Out and about in our Great Metropolis this weekend, I was struck by the limited use we Brits make of free vertical ‘real estate’ for advertising, promotion or pure aesthetic purposes. Our major cities are full of blank spaces which, used creatively, could meaningfully enhance our grey, urban environment.
Undecorated construction hoardings are a personal bugbear, having admired the more aesthetic uses that these are put to in other European cities. Many London buildings and development sites are hidden behind a developer’s hoarding at any given point. Would our cityscapes not be vastly improved if these carried artists’ impressions of the finished project, or beautiful images to reflect the surroundings, or digital works of art? The wide format production techniques certainly exist to do this quickly, sustainably and affordably.
Likewise, compared with some other nations we seem to make limited use of building wraps to disguise structural work in progress, while in other cities I’ve seen these used ingeniously and on a gigantic scale to give the illusion of the original streetscape. This works equally well whether preserving the visual impact of a heritage building under renovation, or giving the passer-by a taste of a new architectural gem under construction.
And are our local authorities not missing a trick? If corporate advertisers were willing to sponsor these blank spaces, could we not see a ‘win-win’ where the urban environment is enhanced while also contributing to the cost of construction or restoration of what’s underneath? I’ve seen examples of this in central Paris, and presume that residents are more than happy to live with an attractive, temporary printed hoarding or wrap if the matching revenues can reduce their local tax bill.
Passing through the London suburbs in the evening, or on a Sunday afternoon when many smaller businesses are closed, we’re also confronted by row upon row of bare metal security shutters. This temporary space, at eye level in high traffic urban environments, is surely unmined out-of-home media gold? Seen from a not-for-profit perspective, imagine the positive social impact if these blank canvasses could carry community advertising, or be used as temporary promotional space for charities who could never otherwise afford a prominent poster site.
I’m not advocating the total saturation of our cities with outdoor advertising, and I’m all for uncluttered open spaces. But where the alternative is an eyesore, why not harness it for aesthetic, commercial or – better still – social benefit?