Signage & cities: identity, technology and more with less


The Federal election has been called and we are a third of the way into the longest election campaign since the 1950s. And while there are many points that divide the two major parties – cities, it appears so far, have bipartisan support.

This is no wonder, when it is predicted that by 2050 a whopping 94% of Australia’s population will live in cities. But what does the cities agenda mean for Out-of-Home (OOH)?

Most people experience a city when they’re outside the home. This means the OOH industry has a challenge and a responsibility to help shape and activate these spaces.

As an industry we understand and embrace this responsibility, which is why in April, the Outdoor Media Association hosted the ‘Future Cities’ conference, in an aim to start a conversation between business, government, the arts and the community, and to encourage collaboration and partnerships in order to create better public places that we can all enjoy.

In this digital age, we are increasingly seeing the transformation of static advertising posters into digital screens, with Outdoor advertisers having transitioned from being producers of the traditional static poster, to providing:

  • Digital inventory that utilises interactive technology
  • Street furniture that creates social urban spaces for the community
  • Bike schemes that reduce traffic congestion and improve public health outcomes by increasing incidental exercise
  • Interactive mobile technology that helps people experience and navigate cities
  • Structures that are responsible for themselves with technology built-in to ensure they are working, up-to-date, clean and safe

This ‘revolution’ of Outdoor allows everyone access to the same technology, a democratisation of utility while offering cities the ability to do more with less.

But one major challenge to this utopian future of collaboration is regulation. In particular, regulation that constrains or prohibits the development of digital signage, and calls to regulate content.

Government is by nature risk averse, because its duty is to consider the implications of everything it does for all of its citizens. As the Outdoor industry has transformed, it has pushed the boundaries, and government has constrained this with laws, rules and regulation, to the point where now, it is constraining innovation. Our cities are ending up with outcomes that are regulation driven rather than being led by vision. While this may be a simplistic analysis of a very complex relationship, this push/pull relationship is no longer serving the interests of government, business or our communities.

If there is any time to relook at this model, it is now. Now is the time for community, business, and government to come together to find smart solutions for our cities. It is time to enter into a dialogue to embrace what makes our cities vibrant and to welcome signs as part of the ecology of a city. Our cities need to be more than hubs, they need to be smart hubs.

Rather than work against each other as adversaries, we need to work together to create better signs and better creative messaging. And more importantly, we need provisions in State and Local legislation to allow for the evolution of advertising signs to meet the digital age that we are in.

With vision-led outcomes instead of regulation driven ones, we know OOH can offer just the kind of ‘smart’ that cities are looking for.