Advertising on Chicago Architecture, Round II

There is continuing hubbub about the Trump towers sign in Chicago. As Emily Badger explains on Wonk Blog today, a lot of outspoken folks seem to hate it:

When the sign first took shape, one letter at a time over the course of several weeks earlier this summer, outrage began to build in a city that prizes its architectural views like Boston does its colonial character or New Orleans its jazz scene. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the sign “tasteless.”The skyscraper’s architect, Adrian Smith, let it be known that he agreed. The Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin blasted it, prompting a very bizarre feud — and an excellent Daily Show segment — wherein Trump himself called the Pulitzer Prize-winner a “third-rate architecture critic.”

Now Emanuel has proposed an ordinance that would protect the city’s riverfront from such “visual clutter” in the future. Chicago can’t strike down this sign (the previous administration approved it). But, under the new rules, which would follow similarly protected corridors elsewhere in the city, building signs would have to be significantly smaller (in Trump’s case, about five times smaller). They’d have to be located much closer to the rooftop, effectively out of sight at eye level. No Vegas-style flashing lights or neon. And only a building’s principal occupant — using at least 51 percent of the floor space — could plaster its brand on the building. That means a company filling two floors of a high-rise can’t pay a developer for that right.

Badger does a good job trying to explain the negative reactions. She quotes Kamin, who argues that, because this sign sits at an important area for Chicago architecture, “this isn’t just a debate about a sign.” Rather, he says, “It’s about the quality of civic space.”

As I covered before, Kamin also opposed an earlier plan put forward by Mayor Emanuel to add advertising on city property to raise revenue. I noted then that, on the Cityscapes blog, Kamin called the first advertisement placed as part of this initiative—put on a historic bridge—“short-sighted,” “tasteless,” and “clueless.” I also noted, however, that, as shown cleverly in Morgan Spurlock’s The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, it is clear that Americans have an amazing tolerance for advertising.

Perhaps the newly proposed ordinance will be the perfect balance and will spread to other spaces beyond the riverfront? Time will tell.

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