Adfree Cities for Happier and Healthier Cities

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Billboards are a plight on the environment that also negatively impact our mental health – so why do let them exist? In Sao Paulo they banned billboards a long time ago and their local economy wasn’t negatively impacted while the wellbeing of the people in the city increased. It seems so obvious that we should ban billboards, and that’s what Adfree Cities is all about. The UK-based organization is trying to empower locals to get their politicians to agree with a billboard ban. Let’s do it!

Billboards promote large corporations over local businesses

The majority of adverts we see on billboards and bus shelters are for big brands. This kind of advertising is expensive, and means that local businesses are not able to compete. Local businesses return more money back into the local economy, supporting high streets and local employment. But the messages which dominate our streets are billboards ads telling us to buy from Tesco and McDonalds.

But the biggest spenders on outdoor advertising in 2022 included corporations like Amazon, KFC, McDonald’s, Coca Cola, Sky and Samsung. Hardly your local mom-and-pop business.

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Coast to Coast Artistic Billboards for Resilience in Canada

Resilience (English) from MAWA Programs on Vimeo.

Thanks to the Resilience art project from now until August art is being shown on billboards from coast to coast in Canada. You can locate billboards near you (or on your travels) via their map. It’s a creative way to use billboards to make the world a better place instead of filled with the same old consumer messages. Images by 50 First Nations, Inuit and Métis women artists are being featured not only as an artistic act but also as a political act.

The Resilience billboard exhibition is a response to Call to Action #79 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report: the integration of “Indigenous history, heritage values, and memory practices into Canada’s national heritage and history.” The call supports collaborations among Aboriginal peoples and the arts community to develop a reconciliation framework for Canadian heritage and commemoration. This project is Mentoring Artists for Women’s Art – MAWA’s answer to that call: a creative act of reconciliation, and a public celebration and commemoration of the work of Indigenous women artists, who are still vastly under-represented, not only in positions of power in commerce and politics, but within the art world as well.

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Thanks to Delaney! Helps Toronto Win Right to Remove Billboards

We’ve followed the hard work of before and now they’ve helped Toronto city council win a case in court against billboards companies. The Ontario Supreme Court ruled that Toronto has the right to take down illegal billboards primarily because there is a large public outcry. This is a far cry from banning billboards (like in Sao Paulo), but this a huge step for Toronto.


Because Strategic Media’s case against the City was brought for the purpose of delay — so they can earn revenue from their illegal billboards while their frivolous case drags through the courts — this represents a complete victory for Toronto.

Here are some highlights of the decision, which basically proves that being a pest really pays off:

  • The City has been inundated with complaints since 2006 from a public interest group regarding the proliferation of signs in Toronto’s downtown core. Moreover, in the process of harmonizing the various sign by-laws, the City received public input to the effect that there are too many signs and regulation of the City’s streetscape is inadequate. Thus, the City argues, there is evidence of actual public interest in this issue and harm to that interest if the injunction is granted.” Paragraph 33
  • “While I can assume that the public interest favours compliance with the existing sign by-laws, there is also evidence of specific public interest in this case in the form of the complaints by a public interest group and the comments obtained by the City in the process of harmonizing its sign by-laws.” Paragraph 40

Artist Asks How’s My Advertising?

Posterchild is a Toronto-based artist who is sick of all the illegal billboards in the city and decided to do something about it by using art. One can hope that other cities follow in São Paulo lead by banning billboards in the city. Until then, we have artists.

Last Monday—using data gleaned from Rami Tabello’s—Posterchild stenciled solicitations for feedback below three illegally-run fascia signs downtown (“persistent violators,” as he put it). A play on the now-ubiquitous “How’s My Driving?” slogan typically seen on the back of big rigs, the stencils feature the number of the City’s Building Division, which is, among other tasks, responsible for sign permits. Posterchild, an equal opportunity stenciler, hit one sign each of Astral Media, Titan Outdoor, and Strategic Media. (Titan and Strategic, by the way, are the two companies currently suing the City. And Astral Media is a whole other story.)

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