Pole “litter” not an issue of livability, but of censorship

If you are a pedestrian, a bicyclist or a motorist with excellent eyesight, you may have seen the bold yellow signs on telephone poles that read, “I Am Ugly Litter”. Most of these have been plastered over the top of existing signs. This is City Hall’s subtle way of telling us that telephone pole signage is wreaking havoc on the “livability” of our beautiful city; this has been apparently a “constant irritant” to some members of our community who consider it “graffiti,” essentially trash, and believe it should be banned.

In the early ’90s busybodies in Seattle imposed a similar ban on postering. Since then, the poles have been stripped bare, increasing the sterile, industrial appearance of the city. How in the hell does that build community or enhance livability? Families whose utilities have been shut off, do not have shelter, or who rely on food donations to get their needs met, are the ones experiencing real livability issues.

How much money would you guess has been set aside to combat the posting of offensive posters and signs on telephone poles in the Metro area? So far, around $6,000. Half of that was donated by utility companies that use the poles (specifically PGE, Qwest and Portland Power and Light) and the rest came from the city’s “Graffiti Abatement Fund.” This is an outrageous waste of time and money.

How fast do you think I’d be arrested if I started ripping advertisements off the sides of busses, billboards, and storefronts that I found irritating? Ah, but that’s not the litter in question; and that is just the problem. This is about attacking people who do not have the funds – or the inclination – to run an advertisement in the city-defined “acceptable” forms of mass media.

Postering is basically a community bulletin board at street level. Available to people who want to find their lost pet, find a witness to a car accident, show their patriotism and unity in a time of national crisis, share information, spark much needed debate, announce upcoming community events, and yes, even crappy diet products that promise that you can lose 60 pounds in 3 days.

If we, as citizens, allow this trial ban to succeed we will have lost a low cost means of communication and expression for people in this community. Although I am personally offended by a great deal of mainstream advertising myself, it is dangerous to ban such a commonplace, and essentially harmless, form of communication.

Postering is a part of living in a thriving, culturally and economically diverse community. If this is truly a safety issue for the utility workers who use the poles, as the utility companies and city officials have claimed, then why not just ban the hard poster-board variety of signs? Most of the people spearheading this ban concede that it is largely an aesthetic difference of opinion. That means it is essentially an aesthetic judgment call disguised as a public safety issue.

I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the city dictating what does or does not have value; this is largely an attempt to ban the events and ideas that the posters represent. I urge Mayor Katz to drop this matter altogether. Please, do not waste any more money, effort or time on this. It is a non-issue, and in my opinion, postering is a beneficial aspect of our city’s culture. We should celebrate the opportunities our free society affords us and most importantly, our right to free-speech should be protected, not banned.