Electronic Billboards Once Again Ruled Illegal

photo of an electronic billboardIn yet another victory for local communities, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that electronic billboards along state and federal highways violate the Arizona Highway Beautification Act’s ban on intermittent light.

Digital billboards are illuminated signs that have more in common with television than with a standard sign. The messages on the boards change every eight seconds, enabling billboard companies to sell the location to numerous advertisers.

See the full story HERE

A new film takes a look at the worldwide struggle against visual pollution

Check out the new trailer for This Space Available, a documentary film by Gwenaelle and Marc Gobe about worldwide visual pollution and what can be done to stop it.  We saw the film at its debut at the docNYC film festival, This Space Available speaks to the ever-growing problem of visual blight… reminding us that we CAN reverse the tide and reclaim our public spaces.

I think that what we liked best about this film was that it highlighted a range of struggles against unauthorized outdoor advertising including illegal venues around the world that are impacting the environment.

In the film, the makers ask why brands continue to ally themselves with an industry that “cuts down trees, hogs energy, and spends its profits in courts and statehouse lobbies, while younger consumers push for improved corporate citizenship.”  Questions we wholeheartedly agree need to be asked AND answered.


Trailer from This space available on Vimeo.

Ann Lents Accepts 2011 Scenic Visionary Award From Scenic Houston

Below are Ann Lents’ remarks to the attendees of Scenic Houston’s Annual Benefit Dinner held in September of 2011:

Ann Lents
President of Scenic Houston, Claudia Williamson (L) presents Scenic Visionary Award to Ann Lents at Scenic Houston's Annual Benefit dinner held at the Houston Country Club, September 27, 2011.

“You know, I’ve been lucky all my life.

Lucky to be born in Houston, where Dave and I have found so many  really stalwart friends.  Hard to imagine, but some of my Brownie troop and kindergarten class are here.  Thank you guys.  Thank all of you.  And thank you especially, Louis and Barbara—I know how hard you’ve worked to get this crowd here.

Beyond lucky to find David, who is no slouch on the scenic front himself.  I’m still in awe of his getting 80% of our neighbors to agree to toughen up our deed restrictions.

I’ve never been luckier than I am tonight, though.  Because the truth is, I’ve never done one thing by myself or one thing without a team of leaders who I could listen to and learn from.  So I’m darned lucky to be standing here.

I was lucky early on to meet Kay Crooker and Terry Hershey– gracious and for’midable women who showed me that decisions are made by those who show up.   And, that you have to show up over and over and over again.

I’ve been lucky to work with Ed Wulfe, and Charles McMahen, and Dick Weekley, who know more about getting things done than anyone  and who have really led the Quality of Life Coalition, along with the rest of the steering committee members, who’ve stuck with these issues for 10 years.

And, we all know that the real decisions are made by elected officials, so all of us are lucky to have had people like Bill White and Annise Parker in office—they’ve led great changes for our city.

You know, Houston has always done private space so well!  We have wonderful homes and architecturally distinguished buildings and wonderful private developments and master planned neighborhoods.  Historically, we haven’t done so well on public spaces.  Whether they are streets with shady sidewalks, or bike trails along bayous, or parks, or plazas,  it’s all public space.   Trees, signage, graffiti, parks, bayou trails, public art…these are all about the same thing…Quality public space.   Sometimes we chop these things up so much that we forget how many of us there are who care about this issue.   When we get together, we can do a lot.

So, to me,  it’s  all about public space.

You know, some people think having streets and parks and bayous that are green and attractive is a small thing.

They’re wrong.  These places are  where we come together as Houstonians and feel like part of a community.  It’s where we create a community to live in, not just a place to make money and leave.  It’s where we take pride in our city and in who we are together.  It’s where it doesn’t matter what part of town you come from or what your background is. Places like Discovery Green and Hermann Park and the trails on Buffalo Bayou are showing us how much great public space can add to our lives.

Great cities aren’t great because of their individual buildings.  Great cities are great because of their streets and parks, their public spaces.   It’s public space that defines who we are as a city, and it either makes people want to be part of this town … or not.

Young people get it.   They want to belong, and they want cities where there’s something good to belong to.

Educated young people are incredibly mobile.  That’s why the quality of our public space matters so much to our economic future.   Educational attainment drives 58% of a city’s per capita income.  Attracting and retaining talent has to be one of our top priorities.

It’s not just economics, though.  Public space you can be proud of matters  for more important reasons.   A few years ago Theola Petteway and I were in Chicago, in a pretty grim neighborhood.  The City though had planted trees all down both sides of the streets.  Theola and I talked, and we realized that those trees said something important:  we care about this neighborhood, we care about these people.   These people are worth it.  It’s the way these spaces impact people’s lives that really matters.

Most of us in this room probably already live on good looking streets.  But in the next few years we’re going to have an opportunity to bring that to a lot of the city.

ReBuild Houston (you remember that drainage fee we voted for) is going to remake a lot of drainage and a lot of streets over the next 20 years.  If we focus now and plan now, we can make sure that what we build is something to be proud of, that it’s functional, that it’s cost effective, that  it’s green and attractive.

We can have detention areas that keep homes from flooding when it rains and act as parks when it doesn’t.

We can have attractive, shady streets that suit the neighborhoods they’re in and work as well for people walking as for cars.

I know Scenic Houston is going all in to help that happen.

I’m really lucky to be here when, under Mayor Parker’s leadership, we can have so much impact on Houstonians’ lives for years to come.

Thank all of you for being here to support Scenic Houston  and thank you Scenic Houston so much. “

Scenic Houston Launches Ambitious Streetscape Project

The Streetscape Project  is focused on improving the overall visual appearance of Houston’s streetscapes, and is very timely in light of the ReBuild Houston program.

Phase I of the Streetscape Project is nearing completion: an inventory of all public regulations impacting the visual aspects of Houston streetscapes (utility placement, sidewalks, setbacks, lane width, medians, landscaping, signage, street furniture, etc).  currently, there is no such resource in the City of Houston and Scenic Houston has taken on the task of creating this comprehensive inventory.

Completion of the inventory involves analysis of the current status of streetscape development when the existing public regulation requirements are followed. Scenic Houston believes the current regulations need much improvement.

We’ll report back soon on progress, where the completed inventory can be found  and the launch of Phase 2 of the Streetscape Project.  Stay tuned!

Sixteen Texas Cities Earn Scenic City Award

Scenic City CertificationThe Scenic City Certification Program is the first in the United States to incorporate a comprehensive set of model standards for design and development of public roadways and public spaces into one program.  Applicant cities present their existing standards for assessment and scoring against the model.  Cities with the highest evaluation scores are certified.

Anne Culver, executive director of the Scenic City Certification Program, said, “These sixteen cities  exemplify the idea that by implementing strong scenic standards citizens can enjoy a higher quality of life  and businesses find it easier to attract customers and employees. This is a win-win situation for these cities, their residents and for the promise of future quality of life and economic development.”

The Texas cities certified Scenic in 2011:

BudaCedar Hill Fairview Frisco Grapevine

Benbrook Buda Cedar Hill  Fairview  Frisco  Grapevine
 Heath  Horseshoe Bay  Hutto Mansfield  McAllen  North Richland Hills
 Pearland  Roanoke  Sealy  Trophy Club

All Texas cities may submit applications for the 2012 round of Scenic City evaluations beginning January 1, 2012. Applications are available online.  For more information on the Scenic City Certification Program  visit:  www.sceniccitycertification.org

New video sheds light on tree cutting around billboards

A new video by Scenic America board member Ossian Or examines the issues of tree cutting and tree poisoning to increase the visibility of billboards.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxJWSBlgp2I

Ossian was in Florida shortly after the media broke the story of the whistleblower in Tallahassee who alleges he was told by his employer, Lamar Advertising, to cut and poison trees under the cover of darkness.  He alleges that Lamar wanted the trees to decay to the point where they would need to be removed by the city at the public’s expense.

The video sheds light on a long history of what the industry calls “vegetation control,” otherwise known as tree cutting or removal.

Some good news from the U.S. Supreme Court

Los Angeles has been fighting supergraphic billboards and has received some backup from the U.S. Supreme Court.  Supergraphic billboards are those buildings-turned-into-multistory-billboards that we’ve managed to avoid here in Houston.  So far.

In L.A. a case has gone all the way to the Supreme Court and by refusing to hear the case, the court has upheld  the city’s right to prohibit the signs:  http://banbillboardblight.org/?p=7198



“This Space Available” Movie Trailer

Check out the new trailer for This Space Available, a documentary film by Gwenaelle and Marc Gobe about worldwide visual pollution and what can be done to stop it.  Making its debut at the docNYC film festival, This Space Available speaks to the ever-growing problem of visual blight… reminding us that we CAN reverse the tide and reclaim our public spaces.

\”This Space Available\” Documentary Trailer

Tree Killing Video

Check out this film about tree killing in Florida.  Filmed, produced and directed by Ossian Or and his partner who are documenting grassroots billboard battles around the country.  This is about a whistle blower/former Lamar employee and their tree-killing work in Tallahassee—very powerful piece.

Tree Killing in Florida

Scenic Texas Awards the 2011 Texas Certified Scenic Cities

Scenic Texas awarded the 2011 Texas Certified Scenic Cities on October 13, 2o11.  The awards ceremony was held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Houston, Texas.  Houston Mayor Annise Parker was on hand to help Executive Director of the Scenic Cities Program, Anne Culver present the awards.  The mission of the Scenic City Certification Program is to support and recognize Texas municipalities that implement high-quality scenic standards for public roadways and public spaces, with the long-term goal of improving the image of all cities.

Here are the 2011 honorees along with a few notable achievements:

Platinum Winners


  • Received full points for on-premises sign regulations
  • Maintains historical sites throughout the town, along the railroad route that used to run through the town
  • Demonstrates model lighting regulations
  • All own construction projects must include public art
  • Received full points for utility and cable line program
  • Has over 10 separate districts with clear and distinct unity-of-design standards
  • Has an ordinance that maintains a percentage of capital project funds be used for public art
Gold Winners
  • Received full points for streetscape development & landscaping criteria
  • Has very strict on and off-premises signage regulation
  • One of 11 cities in the state to receive a certificate of planning excellence from the American Plannig Association
  • Received full points for landscaping in parking lots
  • Has 5 special districts- including a historic district
  • Has strict “dark skies” regulations
  • Meets national standards 0f 10 acres of park per 1,000 citizens
Cedar Hill
  • Is a “Tree City USA” and has been for several years
  • Received full points for on-premises sign regulations
  • Has a walking tour that highlights the historic district of the city
  • Organizes two community cleanup projects every year
  • Has a historic district with specially made signage to enhance the historic feel
  • Is a tree city USA- through strict ordinances and hard work  by the Urban Forester
  • Electronic signage is specifically prohibited in all districts
  • Meets national standards of 10 acre of park per 1,000 citizens
  • Received full points for landscaping in parking lots and utility and cable line program
  • Has a very strict “dark skies” ordinance
  • Has a very active, pedestrian friendly, historic downtown
Silver Winners
  • Received full points for off-premises signage regulations
  • Has a very clear process of disposal for hazardous household waste
  • Has a storm water management program
  • Received full points for parks, trails and public spaces regulations
  • Has a historic preservation ordinance
  • Requires landscaping on private residential property
  • Requires that all utility lines be installed underground
North Richland Hills
  • Received full points for landscaping in parking lots
  • Has a historic district
  • Has a vast public art program- including art on utility infrastructure to reduce blight
Trophy Club
  • Has stringent off-premises signage control
  • Has park set-aside ordinance
  • Has distinctive median landscaping program
Bronze Winners
Horseshoe Bay
  • Reapplied this year and improved its standing
  • No existing billboards
  • Requires that all utilities be placed underground
  • Received full points for on and off-premises signage regulations
  • On January 1, the city adopted a largely new Unified Development Code that will “remake” Hutto’s streetscapes- in fact, it is basically based on these new codes and ordinances that Hutto was qualified to apply and be certified under this program
  • New code or not, nothing changes the fact that Hutto is replete with little “Hutto Hippos” all over town that are allowed as on-premise signage
  • Strong focus on infrastructure
  • All utility lines must be underground
  • Has strict ordinances to create drainage for storm runoff
  • Has a program to financially support local businesses to improve unity of design in the downtown sector
Recognized Cities
  • Very strict off-premises signage control
  • Has park set-aside ordinance for development
  • Has stringent landscaping and tree preservation ordinances
  • Has 13 different zoning districts
  • Has 3 detention facilities to prevent flooding
  • Has a citywide graffiti removal program that removes graffiti on private land free of charge
  • Has a historic preservation program
2012 applications can be submitted beginning January 1, 2012.  For more information or to apply, visit us online atwww.sceniccitycertification.org