The Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) is one of the most iconic buildings in Nairobi and literally defines the capital city’s skyline. Completed in 1973, it is a stunning 105-meter mega structure of twenty-eight floors. It has a helipad on its roof and a revolving restaurant on the top floor. Its unique shape and towering height have made it the unrivalled landmark of the city of Nairobi.

A big controversy emerged after the recent installation of an electronic billboard just above the top floor of the building.

Vocal ‘patriots’ were up in arms against the project, and claimed that national heritage was being commercialized. The aesthetic beauty of the project was questioned, with arguments that it interfered with the unique finishing of the building and the cityscape.

Others defended the commercial value of the billboard, arguing that the building management had the right to generate income.

KICC Building with its Electronic Billboard

Critics see billboards and urban advertisements as visual pollution that interfere with a city’s visual environment and prevent citizens from enjoying and appreciating the scenic beauty. They blame billboards for distracting drivers and raising the rate of accidents, negatively affecting the values of neighboring properties, covering windows and thus affecting the safety of buildings, destruction of trees when billboards are being put up and intruding with the natural landscape. In summary, they divorce us from our natural heritage.

On the other hand, others state that outdoor advertisers pay municipal authorities much needed money for the use of public space. At times, they provide cities with bus shelters, public loos and other necessary facilities. A good example was the re-installation of streetlights in Nairobi by Adopt-A-Light, who went ahead to also install massive floodlights in slum areas, markets and parks. Prior to this, there were hardly any working streetlights in Nairobi.

Roadside Advertising is filling up the streets of Nairobi

Some cities like Sao Paulo have gone all out to ban outdoor advertising. After the 2006 ban, over 70% of the population stated that they preferred the ad free city. Similar laws apply in Vermont, Maine, Hawaii and Alaska. At the same time, in other places like New York’s Time Square, billboards are part of the identity, form and character. London recently constructed a cable car that is dubbed ‘Emirates air-line,’ while various stadiums worldwide have also sold their naming rights like the Allianz Arena in Munich or Toronto’s Rogers Center.

At the moment, the Nairobi county government has earmarked urban advertisements as a potential source of income. The same applies for the coastal city of Mombasa. The Nairobi Government, however, has attempted to impose tougher laws that will limit the space between billboards, thus allowing for more room for natural growth and scenic beauty.

Where are the limits of outdoor advertising? To what extent should citizens accept outdoor advertising in their cities?

Credits: Images by Constant Cap. Data linked to sources.