Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cash-strapped cities, schools say: 'Your Ad Here'

Seven vinyl banners draped this month along one of Chicago's most iconic bridges, advertisements some have dubbed "a visual crime" and "commercial graffiti," are reviving a debate about how governments raise money in tough economic times.

In the aftermath of the Great Recession, a public school district in Colorado is selling ads on report cards and Utah has a new law allowing ads on school buses. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel's administration, straining to fill a $600 million budget hole, is looking to raise $25 million from ads on city property — including bridges, electrical storage boxes and garbage cans.

The effort kicked off this month with Bank of America ads on the 81-year-old Wabash Avenue Bridge, which crosses the Chicago River and has appeared in movies including "About Last Night" and "The Dark Knight."

"I think it's disgusting," Chicago resident Linda Rosenthal said recently, shaking her head as she surveyed the signs. "The architecture in Chicago is stunning. To see this awful advertisement angers me."

The white ads with blue lettering and Bank of America's logo are posted on limestone bridge tender houses, which hold the equipment used to raise the bridge when tall boats pass beneath. Bank of America paid $4,500 to put seven signs on the bridge for about a month, said city spokeswoman Kathleen Strand.

Strand promised the city's new campaign will have "policies to protect the integrity of Chicago's facade" and likened the initiative to the Chicago Transit Authority bringing in about $20 million annually from abundant ads on buses and elevated trains that don't seem to anger anybody.

"The municipal marketing strategy is really about pursuing innovative opportunities to avoid having to cut city services or increase the tax burden on Chicagoans," Strand said.

Still, some ask where the line will be drawn. Could the city's historic Water Tower be next? Or Grant Park's famed Buckingham Fountain?

The city's two major daily newspapers have faced off with opposing views. Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin called the bridge ads "a visual crime" and "a grotesque cheapening of the public realm." A Chicago Sun-Times editorial said the ads, while unappealing, "beat going bust."

Bank of America spokeswoman Diane Wagner said the company said yes when Chicago officials asked if the bank wanted to advertise on the bridge because it's a major employer and philanthropic supporter in the city. "We agreed to be the first company to display on the bridge because we want to help the city explore new revenue sources and we think this is an innovative way to generate new revenue," Wagner said.

Chicago advertising professionals doubt it was a smart move for either side. "I have made my living in advertising, but there has to be better ways to raise money," said Tim Terchek, executive creative director of the Drucker Group ad firm. What's more, the bridge ads could backfire if public disgust sticks to the bank, he said.

Leo Burnett Company's chief strategy officer Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, whose office overlooks the bridge ads, said they are a blight. "It's like commercial graffiti," Hahn-Griffiths said. "It makes no sense from a marketing perspective and I question the intent of doing this because it does not seem like a smart decision."

Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, president and CEO of the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, suggested the city could instead rent out spaces like the City Hall lobby or library and cultural center theaters for weddings and other events. "Placing advertising on a city's architectural assets takes away from the public realm," Norquist said.

Some officials across the country, and the world, are turning to private money for public projects.

In Rome, an Italian shoe company founder has pledged to foot $34 million to restore the Colosseum — the ancient arena blackened by pollution — and its founder has said the gesture could launch more private sponsorship for public benefit in Italy. In Venice, Mayor Giorgio Orsoni defended the use of publicity on restoration of such projects as the famed Doges Palace, saying sponsors' contribution allowed the work to be accelerated.

But Venice also has strict rules on the use of advertisements. Only 10 percent of an exposed facade can be covered, and ads for cigarettes, alcohol and those featuring nudity are banned.

Back in the U.S., a suburban Salt Lake City school district plans to be Utah's first to plaster its buses with advertisements in an effort to generate additional revenue without raising taxes. While the ad revenue is expected to supplement the Jordan School District's budget, officials said it won't be enough to make up for the recent budget cuts.

It's a similar story in Golden, Colo., where Jefferson County Public Schools' report cards now feature ads for the CollegeInvest college savings program. The ads raise $30,000 a year. "Parents understand where we are at with the funding issues and most of the reaction has been positive," said school district spokeswoman Lorie Gillis.

Retiree Jim Phillips, who leads free tours of Chicago's bridges, challenged the city to channel public curiosity about the structures into money-making ventures, such as charging tourists to see the bridge houses' inner workings.

"If it gets to the point advertisements go on more of these historic structures, I don't think there's any way to stop them on others," Phillips said. "What if you put a NASCAR suit on the Picasso? What if you slapped a Google sign on one of the lions at the Art Institute?"


British boy who rebelled against stupid school rules gets award

A 13-year-old boy who wore a skirt to school in protest at a 'discriminatory' uniform ban on shorts was today given a prestigious human rights prize. Chris Whitehead made headlines in May when he turned up for class in his younger sister's black skirt.

He was taking stand against a rule at Impington Village College near Cambridge which allowed girls to change into skirts during hot weather, while boys had to swelter in long trousers.

The Year 9 student said wearing trousers in the heat affected concentration levels and an ability to study in class.

His campaign made it onto national television when ITV's Daybreak presenter Adrian Chiles showed his support by wearing a floral skirt live on air.

Now the teenager has become a runner-up in Liberty's human rights young person of the year competition held at the Southbank Centre in London today.

Chris, who is a member of the school's student executive, said: 'I didn't think it would be that influential, but I'm really happy. It was a good surprise to be nominated.'

He had decided to take advantage of a 'silly loophole’ in the school's uniform policy which meant boys could wear skirts because the school would be guilty of discrimination if it tried to stop them. He said at the time: ‘Wearing a skirt is just like wearing shorts with a gap in the middle. I don’t feel silly at all. I don’t embarrass easily.

‘I will be wearing the skirt at school all day in protest at the uniform policy and addressing the assembly with the school council.’

The 1,368-pupil school, which was classed as good in its last Ofsted inspection in 2006, imposed the ban two years ago after a consultation with parents and teachers. Its ‘Look Smart’ dress code stated students must wear ‘plain black tailored trousers or knee-length skirts without slits’ – but did not specify gender. The school later promised to review its decision.

Chris, of Histon, Cambridgeshire, was the youngest nominee on the Liberty awards shortlist which includes Cerie Bullivant, who fought against government control orders, journalist and activist Zin Derfoufi, and Abigail Stepnitz of the Poppy Project for women.


Australia: Professor expresses outrage at University of Queensland enrolment scandal

That corrupt university boss Greenfield refuses to stand down is a disgrace to him personally, to his Jewish community and to my alma mater. It's hardly unknown for such a highly paid man to be so amoral but it is certainly reprehensible. The university is undoubtedly not getting value for money

A LEADING doctor and University of Queensland academic said there was "great anger" within the institution over the enrolment scandal engulfing vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield.

Associate Professor David Colquhoun yesterday urged Prof Greenfield to step down immediately because the controversy involving one of the vice-chancellor's close family members was "eating away at the integrity and morale of the university".

He said some specialist doctors teaching at the university were openly talking about boycotting the university while the cover-up continued. "We are angry. If the vice-chancellor was ethical he would ... step down now immediately," said Dr Colquhoun, a cardiologist who has taught at the university since 1984. "There is anger, great anger. Quote me as saying that. "One doctor told me he will never teach anyone at the university again. "Students, doctors and academics are all talking about it freely."

Prof Greenfield and his deputy Prof Michael Keniger offered to stand down after an integrity probe found "irregularities" in the enrolment process. Later, it was admitted the student at the centre of the row was a "close family member" of Prof Greenfield's.

Prof Greenfield, who was paid $1,069,999 last year, claimed the incident arose as the result of a "misunderstanding" but failed to elaborate.

The university Senate, the governing body, has decided Prof Greenfield will stay until June next year after his 65th birthday while Prof Keniger will leave in December.

There was community disquiet when the university tried to cover up the scandal. The details of the case still remain a closely guarded secret, with the university Senate declining to release the report.

The cover-up was continuing yesterday, with the university refusing to answer questions or release any information about the enrolment process. No students were disadvantaged, the university claims. Academic staff have been warned not to speak to the media.

Dr Colquhoun said the situation was "objectionable" and unworthy of one of the country's leading universities. "They are public servants and as such have a duty to stand down while an investigation happens," he said. "Public servants and politicians stand down while they are being investigated. That is the proper course of action.

"The vice-chancellor is the chief administrator of the rules and ethics." He said Prof Greenfield's decision to stay was an "embarrassment" and a blow to the integrity of the institution. "It's time he left so the university can begin to restore its reputation," Dr Colquhoun said.


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