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Advertising on Sidewalk Sheds Haunts the City Again

The New York City Council will hold a public hearing next Monday, January 26, at 1:00 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall on Intro. 623 which proposes to allow advertising on sidewalk construction sheds for a yet to be determined permit fee. The Municipal Art Society will testify against this ill-conceived plan. [Read MAS press release here.] Download our testimony, here. Outdoor advertising and sidewalk construction sheds blight our city’s streetscape. The City wisely seeks to regulate outdoor advertising with strict zoning regulations and imposes design guidelines for sidewalk construction sheds, but the City Council now wants to combine these two eyesores with a permit that would allow outdoor advertising companies to advertise on sidewalk sheds in manufacturing and commercial zoning districts. Read coverage of this issue in Metro NY, January 27, 2009. Sidewalk sheds are mandated by law and are intended soley for safety purposes during construction.  They are unattractive and interfere with pedestrian traffic, but public safety is a priority no one can argue with.  Allowing advertising on them, however, merely serves to provide an incentive for a building owner to leave a shed up and extend the advertiser’s presence onto public property — the sidewalk. We know from experience that sidewalk sheds have been left up for years, even when no work is being done on a building.  This has a serious deleterious effect on the pedestrian experience — by creating congested dark spaces on some of our most important avenues. The sheds also interfere with the business of street level retailers and destroy mature trees that cannot survive when these sheds surround their trunks (some trees are just cut down to make room for the sheds). The permitted advertisement will by no means be discreet or subtle.  The Council bill would allow the sidewalk sheds to be as much as eight feet tall (conveniently the length of a sheet of plywood) and the advertisement could run the full length of the shed, which on some construction sites can be a block long with the shed wrapping around the corners of the building. Our campaign against illegal advertising has been very popular with New yorkers because it is so closely related to the issues of livability and the preservation of the city’s unique streetscapes. It would be a true shame if the City Council is allowed to legalize advertising signage that the public clearly does not want.