DiCicco.

Scenic Philadelphia distributed a specially prepared version of its Accessory Signage Handbook, providing information tailored to business owners in Lower Moyamensing.

Scenic Philadelphia was honored by the invitation from the Lower Moyamensing Civic Association to make this presentation, and hopes to have the opportunity to help communities throughout the city with similar resources and events. If your community is interested in Scenic Philadelphia’s help preparing resources to inform area business owners in making decisions about their signage, please contact us.


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McConville et al v City of Philadelphia

Posted February 4, 2011

McConville et al v City of Philadelphia



A Philadelphia business owner arrived to work one morning to find a billboard had crashed against the side and roof of her building, causing extensive damage. When the sign company ignored the law and began to replace the nonconforming billboard structure, an inspector from the city’s enforcement agency issued a stop order.

But, according to the City’s Law Department, the business owner had no basis to challenge the rebuilding of the billboard because of a Settlement Agreement signed by a former City Solicitor and members of certain billboard companies. The agreement purports to “legalize” certain signs and protect them from adhering to the city’s zoning laws.

The property owner came to SCRUB for help and we recruited Attorney Charles Sweedler. Two plaintiffs are involved but the case will impact hundreds of illegal billboards and 9 million dollars in lost license fees, as well as potential fines and penalties. The City has had the case removed to Federal court, and now seeks to have it dismissed for lack of Federal standing. We expect to know whether the plaintiffs will be able to successfully remand to state court this coming Monday.

Philadelphia is not the only city where the attorneys for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America and multi-national billboard companies have forged questionable agreements with Law Departments. A judge revoked a similar agreement in Los Angeles calling it “poison”.


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Illuminating the Issue- A New Study on Energy Use of Digital Signs

Posted December 22, 2010

Illuminating the Issue- A New Study on Energy Use of Digital Signs

By Mary Tracy


As digital signage continues to proliferate around the country, a new report, Illuminating the Issues, examines the technical, environmental, economic and regulatory issues surrounding this emerging technology.

Although much attention has been paid to the driver safety impacts, and aesthetics, until now there has been relatively little research regarding the environmental and energy-consumption issues raised by this new technology.

Mayor Nutter wants to make Philadelphia “the greenest city in America” and this report may help policymakers question whether expanding the use of LED signage will push the city farther from this goal when one digital sign will require as much energy as 30 average homes or 25traditional billboards.

The paper was authored by Gregory Young, LEED AP, an architectural designer and urban planner active in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Young’s research was supported by a generous grant from the Samuel F. Fels Fund, and performed in collaboration with SCRUB: the Public Voice for Public Space.

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Do Digital Billboards Waste Energy?

Posted Dec 20, 2010

Do Digital Billboards Waste Energy?

By Elisabeth Rosenthal
The New York Times

Last spring, the paper’s Driven to Distraction series explored the potential risks of digital billboards, which critics sometimes refer to as “TV on a stick.” Some cities and states are debating whether to prohibit or regulate this new form of advertising for fear that it can distract drivers and raise the rate of accidents.

A new study concludes that there are environmental reasons to avoid digital billboards as well. Digital billboards, which are made of LED lights, consume lots of energy and are made of components that will turn into e-waste once the billboard’s life has ended.

But wait, you ask, isn’t LED lighting quite energy-efficient? True, notes the report’s author, Gregory Young, a Philadelphia-based architectural designer and urban planner. But traditional billboards are lit by only two or three lamps, albeit inefficient ones, and only at night. By contrast, digital billboards have hundreds if not thousands of LEDs, which are illuminated day and night. And LEDs function poorly at high temperatures, so the signs need a cooling system.

In a year, a digital billboard can consume up to 30 times the energy that an average American home uses, Mr. Young finds.


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DiCicco nixes electronic sign for Old City hotel

December 16, 2010

DiCicco nixes electronic sign for Old City hotel

By Anthony Campisi
For PlanPhilly

The Old City Civic Association and an anti-blight advocacy group won a victory in City Council Thursday, when Councilman Frank DiCicco amended a bill designed to allow construction of a hotel at 4th and Race streets.

The initial bill would have permitted developer Bob Ambrosi, of Arc Properties, to put a large electronic sign on the proposed hotel at 401 Race St. facing the Ben Franklin Bridge.

Ambrosi had argued that the sign was crucial to market the 124-room hotel and accompanying entertainment center to motorists and wouldn’t have been visible by residents and pedestrians in Old City.

But his attorney, Ronald Patterson, conceded at the Council session that “we are unable to prove” that fact and Ambrosi was going along with the amendment.

Both the anti-blight group SCRUB and the local chapter of the AAA were against the sign, with the AAA arguing that it would cause a dangerous distraction to drivers on the bridge.


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Public Parks in Peril

Posted Spring 2010

Public Parks in Peril: Cities Selling Land to Help Balance Budgets

By Stacey Graham
The Philadelphia Lawyer

As municipal budget deficits swell, elected officials contemplate liquidating public parkland as a means to balance their budgets. After all, parks are tax exempt and, in general, are maintained by taxpayer dollars, thus contributing on some level to budget shortfalls. Many state and local government officials genuinely believe that giving up parkland is in taxpayers’ best interest.

In today’s tough economy, conveying parkland to private developers rather than enacting broad tax hikes appears to be the lesser of two evils for balancing the budget. Shortterm gains may be realized from such transfer of parkland and long-term tax revenue may be generated due to a change in land use. Certainly the idea grows in popularity if politicians can convince taxpayers that any alternative use of parkland is only temporary – a lease rather than a sale – or that the park will be lost only as a tradeoff to preserve or create jobs.


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Power-slurping Signs


Posted on Mar 21, 2011

Power-slurping signs: Those digital billboards popping up along the region’s highways are attention grabbers – and energy guzzlers

By Sandy Bauers, Inquirer Staff Writer

Every eight seconds, the message changed.

Drivers whizzing by on I-95 in Northeast Philadelphia might have seen an ad for American Idol, which then flashed to ones for a Sixers game, a Target sale, 95.7 Ben-FM, and a Lenovo laptop – “so fast it’s obscene!”

But Greg Young wasn’t tempted by any of this. Standing in front of the sign and frowning slightly, he was thinking about electricity and how many watts were coursing through the wires of this new gizmo.

The sign was a digital billboard, a new breed of outdoor advertising that is growing in both the region and the nation.


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Illegal Billboard Topples Onto Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

Last Friday, January 13th, a fifty ton illegal New York Lottery billboard toppled over onto the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The billboard violated zoning regulations that prohibit billboards within 200 feet of a highway. The toppled billboard closed two lanes of westbound traffic on the BQE, left a hole in a body shop, severed a gas line and damaged a car.

To get the full story and watch live footage of the billboard toppling over, click here.

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South Philadelphia Proposed LED Sparks Controversy

Proposed LED billboard sparks controversy

Area residents are hoping to defeat a modification plan for a placard adjacent to a Marconi banquet establishment.

By Joseph Myers
|Posted Jan. 5, 2012

Keith Franchetti and Barbara Capozzi hope a two-decade-old ordinance spares them from having to see the background billboard from giving way to a monopole-aided half-digital replacement.

Contrasting expressions claim “Rules are rules” and “Rules are meant to be broken.”

Marconi and Packer Park residents have worked to uphold the former’s finality since mid-November, while a Cheltenham-based business owner has desired a variation on the latter’s meaning since mid-October, insisting that modernization often necessitates change. The parties have centered their pleas on the state of a 44-year-old billboard within the parking lot of Galdo’s Catering & Entertainment, 1933 W. Moyamensing Ave.

To promote their beliefs, the locals and attorney Stephen G. Pollock, representing Dominick Cipollini of Keystone Outdoor Advertising Co., Inc., will gather 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at St. Richard School’s Hall, 1826 Pollock St., for a public forum. The first will argue to leave the structure alone, with the legal professional set to say it must go in favor of a towering replacement. Their appearances will serve as preludes to Jan. 18’s Center City date with the Zoning Board of Adjustment.


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New study shows billboards hurt nearby property values

A new study shows that billboards negatively affect the values of neighboring properties.  It also found that cities with strict billboard controls are experiencing greater economic prosperity than those with controls that are less strict.

The report, “Beyond Aesthetics: How Billboards Affect Economic Prosperity,” by urban planner Jonathan Snyder, is believed to be the first study on the economic impacts of billboards on nearby real estate value.

Snyder found that in Philadelphia there is a correlation between a home’s value and its proximity to billboards.  He found that homes within 500 feet of a billboard are worth $30,826 less on average at the time of sale than those properties further away from billboards.  The study also found that each additional billboard within a census tract resulted in a decrease in home values of nearly $1,000.

Additionally, Snyder performed a survey of billboard controls and economic prosperity in 20 cities across the United States.  His report found that cities with stricter billboard controls have greater median incomes, lower poverty rates and lower home vacancy rates than city with less strict billboard controls.

Snyder is an urban planner from Philadelphia with a Master in City Planning degree and a concentration in Community and Economic Development from the University of Pennsylvania.  His research was generously support by a grant from the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

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Greened Vacant Lots Create Safer City

A University of Pennsylvania study found that the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society program to “green” nearly 4,500 vacant lots in Philadelphia resulted in a significant reduction in gun assaults across all four sections of Philadelphia and significant reductions in vandalism in one section of the city. In addition, the program has enhanced the health of residents, created jobs and increased surrounding property values.

The PHS program began in Philadelphia in 1999 and involves clearing trash, grading the land, planting grass and trees, and installing fences around each lot to prevent illegal dumping. The Penn study was led by Charles C. Branas, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Perelman School of Medicine and compared ten years of data between vacant lots and improved vacant lots. “The large number of vacant lots we studied and the design of our analysis make this study some of the strongest evidence to date that greening vacant urban land is a promising approach to improving health and safety” Branas commented. The cleaner environment eliminates hiding places for firearms and signals that the city has regained control over those areas, discouraging crime.

Click here to read the full PlanPhilly article

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Bandit Signs – Neighborhoods Crackdown

A new tool is now available to address blight in your neighborhood: the Bandit Project can help you reclaim some of the beauty that your neighborhood deserves.

Bandit signs are a form of very “un-green” advertising and in many places, especially in Philadelphia; they are illegal simply for this reason. They come in a variety of formats but the most common one is the “coroplast” (corrugated plastic) rectangle. Many neighborhood groups are organizing a campaign to address this burden on their communities.

To report a bandit sign in your community click here.

banditsignwithmanoct 2011partial_issue_camera_




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Philadelphia Foundation Grant

September 22, 2011
Contact: Mary C. Tracy

SCRUB Foundation Receives $26,000 Grant from the Philadelphia Foundation for Board of Directors Development

Mary C. Tracy, the Executive Director of SCRUB, the Public Voice for Public Space, is pleased to announce that SCRUB has received a $26,000 grant from the William J. McCahan 3rd Fund in Memory of Thomas C. McCahan and Florence M. McCahan to support SCRUB’s efforts to build and strengthen its Board. Announcement of the grant was made by Andrew Swinney, President of the Foundation. The Foundation’s Board of Managers approved the grant on September 16, 2011.

SCRUB began as a grassroots coalition in 1990 to stop the proliferation of billboards in Philadelphia. In 1991, SCRUB effectively spearheaded the passage of a comprehensive sign control law. In 2000, SCRUB became a 501 (c) (3) organization. Today, SCRUB serves as a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and improving the city’s distinct visual environment through education, advocacy, and legal action. SCRUB has led volunteer attorneys and community partners in successfully challenging illegal billboards and in establishing legal precedents in land use law in Pennsylvania. SCRUB also advocates on behalf of Fairmount Park, having coordinated the legal effort to protect Burholme Park in Northeast Philadelphia from institutional development.

The Philadelphia Foundation, a public charity, is Southwestern Pennsylvania’s leading center for community philanthropic engagement and is committed to improving the quality of life in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties through funds established by its donors. Established in 1918, The Philadelphia Foundation continues to help donors harness their generosity and vision by providing tools, knowledge and financial stewardship directed to maximize the strategic impact of charitable contributions. Grants from more than 775 charitable funds strengthen the effectiveness of nonprofits and support programs that are vital to the people of this region.


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Thanks to GreenfestPhilly and our sponsors, DiBruno Brothers and Macy’s.  Thanks especially to all the visitors who stopped by our stand on Saturday!  You made the event a great success, and we’re thrilled to have had the oppoprtunity to meet so many people who didn’t previously know about SCRUB. Greenfest was a great opportunity to meet people who share our concerns, frustrations, and our sense of a need for action against visual blight.  Here are some photos from the event:



And here is Carmine Zulli (right) stopping by our office to claim his prize in our raffle: the $100 DiBruno Bros gift card.  Congratulations, Mr. Zulli!

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NAHBA Conference – August 2011



This August SCRUB’s own Mary Tracy, through her role as President of Scenic America, attended the annual conference for the National Alliance of Highway Beautification Agencies (NAHBA) in Charlotte, North Carolina.    NAHBA is a think tank that aims to address issues concerning the Federal Highway Beautification Act. The organization seeks “to be an advocate for developing and promoting innovative ideas and consistent business practices for the control of outdoor advertising, junkyards, scenic and beautification programs; streamline the federal outdoor advertising control program through improved communication; facilitate the dissemination of information to members; and to encourage the integration of competing interests that serve the motoring public.”

Despite the expansiveness of this mission, Mary Tracy was the lone spokesperson at the conference to advocate for scenic beauty: the singular foil to the agenda of the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). In Tracy’s words, the conference consisted of “the regulators and the regulated”-i.e. federal and state level highway personnel responsible for enforcement of the Highway Beautification Act and the billboard lobbyists, whose purpose it is to get as many billboards as possible along the highway regardless of the impact on safety, aesthetics, and the environment.  Save the presence of Scenic America, there was no other group at this meeting to represent the public interest.

Tracy was a speaker on several panels at the NAHBA meeting including: segmentation of scenic byways, a review of a pilot program in South Carolina and Florida, and the presentation of the International Scan Report on Outdoor Advertising.  As Tracy commented after the event, “the NAHBA conference provides an important forum to discuss outdoor advertising issues, but there is a need for greater public participation to offset the imbalance created by the well represented billboard lobbyists.”

Here at SCRUB, we work to build a community of informed citizens who can shape decisions that impact the visual character of their communities, cities and states. We cannot stress enough just how integral the public’s input is in this process to maintain beautiful public space. In the coming months, Philadelphia’s lawmakers and billboard lawmakers will be working to rewrite the sign laws protecting our city.   We are counting on SCRUB’s members and friends to join us at the table where these laws are being made.


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Tacoma Rejects Billboards



EE Anderson creative commons attribution non commercial share-alike license

Philadelphia has so many beautiful structures, views, waterways, and parks that our visual beauty and its protection should be a greater priority to all of us.  There are several communities that are feverishly dedicated to enhancing the beauty of their sidewalks and sky lines; more communities need to rise to the occasion. This fact is especially apparent in light of the recent actions of Tacoma, Washington. In a 7-1 vote, Tacoma City Council passed legislation to restrict outdoor advertising. Tacoma’s effort is truly heroic, making the city vulnerable to the financial and legal threats of ClearChannel. It is disheartening that Philadelphia remains clueless despite the fact that Tacoma is willing to place itself on the chopping block in its fight against billboards.

Your feedback on this topic is appreciated.  Your opinion can also be shared with your political leaders and the mayors office.

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Warehouse-size billboard July 2011


 blatstein i 95 blighted building july 2011


Changing Skyline: Warehouse-size billboard eyed for Philadelphia site near Delaware River

By Inga Saffron

Inquirer Architecture Critic

It’s as much a Philadelphia landmark as the statue of William Penn on City Hall, though hardly something that aspires to be an emblem of greatness. Is there anyone who has traveled the south Delaware waterfront and not marveled at the four-story concrete skeleton that lurks behind the RiverView shopping center on Columbus Boulevard, its naked columns flouting both gravity and civic decency?

That ruin, which looks as if it had been airlifted in from Kabul, was purchased more than 20 years ago by Bart Blatstein, who was a run-of-the-mill strip-mall developer before graduating to finer things in Northern Liberties. Blatstein unloaded the RiverView in 2003 – as part of a $75 million deal – but held onto its concrete companion in the hope of making a killing when a casino opened on the South Philadelphia waterfront.

Now it appears there will be no casino and no killing, and Blatstein is seeking other ways to turn a difficult piece of real estate into money. Since the structure hugs the edge of I-95, he’s appealing to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for permission to wrap its bones in advertisements, effectively converting the old Pennsylvania Railroad warehouse into a double-sided billboard.

In a preliminary review, a city building examiner turned the proposal down flat, noting that the wrap would violate at least nine zoning provisions. It’s too close to a dense rowhouse neighborhood (Pennsport), too close to a historic landmark (Old Swedes’ Church), too close to another billboard (Avalon Carpet Tile and Flooring). And although the examiner failed to mention it, Blatstein’s billboard would also violate the zoning guidelines recently put in place to turn the Delaware waterfront into something more than a dumping ground for big-box stores and their asphalt lots.

None of this seemed to bother the president of the Pennsport Civic Association, James Moylan. Without calling a membership meeting, he provided Blatstein with a letter of “non-opposition” – that’s the weaselly language used in Philadelphia to convey support for a zoning proposal – to submit to the zoning board at a hearing last week. Such letters carry great weight.

Moylan has been Pennsport’s president only since May, but it’s the second time he has given a thumbs-up to a controversial billboard. Right before a City Council vote in June to legalize a billboard on top of the Columbus Boulevard Club Risque, he told the district’s councilman, Frank DiCicco, that Pennsport would not fight the measure, the blog PlanPhilly reported. I wonder how many other Philadelphia civic groups would passively accept a billboard on a strip club.

Both Moylan and Blatstein argue that it’s better to look at a billboard than a blighted building. With the revenue from ads, Blatstein promises to seal the structure to keep out vandals and trash. The wrap is only temporary, Blatstein assured me in an interview, a stopgap until development takes off on the waterfront. “The day that someone breaks ground across the street, I’ll take it down,” he promised.

If you like that offer, I have a bridge upriver that’s for sale.

While it’s true the concrete relic doesn’t have great curb appeal, the solution isn’t to shroud it from view. The problem is that building wraps act as a disincentive to development. Why bother with the risk and stress of constructing something new when you can sit back and take in six figures annually for doing almost nothing?

Wraps are just like parking lots. Many Philadelphians would be surprised to learn that Center City’s surface lots are allowed only a five-year life span. But since there is no limit on renewals, some “temporary” lots have been earning a tidy income for more than half a century.

The advantage of the wrap, Moylan argues, is that it will force Blatstein to board up the structure’s openings. That’s a pretty weak excuse for granting Blatstein a gold mine. Owners are expected to maintain their properties, regardless of whether their speculative fantasies fall flat.

“We should be slapping him with fines rather than rewarding him with variances,” argued Steven Weixler, head of the Central Delaware Advocacy Group, an alliance of Delaware riverfront neighborhoods, which opposes the wrap.

If the zoning board allows Blatstein to create a warehouse-size billboard off Washington Avenue, it will undermine the prospects for quality waterfront development. Philadelphia is just putting the finishing touches on the Delaware master plan, after years of public discussion. The goal is to get rid of the visual pollution from billboards so a real neighborhood can take root.

Ironically, one of the waterfront master plan’s biggest champions, Councilman DiCicco, also has been a big billboard supporter.

As a group, City Council has been especially generous with billboard companies, which tend to return the favor with campaign contributions. Council just passed legislation to make it easier for owners to relocate signs displaced by I-95 construction. With DiCicco’s support, the Club Risque billboard was legalized over the Planning Commission’s opposition.

Last week’s zoning hearing, which will resume sometime in the next few weeks, raised other disturbing issues. ZBA Chair Lynette Brown-Sow indicated that she would bar testimony from anyone outside the Pennsport Civic Association. If there is any justification for tolerating billboards in our midst, it’s for free-speech reasons. So how can we deny people the opportunity to speak out against them?

Brown-Sow’s stand also reinforces the notion that Philadelphia is a collection of fiefs run by bosses, rather that a big city where everyone has a stake in decisions. Thousands drive by Blatstein’s structure daily. Residents on the north side of Washington Avenue can see it from their front windows, even though they are outside Pennsport’s boundaries, in Queen Village. Their neighborhood group sent the ZBA a letter opposing the wrap, but it’s unclear whether Brown-Sow will admit it as testimony.

Old, ruined buildings are often an eyesore, but they can almost always be transformed into something better; their presence offers people hope for the future. All a billboard offers us is a passing glance.

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Scenic Philadelphia – GCCI Partnership


apartment building

Scenic Philadelphia has begun to work on some communications, outreach and programming efforts in collaboration with the Green Condo & Co-op Initiative (GCCI), a coalition of Greater Philadelphia area condos, co-ops and managers to advance environmental and economic sustainability in the region. GCCI is supported by the Academy of Natural Sciences, Center for Environmental Policy.

GCCI Mission Statement:
GCCI’s mission is to provide owners and managers with the resources they need to reduce operating costs and lessen their building’s impact on our local and global environment by adopting sustainable infrastructure improvements and practices.

If you are interested in contacting the Green Condo&Co-op and how the organization may be a resource, contact Erin Johnson 215.299.3791 Center for Environmental Policy The Academy of Natural Sciences.

Scenic Philadelphia and GCCI supports sustainable solutions for all our buildings in Philadelphia. To contact Scenic Philadelphia, email Jim Mullen or call 215.731.1775

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Report Released on Scan of International Outdoor Advertising Practices

scan cover

The Federal Highway administration has released the findings of a recent 2010 survey of international advertising practices.  The scan team, which included SCRUB’s executive Director Mary Tracy, visited Australia, Sweden, The Netherlands and the UK to understand how these countries regulate roadway signage.

The scan team observations included: more use of conditional (time-limited) sign permitting, more context-sensitive and safety-oriented laws and regulations, a greater emphasis on safety and environmental impacts in guidelines and permit requirements, and more collaboration between outdoor advertising stakeholders than is seen in the United States.

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Paris decreases visual pollution, Philadelphia increases

NEWS from Paris France.  The citizens of Paris France have spoken and their city council has responded.  Visual pollution is out of control, all billboards in Paris will be reduced by a third.  The law gives billboard companies 18 months to comply.  Philadelphia should take a page from their book and realize that consumers are not willing to live with visual pollution.  When people think of beautiful places, billboards do not belong.


June 22, 2011, 2:47 p.m. EDT

Paris cuts the size of outdoor advertisments

By Thomas Varela

PARIS -(MarketWatch)- A decision by the Paris city council to cut the amount of outdoor advertising within the city is likely to dent the sales of outdoor billboard companies such as JCDecaux SA (DEC.FR), ClearChannel Outdoor Holding Inc /quotes/zigman/396374/quotes/nls/cco CCO -0.85% and CBS Outdoor, and could lead to similar restrictions across Europe.

At a meeting Tuesday, the Paris city council decided to restrict the largest authorized size of advertising panels to eight square meters down from 12 square meters, the council’s press office said Wednesday. Outdoor panel operators will have to replace their current panels with new, smaller ones. The city council’s decision also forces panel owners to leave a distance of at least 25 meters between them.

The move is a potential revenue blow to the billboard companies as fewer panels and smaller billboards are likely to prove less appealing to advertisers, analysts said.

The measures will reduce the ad space on display in Paris by about 30%, a spokeswoman for the Paris city council said. “We’re not opposed to advertising but we want to prevent it from being too intrusive,” she said. The city council will publish the official order enforcing the decision in early July, she said.

The restrictions will hurt all the players in the outdoor advertising space, but particularly JCDecaux, the world’s largest outdoor advertising group by revenue and the biggest in Paris, said Cheuvreux analyst Richard Houbron. He estimates the move will lead to a 1% fall in sales, even if it manages to increase its prices, as Paris represents 4% to 5% of its total revenue.

Houbron said the decision could “motivate other cities across France to follow suit, and possibly other European capitals to review their openness to what is described by opponents as visual pollution.”

“In countries such as Germany and Nordic countries where the green political power is particularly strong, we see risk of contagion over time,” he said.

For the March quarter, JCDecaux’s revenue rose 9.9% to EUR535.3 million compared with EUR487.2 million a year earlier. Organic revenue, which excludes acquisitions and the impact of foreign exchange variations, rose by 7.8%. Advertising revenue excluding sales related to the sale, rental and maintenance of street furniture products, rose by 7.7% on an organic basis.

The 2,300 outdoor panels in Paris are shared between JCDecaux, ClearChannel and CBS Outdoor, a unit of CBS Corp /quotes/zigman/393390/quotes/nls/cbs CBS +1.98% .

Both JCDecaux and ClearChannel declined to comment on the restrictions planned by the city of Paris, while no one at CBS Outdoor was immediately available to comment on the issue.

Shares in JCDecaux closed Wednesday flat at EUR21.45, while at 1638 GMT CBS was down 0.7% at $26.73 and Clear Channel Outdoor was down 0.5% at $13.37.

Stephane Dottelonde, head of the French outdoor advertising industry lobby Union de la Publicite Exterieure, downplayed the impact of the move, noting that customers rarely advertise in Paris only, and instead pay for access to a network of billboards across various French cities. Also, ads posted on street furniture such as bus stops aren’t subject to the new rules, he said.

Still, outdoor advertising companies are bracing for more details of a government-led plan to cut the number of outdoor panels right across France, which is expected to be put forward in coming months, Dottelonde said.



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Korea Team visits Scenic Philadelphia


By Willa Granger, Civic House-University of Pennsylvania Intern

June 11, 2011. Issues of public space and outdoor advertising represent an international concern. This fact was made clear with a recent visit by representatives of the Gyeonggi Province (South Korea) to our office to talk about Scenic Philadelphia’s mission and its impact on shared space. Our guests included members of the Gyeonggi government’s New City Development Division, Land Development Planning Division, and several other departments as well as representatives of the advertising industry. The group, which discovered the Scenic Philadelphia through our website, was in the process of conducting a national tour of America, stopping in Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Their stop in Philadelphia was planned solely to visit our organization.

Mary Tracy, executive director of the Scenic Philadelphia, presented a PowerPoint about Scenic Philadelphia’s mission, history, and actions. The group was especially interested in Scenic Philadelphia’s advocacy for protecting public parkland, as well as learning about signage legislation in general. While the Gyeonggi contingent had previously met with members of America’s advertising industry, Tracy’s voice represented a powerful and resonant counterargument to advertising and its impact on public space. Its members were struck by a particular quote Tracy shared: “One generation plants the seeds, another gets the shade.” The sentiment was especially profound in light of the motivation behind this tour of American advertising practices: Gyeonggi leaders had come to America to garner ideas and opinions about the future development of their province. In particular, representatives were curious about the merits of LED signage in establishing the proper “look” of a modern region. As Tracy later commented, the journey was meant to encourage Gyeonggi leaders to be visionary; signage, especially LED signage-with its significant toll on environmental resources-is simply not innovative. We must remain sensitive to the “seed” we plant for future generations, and realize the environmental and visual burden we pass on through outdoor advertising.

We expect to hear from representatives of Gyeonggi about the future development and beautification of their province.


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Utah fights visual clutter


By Derek P. Jensen

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Apr 12 2011 10:42PM
Updated Apr 13, 2011 09:25AM

Utah’s powerful billboard industry, which sees its future in electronic signs, suddenly has a blackout zone – Salt Lake City.

By unanimous vote, the City Council elected Tuesday to ban any new electronic billboard or the conversion of existing billboards to digital along all major roadways throughout the state’s capital.

Urged by Mayor Ralph Becker to take action, the council agreed – in the face of heated billboard-industry pressure – that glowing, image-swapping signs are a public-safety distraction to freeway drivers. At the same time, the council agreed to revisit the new ordinance (along with new studies on the impact of e-billboards) and perhaps make tweaks within nine months.

Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love said the prohibition is not meant to disparage billboard companies, particularly Young Electric Sign Company – a “great, corporate citizen” with a near-60-year legacy. Instead, Love said, the ban will give City Hall an opportunity to look at “how do we showcase our skyline and how do we showcase our mountains? We are the capital city and we are a beautiful city. For me, while there may be studies that show that billboards may not be a distraction, it’s just common sense. … I don’t need studies to tell me that.”
Becker, who called it a “passionate subject,” said the restriction is important for Utah’s progressive capital community. “We have a new form of billboards and we don’t have standards, really, for that,” the mayor said. “We need to get a handle on that before we’re overwhelmed by electronic billboards.”

The city’s blackout will not affect its six existing electronic billboards. Neither will it impact digital business signs, though the Mayor’s Office insists regulations on those so-called “on-premise” signs must be contemplated soon.

A team of billboard executives waited patiently for hours before Tuesday’s vote. They filed out without addressing the council.

To read more, click here 


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The Bright Side of Blight

January 24, 2011

EVEN in Philadelphia, with its 40,000 vacant properties and a quarter of its population living below the poverty line, the Kensington neighborhood still shocks. On a frigid afternoon, a prostitute lingers in the shadow of the elevated train tracks, waiting restlessly for customers. Husks of long-closed factories stand amid thigh-high winter wheat. Streams of garbage flow down the streets, as if both the people and the city government had agreed to forsake the effort of propriety.

In recent months, this neighborhood has also been terrorized by a killer who choked and raped his victims in the area’s ubiquitous abandoned houses and vacant lots. If only these deserted places could be charged as accomplices to the so-called Kensington Strangler’s three murders and two sexual assaults, and for aiding and abetting the drug use and prostitution that have caused so many of the neighborhood’s problems. But the empty lots with their discarded furniture and ghetto kudzu and the weather-beaten houses with boarded-up windows won’t be going anywhere soon.

It’s been nearly 30 years since James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling published their broken windows theory, positing that the torn social fabric that allows for vandalism also encourages other kinds of crime and disinvestment in a neighborhood. The theory validated the inclination to improve the built environment first, in the hopes that once a sense of confidence has been restored other aspects of an engaged community will follow. And in places on the cusp of gentrification or economic recovery, like certain New York areas in the ’90s, quality-of-life campaigns have been proven to clean up the streets and reduce crime.

Indeed, as gentrification has slowly crept northward in Philadelphia, Kensington residents have gained some hope from a newly branded arts corridor, a few rejuvenated parks and street improvements, all thanks to the efforts of an invaluable local community development corporation. But this scattershot approach has failed to create the kind of holistic change needed in this neighborhood — or its counterparts in St. Louis, Cleveland, Detroit and Baltimore.

Many cities have also sought to transform undeveloped lots into green space and urban agriculture. It’s a natural fit and, again, in Kensington a full city block has been converted from an industrial brownfield to an admirably active farm. But land-based strategies that try to reinvent this vacant lot or that blighted ground do little to stem the larger social trends that created the spatial problem in the first place.

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Little Guys Win Big

Posted on Mon, Feb. 15, 2010

Pictured left to right, Jean Gavin, Wanda Exline, Tim Kearney and  Marlene Sellers

Little guys win big
Citizens group savors its rescue of Burholme Park
Philadelphia Daily News 215-854-5987

NOT FAR FROM the clamor of Cottman Avenue, where sandwich shops, hair salons and professional offices dot a bustling corridor, there is a wooded spot in Burholme Park with a creek running through it.

When city officials agreed to carve out some 20 acres of the lush, green park so that the nearby Fox Chase Cancer Center could expand, a group of ordinary residents took a stand. They wouldn’t let the park go. Not without a fight.