Ads don't always have to be flying in plane sight

August 22, 2002


Is the sky strictly the domain of the FAA, or should city

government be allowed to step in and forbid activity overhead that

disturbs residents below?

It is a good question. On the one hand, we rely on the FAA to do

the right thing and set curfews at airports that are surrounded by

dense residential neighborhoods. The skies are its area of expertise,


one which city governments would not like the responsibility for. And

yet, people have the right to live in peace.

If a person marched back and forth in front of homes shouting

advertising slogans day in and day out, that would probably be

considered disturbing the peace and police would usher them along.

As I ponder the ongoing debate regarding banner-towing planes and

the suggestion of an ordinance banning them from the city's skyline,

I am reminded of a couple ordinances I questioned in the past.

I grew up in historic Concord, Mass., where, if you wanted to

paint your house, you had to have the color approved by the city.

Homes in Concord could only be certain colors -- colors that could

have been made in colonial times.

Well, when my mother first told me that, I knew the indignation of

youth. How dare they? People should be allowed to paint their homes

any darn color they pleased. (I can't remember what color I wanted my

parents to paint our house.)It wasn't until many years later, when I

lived elsewhere, that I learned to appreciate rich history and

classic beauty of the area I had grown up in. It was then that I

realized a bright pink or gaudy green home could have been

catastrophic to what Concord, Mass is all about. There are, by the

way, no fast food restaurants, no Targets or Wal-Marts in Concord


Fast forward about five years. I moved to Boca Raton, Fla. It is a

rather upscale community in south Florida, that takes itself pretty


While there are MacDonald's and such in Boca Raton, don't look for

the familiar golden arches in the sky -- you won't find them. That is

because there is sign control in Boca. The arches are small and on

the ground so as not to clutter the cityscape. ( It will also be the

most nicely manicured MacDonald's you'll ever see.)

Once again, I found myself thinking these people have got to be

kidding me.

Were they so snooty that their delicate sensibilities couldn't

bear the sight of a sign commonly found in the rest of the world?

It seemed odd -- until you've been there a while. Then, when you

go elsewhere, you find the huge garish billboards and tall, flashing

neon signs are an affront to your senses. Suddenly, a city in which

advertising isn't forced down your throat at every turn is a treat.

It is peaceful and serene.

These cities saw a way to preserve their natural charm.

In a world that is grossly overpopulated and overbuilt, these

ordinances that may seem strange, or an intrusion on the right to

paint or build or advertise are in fact a means of preserving peace

and comfort levels. The sole purpose of the banner planes is to

attract attention.

And they certainly have. But the attention they are getting now,

probably isn't the kind advertisers wanted.

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