November 2017
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Streetscape Clearance Sale

streetscape clearance

Advertising in our public spaces is already ubiquitous, and it’s getting more oppressive. And unlike with television ads, there’s no way to change the channel. For that reason alone, New York City must be able to effectively prevent its citizens from being bombarded with obnoxious ads — especially those ads that are illegal.

The city is currently rewriting its regulations governing signage and awarding a $1 billion contract for street furniture, paid for by advertising revenue. These changes will have broad and long-lasting effects on how we experience our sidewalks and open spaces. It is imperative that these 3,650 newsstands, bus shelters, information kiosks and automatic pay toilets be sturdy, attractive and practical — they’ll be on our streets for at least 20 years, if not longer — and that the new regulations on signs be enforced.

Law Enforcement – In July 2005, a law aimed at reducing the visual clutter of signs by improving the rules and enforcement of the city’s sign regulation program, Local Law 31, went into effect. The Department of Buildings has now proposed Rule 49, which will establish procedures for enforcing this new program and impose new registration requirements on outdoor advertising companies. The department had planned to promulgate rules by the end of October.

Any outdoor advertising company that fails to register itself and its signs will be subject to greatly increased fines — up to $25,000 per day — as well as the loss of the right to bid on city contracts. Additionally, the department will have the authority to remove any unregistered signs or signs controlled by an unregistered company. Signs that are now illegal must be brought into compliance or removed.

We hope and expect that these stringent new rules will curb the citywide blight of illegal signs. This is especially important now because, after 14 years, the city is in final negotiations on a 20-year contract for coordinated street furniture, a contract paid for by ads.

The franchisee, Cemusa, will install up to 3,650 pieces of street furniture without charge to the city. In return, the franchisee collects the revenue generated by the sale of advertising on this street furniture. Since newsstands are not currently allowed to have advertising on them, the contract will bring still more advertising to our streets and sidewalks.

Importance of Design – Even at the cost of more ads, the Municipal Art Society has supported this concept, since it promises finally to bring well-designed and well-maintained street furniture to our sidewalks, no less than what New York City, a world center of design, deserves. Well-designed, the installations can enhance the appearance of the city. Poorly designed, they will surely detract from the quality of city life, as does so much of our existing street furniture.

In a letter to Mayor Bloomberg dated September 28, MAS President Kent Barwick and the MAS Streetscape Committee called for the city to give the public an opportunity to see what the new street furniture will look like and to comment on the designs. “Working with knowledgeable designers and architects now will assure that New York City will get practical and attractive street furniture that reflects the city’s heritage as a center of design creativity,” the letter said. Click on PDF file at right for the full text of the letter.

The writer is Director of Special Projects.