Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Charlie Tygard's ongoing infatuation with signs enabled by Metro Council approval of ads in parks

Erectile dysfunction ads are everywhere else, so why not in parks?

It's a vicious circle: the Mayor's Office will not fully fund Metro Parks, which leaves Metro Parks to scramble to come up with other ways to get revenues, which prompts council members--with buddies in the sign business or corporate donors looking at every possible marketing angle--to pitch privatizing in order to bring parks more money without holding the Mayor responsible for fully funding parks. Since Metro Council operates in such a vicious circle--made more vicious by a Mayor who has proposed and generated budget-busting capital projects--it must have been welcome relief to the blundering herd that CM at-Large Charlie Tygard pitched his latest smoke-and-mirrors pretense to help out Metro Parks.

With little debate Metro Council has approved this bill not once, but twice. Approval on third reading will open parks' gates to advertisers, large and small. The rationale is that our green space is growing so much that alternative sources of funding need to be found. However, Karl Dean has slashed parks programming by authorizing cuts to community center hours since he first took office. Hence, this move will likely lower expectations for increases in public revenues for parks. It will place the onus on Metro Parks to hire sales staff to market ad space in parks to corporate clients. It fits right in with the privatizing that the Dean administration has already done in other municipal services like public schools.

Rationalizing advertisements and signs by minimizing their impact is not a new tactic for CM Tygard. In 2007 he tried to justify putting car washes in residential neighborhoods by insisting that the signs advertising the businesses would be "attractive, monument-style" signs, as if comely signs would convince neighbors to accept car washes nearby. In 2009 he led the fight for LED signs in residential neighborhoods and he repeated over and over that they would not be large or flashing, as if that would never be an eventuality if allowed. In 2013 he promises no neon signs on the Parthenon (according to his sign-making buddy, Bobby Joslin, LED light strips are "alternative to neon", so maybe they'll look better in Centennial Park) and he issues talking points on signs that he predicts people will not see in parks:

The bill would give the parks board the power to create rules about ads and sponsorships. That would give the board the power to not accept ads from booze or cigarette companies, for example, or strip clubs.

“I don’t think we want to tackle the condom manufacturers,” Tygard said.

No? Well, what about predatory lenders, one of whom is Nashville's second fastest growing company (and a major campaign donor)? Is allowing ads from companies who market high-interest loans to park patrons who may be at vulnerable moments but who cannot afford them better governance than allowing Trojan to market condoms? It is interesting that CM Tygard was quick to prohibit ads that may or may not involve personal vices, but not ads that may or may not involve corporate irresponsibility.

Again, generating and justifying these alternative funding schemes that benefit his friends in the private sector has always been CM Tygard's M.O. And he has been downright hostile in the past toward publicly funding green spaces: during its construction Mr. Tygard derided the Courthouse Public Square as a "monument to government". This time the Metro Council is going along with his scheme.

Will people care when they start to see visual clutter in parks like signs with, "This mulch trail is brought to you by Waste Management"? Not likely. But it will stand as a precedent to allow Metro Parks to expand ads and increase their clientele later. Restricted ad space will likely generate greater competition and bigger offers that Metro Parks may have problems resisting. Look at the logic of the marketplace: smaller signs give way to larger signs. And who knows. One day we may begin to see illumination and LEDs on ads in parks as the first wave of private ads will have done the job of desensitizing us to more intrusive marketing that is bound to follow after the money rolls in.


  1. At least one of the ballfields at McCabe has a Dick's Sporting Goods sign hanging on the fence. I'm not sure if this is common at other fields.

  2. I was not aware of this, I plan to contact my CM to oppose this.

    "Is allowing ads from companies who market high-interest loans to park patrons who may be at vulnerable moments but who cannot afford them better governance than allowing Trojan to market condoms?"

    Somebody's gonna get the shaft.