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Creating billboard eyesores

Updated: May 16, 2013 6:14AM

I read yet again that another piece of city landscape, in this case our airport, has been sold for advertising revenue to the media giant JC Decaux. Recently, the city decided to add more billboards to the Kennedy Expressway, and now O’Hare.

Am I upset? Not in principle. The city needs revenue. And our mayor has found a way to generate that revenue by placing a value on the number of people passing through certain points in the city.

I do take issue in the execution.

Billboard signage is an old medium, 1867 was the first known rental of outdoor space to display an interruptive message. Very little has changed in the basic premise of the medium since then. There may be digital, inflatable and mobile billboards, but it’s still the same idea — interrupting your path with a message from an advertiser hoping for a purchase sometime in the future.

What has changed is the marketplace. Businesses rely less and less on these older forms of advertising. They are shifting their dollars to digital mediums with detailed measurement or to mediums that are closer to the sale, such as in-store promotions. Companies like JC Decaux, that derive much of their revenue from these outdoor billboards, need more and more inventory to sell (the billboards) to replace the falling value of their medium.

There is a better way.

Look forward. Instead of selling high-traffic points piecemeal to the highest bidder, think about the city as a network of places where the city administration can add value. Places where information (weather, traffic, news, etc.), entertainment (history of your location, community stories, etc.) or even transactions (Taste of Chicago), would be useful and add to citizens’ and visitors’ experiences.

All this information can be located at high-traffic points on interactive displays plus be accessed on a personal mobile phone or tablet that knows where you are across this city. Leading advertisers are looking for places they can add value, not interrupt, and they will pay a premium for the privilege.

People don’t exist to buy and consume products. They are navigating their daily lives of work, family, travel etc. What is required is a comprehensive design that puts the human experience on equal footing with the need for revenue. Done right, it becomes media that locals and tourists seek out instead of avoid, part of the city’s rich fabric instead of an eyesore.

Rick Shaughnessy, Bucktown Sleeping worker story is not news

I am a bit confused by the “Clout on the Couch” cover story in Friday’s paper.

I thought the Sun-Times was a newspaper; this story hardly qualifies as news. A vastly overpaid government employee turns out to have clout from both political and organized crime figures? (Not that there is much daylight between the two sorts of clout.) In related “news,” the Cubs are having a terrible year, the mayor of Chicago is a Democrat, Lake Michigan is wet and the sun rises in the east.

Bill Savage, Rogers Park

Solution is in the community

The problem of violent death among African-American youth in our cities is a national problem rooted in racism, poverty and inequality. It is by no means a problem peculiar to Chicago. The solution to the senseless violence claiming the lives of so many African American youth will be found within the very community in which these crimes occur.

It is for African Americans to assume the responsibility of addressing the problem of youth violence within its community by instituting a program of Cultural Revolution. Our youth have been exposed to a culture that negates their history and the group to which they belong. Influenced by the negative images in our popular culture, too many African-American youth are today committing violent acts on an unprecedented scale against other members of their community. They are now, in a very real sense, carrying on the work of America’s oldest terrorist organization: the Ku Klux Klan.

Charles McGhee, University Park

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