The brightest light in Vancouver is a giant digital billboard! Welcome to Idiocracy!

Billboard at BC Place Stadium brightest thing in Vancouver

I took this photo from my dentist’s office late on a dark November afternoon. That bright light in the upper right by the stadium is a giant electronic screen billboard. It’s one of 3 or 4 such billboards ringing Vancouver’s largest stadium, despite the fact that there are Vancouver by-laws forbidding such signs. The maximum size is 200 sq ft: these are almost 2000 square feet. The stadium is owned by the province of British Columbia, which seems to think it’s exempt from these regulations, though it’s not. I own my land too, but I’m not allowed to do whatever the hell I want with it.

It’s an oddity of the iPhone camera that it doesn’t really capture how bright and obtrusive these big screens actually are. They’re almost sci fi, and I mean the more Bladerunnerish, dystopian end of the sci fi continuum.  A few weeks ago these billboards were erected and lit without any warning; even City Hall was taken by surprise. This is how things are done in what is effectively still the Wild West.

I’m not even going to get into the problem of the stadium itself, or its $600 million new roof with its crass aesthetics, or the way it now dwarfs and crowds the surrounding towers, or the sketchiness of its financing. Or the fact that it’s the wrong stadium for Vancouver in the first place. The underlying problem is with the landowner, a public, provincial corporation called PavCo that repeatedly acts against community interests.

I probably sound obsessed, but readers of this blog know that I and others fought (and defeated, for now) a mega-casino being forced on the City by this same PavCo earlier this year. As it happens, that mega-casino was to be built on the exact spot occupied by the billboard pictured above.

I learned about the billboard fiasco early on because several affected neighbours in the condo towers ringing the stadium quite independently contacted our anti-casino coalition for assistance. We were unable to take on this fight, but the neighbours are now fighting it themselves and gaining media attention. They first tried asking PavCo to abide by the city’s sign laws and remove the billboards, but when they couldn’t get anywhere they went to the media.

How do you get away with klieglight billboards shining right into hundreds of glass condos in one of the densest neighbourhoods in North America? But of course PavCo also tried to force a mega-casino onto an unwilling Vancouver… and may yet succeed. So nothing that happens here is ideal urban planning.

Check out a new blog against the billboards called  TakeTheGiantScreenDownNow, was well as some Twitter accounts set up to fight it: TtGSDN and Stop Billboard. And I’m sure there will be others.

Should the brightest thing in a city like Vancouver be ads for Budweiser and Coke shining out across the sky—from publicly owned land?

Thanks for listening to yet another missive from a place that is slowly—or quickly, depending on your point of view—devolving from a city to a corporate playground. If you haven’t seen Idiocracy yet, you should rent it. It’s a comedy.

Below, the new BC Place memorial to local hero Terry Fox. It’s a sculpture by Douglas Coupland (author of Generation X and Vancouverite) and it’s now dwarfed by advertising.

Update: Occupy Vancouver has now been removed from BC-owned land in Vancouver via court injunction, for breaking City by-laws. Can someone tell me why we haven’t seen an injunction to remove these equally illegal signs sitting on BC land inside City limits? 

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