Friday, May 16, 2008

Commercial Speech Banned In Indy

I'll never forget the experience of driving through Silicon Valley in 1998. Upon entering the area from the north, the highway driver was greeted by signs proclaiming the presence of HP, Intel, and a host of computer and tech company billboards. It was actually an exhilerating experience. The billboards let you know you were in the midst of something exciting and on the cutting edge.

Contrast that with the attitudes of billboards in Indianapolis. From an Indy Star report:
Norman Pace, land-use chairman for the Marion County Alliance of Neighborhood Associations, said he had waited eight years for the signs' demise. Thursday, he drove from his Warren Township home to the north split, the junction of I-70 and I-65 on the north side of Downtown, to watch the sign be dismantled.

"It was an eyesore blocking our city's beautiful skyscape," Pace said. "It detracted from the quality of life here. We don't want to look like one of these cities that are filled with billboards."

Pace and other billboard opponents call the signs "litter on a stick."

No, you sure wouldn't want Indy to resemble a vibrant place like Silicon Valley. So much better to make it look like the kind of place not worth advertising to.

Interestingly, the cityscapes are often decried as a kind of litter that hides the natural beauty of the environs. I realize that in such places there are mountains, hills, molehills or any other kind of terrain. The point is, eyesores, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

More importantly, freedom of speech suffers. I looked at the First Amendment, and while nowhere does it say "except for billboards", it also says "Congress shall make no law". Is this cause for celebration among the state's rights crowd? Maybe I'll get an explanation here.

In the meantime, we can add a new entry into the list of restrictions on freedom of speech at wikipedia, which is an interesting read. A line in the wikipedia description of freedom of speech is exactly as I have it:
The United States First Amendment theoretically grants absolute freedom, placing the burden upon the state to demonstrate when (if) a limitation of this freedom is necessary.

Commercial speech is still speech. So, was it necessary to remove the billboards? I'd love for Indianapolis to have to make the case to a higher court. To bad Pinnacle, the billboard company, won't be suing. From the Star:
Pinnacle has gone out of business, and an attorney for the company said that happened because the company lost the revenue the signs would have generated.

This action was begun under the Peterson Administration. Too bad Mayor Ballard hasn't done anything to reverse course here.

Indianapolis- killing speech, killing businesses. There's a motto for a billboard at the city limits.


varangianguard said...

Well, when you start up a petition to have some similar billboards added up in Fishers, you let me know.;)

Mike Kole said...

Petition? Petition! Since when should Americans need to petition to place billboards?

Anyhow, there are billboards on I-69 in Fishers. They look good.

Roberta X said...

Geez, when did billboards -- a sure sign of happenin' economy -- come to be seen as "bad?" I've always liked the ones at 54th and College.

Is the neon 7UP sign still playing downtown? I think it was abobve The Elbow Room; I haven't been in a position to notice it for years.

Think how much more human and warm the Albert Speer-scaled buildings West of the Statehouse would be with a decent advert or two. As it is, thee alleyway between them just makes me feel like a bug crawling under a couch.