Digital Billboards? Neighbors Say “No.”

In mid-December, the City Council Committee on Ordinances held a public hearing regarding a proposed change to our zoning ordinance. The proposed amendment would permit highway billboards within the city of Providence to be converted to digital screens.

Several residents spoke against the request. “Big advertisers keeps upping the ante,” commented one Fox Point neighbor, who described the escalating efforts of advertisers over the last several decades to grab the attention of passersby—first with large-scale traditional billboards, then with live screens, and now with hyper-illumination and rapidly changing messages. The greater the distraction, this neighbor argued, the further these screens will dominate—or even erase—the surrounding environment.

While discussing the issue at the FPNA December meeting, Fox Point neighbors opposed the digital screens for three main reasons. First, neighbors expressed concerns about safety, as the risk of highway accidents increases when drivers are distracted by electronic images. They also described the signs as “visual pollution” that would detract from the appeal of our city. Last, neighbors feared that changing our zoning ordinance would set a dangerous precedent, since the proposed amendment would apply to all future billboards in our city.

Fortunately, the Ordinance Committee did not decide on this matter at the December hearing; we will keep you posted on this issue and encourage you to voice your opinion.

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