Mayor Emmanuel Sells Ad Space on City Architecture

Mayor Emmanuel Sells Ad Space on City Architecture

Bank of America ads appear on the Wabash Ave Bridge

One of Chicago's pivotal tourist draws has to be its towering architecture. The city stands as a gem of early 20th century industrial design. Even folks who call the Windy City home have still got to be impressed by the size and scope of the buildings around them when they walk through the loop. Strolling up State Street feels like wandering through a huge valley of steel and concrete. It's dwarfing, humbling, and inspiring all at once, this city built by humans for giants. And that's exactly why Chicago's structures make pretty much the worst billboards in the world.

That won't stop Rahm Emmanuel, though. In one of his first big moves as mayor, he's gone ahead and sold spots to corporations in key places downtown. The first ad display appears on the Wabash Avenue Bridge, where Bank of America signs are cheaply plastered onto the stone. 

There's no regard to taste or aesthetic to be seen here. Rahm clearly doesn't mind treating historical architecture like the rear bumper of a Subaru: as prime bumper sticker real estate. It looks gross, it cheapens the cityscape, and it's a slap in the face to those architects who spent so long making this city what it is. The last thing I want to think about when I'm admiring the structures of Chicago is which branch of corporate bank I should be handing my money over to.

If anything, these ads will lend another negative connotation to Bank of America--something they really don't need right now with the debit card fee fiasco and the Occupy Wall Street protests. In fact, maybe this is a move against Occupy Chicago on the part of Rahm and BoA. Protesters have been marching around the financial district for weeks; now they get to see another part of their city marred by corporatism. It seems kind of like a big middle finger to the movement.

It's certainly inspired by the same sort of desperation that sparked OWS. The city is broke, just like millions of frustrated Americans. And desperate times lead, sometimes, to desperate and clumsy measures--like using iconic architecture as a billboard. Mayor Emmanuel plans to raise $25 million by selling ads on public exteriors. We'll see how far he gets with that. Thankfully, the Bank of America logos will only be here for another month--though there's no telling where Emmanuel and his corporate sponsors will be slapping their branding next.