Editorial July 2015
We are inundated by advertising; and no, the irony is not lost on me. Whether by emails, in text messages, on Facebook, online, on television and radio, or in print, everywhere we look, we are told that we need to whiten our skin, blacken our hair, de-yellow our teeth. We’re urged to detox, retox and get botox. We’re seduced by images of luxury cars, penthouses, trips to Europe, if only we’re willing to put ourselves just that little further into debt. Temptations, temptations…
The solution is simple, you may say. You don’t want to buy? Block the sender, unsubscribe, change your settings, turn off the TV, switch off the radio and put the magazine back on your coffee table. There you go.
But then you leave your house and bang! Everywhere. Chiang Mai seems to have been on sale for the past few years; moat corners facing giant digital screens selling cars; highways and ring roads decorated by stacks of billboards boasting international brands; pavements obstructed by signposts promoting cheap air tickets; building facades completely covered by huge smiling faces of celebrities endorsing products they likely never use. There has been such a frenzy of outdoor advertising of late that parts of the city are completely unrecognisable with their billboard-plastered facelifts.
I feel like we are the anecdotal frog that has been sitting in heating water, not realising the temperature is rising until it’s slowly boiled to death. It started with a billboard here and a sign post there, we grumbled a bit and tut-tutted in frustration. Until one day we realised that, like a jungle reclaiming an ancient temple, signs had simply, and insidiously, taken over the entire city.
Chiang Mai’s once gentle vista of crumbling brick walls, glistening pagodas and tropical trees is virtually gone. In its place, advertising…and we have no choice but to see them, to be visually polluted day in and day out by them. Now that Thailand is drowning under national as well as household debts, all we are being told is that we need to spend more.
Some may argue that businesses should have the freedom to sell, but I would argue that as citizens of this city, our freedom to refuse to be bombarded by advertisements trumps all.
Most of these billboards have absolutely nothing to do with Chiang Mai. They promote national or international brands and are all run by Bangkok based advertising firms. According to the municipality, the visual pollutant to our city nets us just under 30 million baht a year. A pittance when it comes to the degradation of our cityscape. In fact, research from numerous cities around the world have shown that outdoor advertising not only lowers property values, turns tourists off a city, but causes stress to citizens leading to depression and insecurity.
We are a tourism city attracting visitors with our historic, cultural and environmental bounties. These are our calling cards. Tourists don’t come here to see signs jostling for their attention.
While advertisements on private property is a harder issue to tackle, our public spaces should never be for sale. Our pavements are ours to walk on, not the municipality’s to sell off.
Our public interests must come first and foremost before those of businesses’, and the municipality must explain to us why it is in our best interest to allow such proliferation of signs in our city. And if they can’t, then please immediately cease allowing all concessions for advertising on private property and discontinue all current contracts as they end. Return our cityscape to the people please. We are citizens before consumers.
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Citylife this month:
Read more about how Chiang Mai has turned into a Sign City and join our Facebook group SignCityChiangMai to help grow the voice so that it will not only be heard, but hopefully listened to.
James Austin Farrell returns this month to write about a very progressive and all-inclusive church here in Chiang Mai, the All Saints Church; Dustin Covert interviews boundary-pushing dancer Waewdao Sirisook; intern Madalyne Staab writes about an initiative to address issues of interest to elderly expatriates; Aydan Stuart gets another free trip, this time to Mae Sot, thanks to Kan Air and spends his working hours playing games with the latest fad to hit Chiang Mai – board gamers.