“There are some places where advertising actually may be a beautification.”
– Rahm Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago
Do you think Times Square in New York City is festooned top-to-bottom with advertisements for the sake of beautification? For some reason, I doubt it.
The city of Chicago, according to Emanuel’s plan, would allow the purchase of advertising space on city property by private corporations. As of right now, the plan is open-ended and could include everything from government buildings to dump trucks to parking meter boxes. In short: if you can name a piece of city property, chances are, you likely can slap your company’s name on it.
Ironically, it wouldn’t be the first time an Illinois government official has attempted the same. Former Mayor Daley and former Governor Rod Blagojevich tried themselves. Both failed miserably. It’s an idea that has been rife with problems from the time it was conceived. It began with former Mayor Richard Daley proposing the idea of using the Chicago River bridge houses as space for advertisers, and that is the exact same idea Emanuel is trying to promote.
The latest problem stemmed from the adhesive. Actually being mindful of historic structures – and how mounting something to them could compromise their structural integrity – they began testing an adhesive to prevent any damage to the mounting surface. The problem? If it drops below 48 degrees outside, or if it rains? It doesn’t stick. I’m actually glad it doesn’t. If adhesive is the magic fixative for these advertisements, they could be placed just about anywhere. Mother Nature, luckily, seems to disagree with the mayor’s plan.
Between the eagerness of the city to sell ad space, and the terrifying flexibility that adhesive allows, there is nothing to make these advertisements special. Nothing to make one any more exclusive than another. Nothing to make the passerby consumers think any inkling of creative thought was incorporated into the placement of the ad. It ultimately is a failure in aim, in specificity, and in imagination.
From that, would you gather that the aim of such a project was beautification?
Of course not. The aim is money.
This isn’t to say it is impossible for private and public interests to merge at an intersection of mutual understanding. Take Millennium Park, for example: beautiful, world-class public exhibits and space are sponsored – and consequently, named after – private sponsors. People come from all over the world for Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate,” better known colloquially as “The Bean.” That park is likely one of the greatest public spaces in the world, and attracts both locals and tourists in throngs. In the summertime, you can shuck your sandals and walk barefoot through the Crown Fountain. In the wintertime, they’ve an ice skating rink with a million-dollar view from it. Millions have come and more still will, at all times of the year. I’m more than sure those visitors bring in revenue for the city.
If you’re going to have an argument for placing a billboard on this city’s back, I suggest you make a stronger one than that, Mayor. The signs you may be able to take down, but you will not be able to remove the fact you sold your city out from the history books.
Chicago doesn’t need to be promoting other companies. It needs to be promoting itself.
The city can sell itself without selling out.
Have a little more faith, Rahm.
What do you think of Mayor Emanuel’s city advertising initiative? Is this beautification or just B.S.?