Monday, March 1, 2010

Interview For

Our good friend Carolyn Tripp at asked us to answer some questions regarding the last NYSAT project that took place on October 25th. Yesterday they posted our responses.

Jordan Seiler and the many participants of New York Street Advertising Takeover (NYSAT, a sister project of PublicAdCampaign) have completed yet another round of murals on top of the illegally posted billboards on the island of Manhattan in NYC. This campaign was largely in protest against NPA Outdoor, one of the city’s largest contractor for billboards and large-scale advertisements. [More Here]

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Toronto City Council Adopts Billboard Tax and Comprehensive New Signs By-Law

Fighting the encroachment of commercial messages in our shared public spaces happens in many different ways. In Toronto, they have recently won a hard fought legal battle which will regulate signage in the city with an unprecedented billboard tax. We commend Rami Tabello and all of the the activists and artist who worked incredibly hard to challenge the abusive outdoor advertising companies that once reigned supreme on the streets of this marvelous Canadian city. The new by-law is an indication that the public, through hard work and perseverance, can actually alter the space they live in and create for themselves the city they so desire.


It was a fantastic day at City Council and someday we should let you know the inside scoop of how a rag tag team of public space and arts activists beat a murder of high priced billboard lobbyists and convinced City Council to adopt the Buildings Departments’ recommendations to adopt a $10.4 Million billboard tax and new by-law to regulate billboards. [More Here]

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Billboard Industry Uses Illegal Billboards to Promote

In typical OOH advertising industry fashion, illegality abounds in Toronto. In an effort to convince the public that a small tax on billboard advertising will run the OOH business into the ground, OOH companies in Toronto have been hanging their own public service announcements around town. This is in spite of the fact that the city of Toronto, in an independent study sees the tax reflecting a mere 7% of the ad industries revenue. This is on top of the fact that the tax will go to supporting much needed public arts funding in Toronto. I can't even begin to explain the complexity of the *$%#storm surrounding this battle so I would suggest going straight to the source if you have any interest.


"How fitting. We have discovered that the Out of Home Marketing Association is using illegal billboards to promote" [MORE HERE]

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Less Billboards, More Art! Please Support This Cause

Toronto is a city filled with illegal outdoor signage and antiquated sign laws. Rami Tabello of has been fighting to change these laws and it looks as if they will make headway this morning morning at 9:30 am when the debate over the Signs By-Law and Billboard Tax will take place. The post below via the View on Canadian Art blog briefly describes how these new taxes and Sign By-law might further the arts agenda in Toronto and bring public content to the forefront of public space.

This just in from the Department of Culture, a community of artists and arts professionals who organized themselves in the wake of the Harper Government’s brutal cuts to the arts in the past year, in order to ensure “the social and cultural health and prosperity of our nation in the face of a Federal Government that is aggressively undermining the values that define Canada.” [MORE HERE]

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Billboard watchdogs clean up skylines

VIA The Christian Science Monitor

Standing amid the assortment of new and old buildings in downtown Toronto, Rami Tabello clearly relishes his role as crusader: “Take a look at my handiwork,” he boasts, pointing to a rectangle of discolored brick several stories high on...[MORE HERE]

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Documentary on Illegal Billboards in Toronto

I love the fact that Toronto calls for a special enforcement unit to take care of the proliferation of illegal advertisements. Let it be known we have such a unit in New York City and they are so over burdened that public activist calling out over 130 illegal advertisements has rendered little to no results. In fact, the process of calling out said advertisements resulted in the arrest of 4 concerned public citizens. We not only gave the DOB Sign enforcement unit a map of NPA City Outdoor illegal locations, but provided photographic documentation as well. Despite this fact, no action has been taken against the offending outdoor advertising company. When does it become a citizens responsibility to act outside the law because the law cannot enforce the public's wishes?

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Monday, May 11, 2009

According to the Toronto Star, When People See Dan Bergeron in the Street, They Seethe and Stomp Away in Disdain

This post comes from Rami Tabello of Toronto's The long story short is Fauxreel, or Dan Bergeron was active in Canada as a street artist and then produced an ad campaign for Vespa that was almost indistinguishable from his personal street work.

Support comes from the public as well. On Queen Street West, a passing cyclist hears Mr. Tabello talking about billboards and stops to congratulate him on his efforts.

“Commercial activity or captivity?” by Susan Krashinsky, The Globe and Mail, June 2, 2008

We covered the Fauxreel sellout issue before, namely in Fauxreel Sold Out For Real where we noted that Dan Bergeron’s fellow street artists had a thing or two to say about his decision to become a blatant criminal shill for Vespa. The issue was also covered by Torontoist and by Anne Elizabeth Moore.

The Toronto Star has now written an interesting article about Bergeron. First, Bergeron uses the opportunity to piss on his critics:

Not long after being outed, one of Bergeron’s personal pieces, a woman in profile with a gravity-defying mohawk pasted up near Dufferin St., had scrawled on it the street-art equivalent of a scarlet letter: “SOLD OUT FOR REAL.”

Bergeron shrugs off the debate as juvenile. “Some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction if something is commercial – because they’re too cool,” he says.

Then this remarkable tidbit from the end of the story:

Bergeron squats low, pasting the boots of his subject to the wall on Dowling St., when a young woman crosses the street and beelines towards him. “I just wanted to come up to congratulate you,” she says. “I’ve seen this all over. It really makes a statement.”

Bergeron quietly thanks her and turns back to his paste, when a young man in a fedora and cargo shorts approaches. “Is that the same ad for the scooters?” he says, glaring. Bergeron just smiles. “Yeah, man. It is,” he says. The man stares, seething, and stomps away. Bergeron slathers the last of his paste on the image’s toes, and moves on to the next.

Actually, some people feel like they have to have a certain reaction because it’s not just an unmitigated criminal sellout — it’s an unmitigated criminal sellout that threatens public support for street artists. Perhaps Dan Bergeron can explain to us how can campaign against illegal advertising and support street art, when the ads are camouflaged as street art. That’s why Dan Bergeron’s corruption is a collateral attack on, and that’s why people seethe when they see Dan Bergeron, and that’s why they stomp away: because Dan Bergeron was an irresponsible, selfish asshole whose criminality pit public space activists against street artists, and who then had the hauteur to call us “juvenile” and “too cool” for pointing that out. You may think it’s “juvenile,” but we’re not the one who is counting Vespa’s money in our basement while fending off random haters on the street.

My thoughts are as a street artist, reclaiming public space for public consumption, you can't also be taking public space for private commercial means. The two ideas mutually exclude each other in their efforts and therefor confuse the intent of the artist. To think that as an artist you can practice such different ideal, shows ignorance to what you are actually doing as a street artist and ultimately depoliticizes your work.

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Report From The Billboard Jungle in Los Angeles ::: illegalsigns

If you don't enjoy watching news programming in your free time, consider watching this on company time Monday morning.

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Toronto Making Huge Strides

Rami Tabello's tipped me off to the billboard tax being pushed through by in Toronto. Obviously this is an ingenious way to begin funding the public arts and a way for the advertising world to pay the citizens of this world back for the mental abuse we have been put through daily in our public spaces. I think of the tax as the rent advertisers must pay for the space they take up in my head.

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Billboard Confidential-KCET LA


I found this series done by KCET LA on outdoor advertising in Los Angeles on Rami Tabello's This quote from part 3 of the series embodies the distrust which develops when a city fails to take care of its residents before it takes care of the outdoor advertising industry and huge profits. "It doesn't really seem like anybody cares and I don't really believe the city is capable of doing anything about it." With critical legal as well as safety issues being ignored by the outdoor advertising industry in LA and the lack of public support for outdoor advertising, it is amazing the city has not been more cavalier with the problem.

Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

MTV News Coverage of

It seems like this issue gains more momentum every morning I wake up. Proof positive of this is a segment on Rami Tabello of, aired on MTV. If spreading the word and winning the battle over public opinion is what this is all about, I think we might just be headed in the right direction.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fuel Outdoor Suffers Huge Defeat as US Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down Metro Lights Decision

Rami Tabello is a genius. This post chronicles the ongoing Fuel Outdoor drama which seems to have ended in Fuels defeat. We should see the removal of many Fuel advertising structures in New York and other cities as this decision trickles down. The end note regarding the stock price for the hedge fund that owns Fuel is amazing.

from by

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before. This is a company that we have termed the “Dirtiest Billboard Company in America.” We also wrote about Fuel’s legal challenge against New York City in Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

Fuel Outdoor is owned by Och-Ziff Hedge Fund which, after it acquired Fuel from Sergio Fernandez De Cordova and Seth Lippert (see an interview with these two oleagenous twats), financed a multi-million dollar USA-wide spree of illegal billboard construction.

In addition to installing illegal billboards, Fuel Outdoor would oversell their signs. They would sell, say, 2,500 sign faces nationwide to a major media buyer, then actually install less than that. Pattison Outdoor does the same thing in Canada, although Astral and CBS are careful not to. (When CBS Outdoor acquired the TTC advertising contract from Urban Outdoor TransAD, CBS found that Urban was overselling quite a bit and CBS Outdoor officials believe that IMA Outdoor currently oversells signs for its GO Transit franchise).

Fuel’s signature product is their “Metro Lights Panels” which you can see above. They were installed without permits first in Los Angeles, which has a street furniture contract; Fuel Outdoor than challenged the signs by-laws of Los Angeles, under the First Amendment. Fuel was quite successful in the lower courts, which ruled that Los Angeles cannot ban Fuel’s signs because it allows the same type of signs on transit shelters.

Emboldened by the lower court victory in Los Angeles, Fuel Outdoor installed the same signs illegally in other American cities that have Street Furniture contracts including: New York, Boston (in very useless places), Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC and San Francisco. There are currently outstanding challenges by Fuel Outdoor to the signs by-laws in San Francisco and New York. Those challenges in San Fran were stayed pending the outcome of an appellate court ruling in the Los Angeles case.

Thankfully, appellate court completely destroyed Fuel Outdoor and said that municipalities can ban billboards even if they allow the exact same signs on transit shelters. This is the ruling [PDF]:

Fuel Outdoor can now be expected to lose the associated court cases in the rest of the country. One blogger, points to a particularly scathing paragraph in the opinion in which the judges slam Fuel Outdoor’s famous attorney Lawrence Tribe:

Not to be deterred, Metro Lights drew our attention to additional precedents at oral argument in support of a further variation on this allegation of unconstitutional favoritism. Upping the rhetorical ante, Metro Lights accused the City of “auctioning off First Amendment rights” to the highest bidder, in this case CBS. This is strong, if rather sloganeering, language, but after reviewing the case law on which Metro Lights relies, we believe it to be little more than a canard.

Och-Ziff Hedge Fund is currently trading at $4.85/share down from its $32/share initial public offering price in late 2007.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

64 3rd Avenue: Fascia Sign on a Mural Permit

I posted about this illegal billboard on a few days ago and Rami Tabello from, being the most versed person I know on Illegal billboards, picked it up and gave it some interesting back story. This sign is not only illegal for not complying with its permit but in fact it was removed by the DOB because of its illegality approximately 3 months ago. The fact that it has been rehung is proof of the blatant disregard outdoor advertising companies have towards the laws of NYC and towards the interests of its citizens.

from by Rami Tabello

We’ve written quite a bit about fascia signs on mural permits. In fact, the City of Toronto is now being sued by Titan Outdoor over the issue. Toronto is not the only city with a vinyl sign on a painted sign problem. There is a lot in common between New York City and Toronto. Billboards for one.

This article from the New York Times from is from 1998:

The article illustrates that, just like in the City of Toronto, the New York Department of Buildings is issuing illegal permits for billboards:

City Councillor Duane recently wrote to the Commissioner of Buildings, Gaston Silva, saying that he fears the department ”is issuing blanket approvals for these signs without regard to building codes, zoning regulations, or their appropriateness.”

The article then goes on to say:

Billboards are permitted, with restrictions, in the parts of downtown that are zoned for manufacturing. They are banned in historic districts, though painted advertisements are allowed on some buildings. And within 100 feet of a residential zone or park, billboards are allowed only if they face at least 165 degrees away.

So the NYC code has more permissive regulations for painted advertising.

The photograph above, from, is of Fuel Outdoor’s illegal billboards at 64 3rd Avenue. A complaint was filed against the sign on August 14, 2006. Then in December 2007, Fuel Outdoor obtained a permit to paint a sign on this wall.

The permit appears to specify that there was an existing legal non-conforming painted sign on this wall. We would doubt that.

We’ve written about Fuel Outdoor before in Fuel Outdoor - The Dirtiest Billboard Company in America and Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008 on 1181 Broadway

Some very important info has been posted on illagalsigns by Rami Tabello about the status of a billboard I called in which had already been deemed illegal and fined $15,000 but has yet to come down. Check it out at this link

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Illegal Billboards in NYC

After a lecture by Rami Tabello of Illegalsigns.caand Steve Lambert of The Anti Advertising Agency given at the Eyebeam gallery, I found a new way to vent my frustrations at the public advertising industry. I have spent the last few weeks walking around a few hours a week in search of what I believe to be illegal billboards in NYC. Along with many others, I found this advertisement which was not only illegal but which had been served by the Department of Buildings months prior to me laying eyes on it. I have called the DOB and complained that not only was the sign illegal but that it also had yet to be taken down after the DOB deemed it so. Here is an image of what it looks like and I will post an image of its removal as soon as that happens.

In the words of Rami Tabello, " An incompetent buildings department is just as bad as a corrupt buildings department."

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

CBC TV News Coverage of

Recent news coverage of campaign against illegal signs in Toronto.

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Thursday, July 3, 2008

Fuel Outdoor-Illegal Ads

This article appeared on and should be read by all New Yorkers. It not only heightens the deep distrust I have for the public advertising industry but makes real the lack of respect they have for the city, its government and thus its people.

Fuel Outdoor Builds 324 Illegal Signs in New York City Then Sues New York City

by Rami Tabello

We previously took a look at Fuel Outdoor in Fuel Outdoor - The Dirtiest Billboard Company in America. Fuel Outdoor is expanding nationwide with an aggressive legal strategy that sees them build hundreds of illegal billboards in a city, then sue the city on First Amendment grounds.

In New York City, Fuel is rampant. The problem is, they won their case against Los Angeles in Federal Court because of Los Angeles’ street furniture program, and they are attempting to take that precedent nationwide. Here ares some of the 324 illegal Fuel signs that are popping up all over NYC:

According to the lawsuit that Fuel filed :

-Out of the 360 signs Fuel installed in NYC, 324 are illegal under the NYC sign code. Paragraph 4.

-NYC’s sign code is “stark government hypocrisy” because it doesn’t apply to New York’s street furniture program. Paragraph 1.

-The sign code’s justifications are “blatantly pretextual.” “It is axiomatic that the City cannot infringe on core First Amendment rights when its reasons for doing so are blatantly pretextual especially where, as here, the City’s true motivation is to destroy competition and reserve for itself a monopoly in the outdoor advertising business.” Paragraph 11.

-Fuel should be allowed to operate its panels until a comprehensive sign code is implemented that also applies to street furniture. Paragraph 12.

-Fuel installed signs visible from the sidewalk but inside the walls of parking garages, like the ones in the last photo above. Fuel claims that such signs are not subject to the NYC sign code because they can’t be seen when the parking garage door is down. Page 7, footnote.

-Cemusa’s street furniture contract allows up to 200 scrolling ads. Fuel’s ads don’t scroll. “This provides yet another reason why Cemusa’s bus shelter signs are even more dangerous and unattractive than Fuel’s panel signs allegedly are.” Paragraph 58

-Cemusa’s ads are equipped with Bluetooth technology “that actually enables these signs to detect passing cellular telephones and to send advertisements directly to these passing phones…. Needless to say, the fact that unsuspecting motorists may be bombarded with text message advertisements emanating from nearby bus shelters provides yet another reason why -Cemusa’s bus shelter signs are, if anything, significantly more dangerous and unattractive.”

The City’s scheme for regulating outdoor advertising therefore does not directly advance its purported interest in promoting traffic safety and aesthetics and is therefore unconstitutional.

Here is the whole complaint: [PDF]

According to this letter [PDF], New York City entered into an agreement to stay prosecution against Fuel’s signs pending the outcome of this case. Fuel apparently continued to build new signs, and the agreement does not cover all the Fuel signs in NYC:

The Fuel case is scheduled to be heard in tandem with a case against New York by Clear Channel. More on the Clear Channel case soon.

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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Understanding Illegal Wall Signs

Just found this on the website. This site is an amazing resource for understanding how we can fight the progress of the public advertising industry.

There are about 200 3rd party vinyl wall signs in downtown Toronto – and about 175 of them are illegal. Most of the recent illegal sign development has occurred with vinyl wall signs. Understanding how this is happening requires an appreciation of the difference between a fascia sign and a mural sign, as the Toronto Signs By-Law defines them. You see, most illegal vinyl signs actually have 3rd party sign permits – mural permits, permits for hand-painted signs. Why? Because murals are not subject to Separation of Signs - our most important sign control by-law.

The By-Law defines a mural like this: “A sign painted directly on the face of a wall.” A fascia, on the other hand, is defined as: “A sign mounted wholly against the wall of a building.”

A painted mural sign is difficult and very expensive to execute – it requires days of work by a highly skilled (and licensed) sign painter. An advertising-quality mural typically costs upwards of $25,000 to execute and can take weeks, depending on the weather - a major part of that cost is the vacancy cost of not having an ad on the wall during the painting process. Murals also require a sidewalk occupation permit if they face a street. Profitably operating a 3rd party mural sign is impossible except in very high traffic locations that vandals can’t reach, especially if the sign is non-illuminated. For these reasons, Non-Illuminated Mural signs are not heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law - they are restricted by their intrinsic nature.

Fascia signs, on the other hand, which include computer-printed vinyl signs affixed to the side of buildings, are very cheap to execute for advertising companies. For this reason, fascia signs are heavily restricted in the Signs By-Law.

What’s happening is straightforward: advertising companies are obtaining permits for non-illuminated mural signs, which they can obtain for pretty much any wall, and then illegally erecting vinyl fascia signs because they can’t profitably operate hand painted murals on those sites. What has helped the industry most is Municipal Licensing and Standards, which is supposed to enforce the Signs By-Law, but doesn’t know the difference between a fascia sign and a mural; and the Buildings Department, which is supposed to promptly inspect newly constructed signs, but has allowed mural permits to go un-inspected for years.

With the City now taking action against illegal fascias, pursuant to our complaints, the industry’s lobbyist is making a desperate push to post-facto legalize the industry’s fascia sign sites – this would have the effect of legalizing the majority of illegal wall signs in Toronto. The Planning Department will oppose this scheme if they can stop laughing at it.

Let’s take a closer look at how the Signs By-Law treats fascias vs. murals. A 3rd party Fascia is not permitted within 60M of other non-mural 3rd party signs – this restriction does not apply to non-illuminated murals. This is the exact wording of the Separation of Signs By-Law:

No person shall erect or display or cause to be erected or displayed a fascia, ground, roof, pedestal or illuminated mural sign used for the purposes of third party advertising unless it is separated by a minimum radius of sixty (60) metres from any other such sign used for the purposes of third party advertising.

The following table illustrates the stark difference in the way the Signs By-Law treats non-illuminated murals and fascias:

Attribute Restriction on Non-Illuminated Murals Restriction on Fascias
Within 60M of another 3rd party sign No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(1)
Within 300M of another sign over 70 M2 No restriction Totally Restricted per 297-10F(2)
Size Max: 100 M2 per 297-10D(11)(a) Max: 25 M2 per 297-10D(5)(g)
Out of the 175 illegal fascia signs in Toronto, about 100 of them are operating under non-illuminated mural permits. The rest have no permits or 1st party permits, mainly because they are erected in a location where even a 3rd party non-illuminated mural is restricted – like on a historical building or a on a wall facing a street.

Remember Murad? Murad Communications used to run painted advertising signs all over downtown, but they couldn’t cut it anymore. It simply became unprofitable to operate painted signs due to the vast increase in advertising square footage in Toronto – driven by our Planning Department which seriously botched the Signs By-Law from day 1. The Murads were all operating under non-illuminated permits, which means Murad couldn’t legally reach evening rush hour for half the year.

And then Murad, which had its share of enemies in the outdoor advertising industry, was hit by devastating paint bombings which destroyed scores of its ads, interrupted advertising campaigns, and made operating painted signs intolerable for mission critical campaigns.

Computer printed vinyl technology was developed in one of those industry-academic collaborations by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Financed by a consortium of billboard companies, MIT scientists worked with MetroMedia Technologies for the specific goal of creating robotically produced outdoor graphics. MetroMedia (whose TV stations created the FOX network) introduced the technology to the billboard industry in 1987. By August 1993, when the cost of printing vinyl was still no less than the cost of manually painting a sign, Murad’s Michael Chesney was quoted as saying: “Sooner or later it won’t make sense for a guy to manually paint a billboard and get the nose wrong when you can get it right through a computer, cheaper.” Except you can’t get it right through a computer, cheaper, legally. At least not in the good ‘ole City of Toronto. And that’s pretty much the only thing the Planning Department ever got right about our Signs By-Law.

Of course, operating outside the law never bothered Murad much; even before Murad used illegal vinyl it was illegally illuminating more than half its billboards.

As a technology-intensive good, the cost of computer printed vinyl decreased rapidly. So, as Mr. Chesney predicted, Murad started to use illegal vinyl in lieu of paint, fired its muralists, and, in 1997, perhaps because he saw the writing on the wall, Mr. Chesney sold his company for US$5.5 Million to Mediacom/CBS who, in turn, sold 14 Murad sites to Titan a few years ago - a smart move on CBS’s part, a move that allowed CBS to capture a portion of the economic value from running illegal fascia on those 14 sites without actually running illegal fascia themselves. But not that smart… because CBS is still left with 16 illegal vinyl fascia signs in Toronto, all of which are soon to be history.

Astral Media, Megaposter and Abcon are also operating illegal fascia signs on these old Murad sites because they, too, can’t turn a profit while complying with their non-illuminated mural permits.

When the Signs By-Law is enforced against illegal fascias operating under non-illuminated mural permits, advertising will disappear from most of these old Murad sites as well as the 50-odd illegal fascia sites recently developed under non-illuminated mural permits. There are a few mural sites which have attributes required for profitable mural operation: ambient illumination, great demographic targeting, high visibility, difficult to vandalize - but those sites are few and far between.

Nobody anywhere in the world is investing a dime in technology to make painting signs cheaper - globally, painted signs are being legally displaced by cheaper and cheaper computer printed vinyl. The technology for computer printed vinyl has now reached developing countries. The City of Toronto is the only place in the world that we know of that puts significantly fewer restrictions on painted signs, the only City we know of where displacing a painted sign with vinyl is illegal. A company that invests in technology to make painted signs cheaper would be investing in an autarky - you can’t propagate that technology anywhere in the world outside the boundaries of the Former City of Toronto. That’s why billboards on mural permits are headed to the dustbin of history: because you can’t legally operate vinyl and the relative globally-benchmarked productivity of the painter’s labour doesn’t make economic sense anymore. Globalization killed them. Murad’s signs, which do little more than promote transnational brand hegemonies, have been hoisted on their own petard.

By the time is done, large format vinyl fascia signs will be finished in Toronto, and so will the local sub-industry that has developed around them.

And then the people of Toronto will once again see walls they haven’t seen in years.

UPDATE: Titan Outdoor has sued the City of Toronto over enforcements of fascia signs on mural permits.

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