The Penang Island Municipal Council should take immediate steps to curb visual pollution on the island, says Lim Mah Hui.
Some time ago, a friend of mine from abroad expressed astonishment at the number of traffic signs in Penang. It seems that every 20 metres or so, there is a traffic signs. In fact, there are so many traffic signs that I wonder how many people notice them at all. Over the last decade or so, a new phenomenon has emerged: the proliferation of billboards and corporate advertisements in Penang and other major cities in Malaysia.
Along some stretches of main roads in Penang, advertisement banners or tacky electronic displays hang from almost every lamp-post along the road divider or pavement (take for instance, the lamp-posts at the flyover near the State Mosque and along Gurney Drive).
Yes, the invasion of corporate propaganda is upon us in a big way, and it seems to be rapidly penetrating many of our public spaces.
The following is the text of Mah Hui’s speech:
On 19 September 2014, a big billboard fell during a storm and crashed on a few cars in Sungei Nibong. Fortunately no one was hurt. This should serve as a wake-up call for Council to take stern action against those who are responsible for this incident and to start cleaning up the proliferation of both illegal and legal billboards, signboards, streamers and poster throughout our city. This is visual pollution; an eye-sore to the public and is against efforts to create a cleaner and greener Penang.
Clear signage is important, but billboards are the height of bad taste. Many cities in the world do not allow for billboards particularly in a historical city. Even a modern city like Honolulu bans large billboards.
The main beneficiaries of billboards and signboards are the land and building owners who charge enormous fees and the advertisers. Council licensing fees collected are paltry; I am told less than RM100,000 per year. Council has removed recently 254 illegal billboards; but many more need to be removed. On top of this, Council is spending RM500,000 next year just to remove illegal posters and streamers.
Council should do the following:
- Clear all illegal billboards, signboards, posters and streamers and make the violators pay for the cost.
- Start aggressively to prosecute violators to the full extent of the law to serve as examples of deterrence. Under the Local Government Act of 1976, violators can be fined not exceeding RM2000, or face a one-year jail term, or both.
- Come out with new guidelines to control the number and the size of such boards and eventually to ban billboards.
- Follow good practices in other cities, like Singapore and Hong Kong, that limit public advertising to street furniture such as bus shelters. This will limit visual pollution and increase the revenue of sponsors of bus shelters.
- Reduce and simplify our own signboards. Learn from other cities that have clear and small signboards. I show two examples – one in San Francisco and one in Melbourne. Compare these to the ones we have in Penang.
I end with showing a short presentation that was given in 2006. Unfortunately little has been done to clean up since. I hope last week’s accident will serve as a call to Council to clean up the visual pollution in our city.
Dr Lim Mah Hui is a Penang Island Municipal Councillor and sits on the steering committee of Penang Forum. He gave the above speech at the full council meeting of the Council on 25 September 2014.