One of the nice things about living in a ghetto neighborhood is that you're constantly being told what to do by billboards. Drive through the poorer parts of Oakland and you'll get great instructions from billboards about what to eat, how to be a father, and how to brush your teeth. Okay, that last one is a joke, but have you seen those ads on the backs of buses warning parents not to let their children fall out of windows? I swear, Oakland would just disintegrate if it weren't for all those helpful signs.
In my opinion, "public service" ads are usually ineffective at best, condescending at worst. From an urban design perspective, all they do is advertise the fact that one is passing through a bad part of town. An organization called Champions for Change has been putting up a lot of these billboards lately. I find them amusing because they encourage people to do things that would be either difficult or crazy given the urban context. For example:
This one is up on a blighted section of West Grand near Market. Not many fruits and vegetables to speak of in that part of town. The Whole Foods downtown, a couple miles away, has a great selection of produce, but something tells me the target demographic of this ad can't afford to pay $2.00 for an avocado.
There's a related billboard nearby:
This is a little more realistic, in that it's acknowledging that it may be difficult for people to make all these healthy choices given the place they live. But it's a little unclear what it wants people to do. Get involved in local politics? Organize a farmer's market? I find it hard to believe that anyone would be motivated to do anything based on this billboard.
The topper is this one:
I've spotted this billboard in downtown Oakland, possibly somewhere around Telegraph and 23rd. It was changed before I got a chance to take a picture, so I had to jack this image from the internets. What's hilarious/insulting about it is that it was posted in an area where any responsible mother wouldn't dare send her children to just "go out and play." The options for going out to play are severely lacking in downtown Oakland. Just to give you an idea, this is the caliber of playground we're dealing with:
If I ever send my future child to play on a gated-up old parking lot with a few plastic toys strewn across it, I will have failed as a parent.
Children of very strict and involved parents in the ghetto often spend their days inside, lest they get corrupted by the influence of the streets. As a result, they often end up struggling with obesity (from lack of exercise) and asthma (from indoor air pollution and rats). I remember a friend of mine from my days in New York who fit this bill exactly. A very smart girl from Jamaica, Queens, she had weight problems and severe asthma from being kept indoors all day. It would be easy to criticize her parents for not letting her outside, but they made the most rational choice given their circumstances.
The most disturbing public-service billboard in Oakland, however, has to be this one:
If we've got manic, toupee-sporting babies on the loose, fruits and vegetables are the least of our worries.
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