Romans Protest Against Surge of Billboards in the City
January 3, 2012
These days, selling ad space is the business model of choice for everything from news publications and blogs to music distributing platforms. Even an organism as complex as a city can turn to selling ad space in what is possibly its crudest form: the towering billboard. As easily detestable as billboards are, cities need all the money they can get, and extra income may necessarily translate to massive roadside signs that shamelessly jut out of the urban landscape. But Rome is no ordinary city, and this beacon of Western civilization, the physical origin of far-reaching historical fantasies, has been caught in a heated dispute over legislation that threatens to litter the historic city with thousands of billboards.
As we learned from the Guardian, Rome’s mayor, Gianni Alemanno (notably a former neo-fascist elected on Berlusconi’s ticket in 2008), had announced a temporary amnesty for 32,000 billboards spread throughout the city, a decision that generated over $10m in rents a year from advertisers. Yet gaping holes in law enforcement have allowed companies to get away with erecting additional ads, transforming Rome into a veritable jungle of disruptive, steel-anchored advertisements.
As many as 60,000 billboards have been erected, many of which not only tarnish the image of history-ridden Rome but also obstruct traffic and street signs, making for serious safety hazards. In response, protest websites have sprung up, demonstrations have been held outside Rome’s town hall, and over 10,000 Romans are in support of a new law to curb the number of billboards in their city. Daring protesters have even turned to more guerilla tactics, filling up holes dug for illegal billboard poles with cement. Even Telecom Italia, one of the country’s biggest advertisers, openly criticized the surge of billboards and retracted all their ads, a move that finally pushed Alemanno to confront the issue. Clearly, the image of the city in a city like Rome is no laughing matter, and even big business knows when to draw the line.