Should ‘A’ boards be taken off Chester streets?
There is currently a consultation happening in Chester, questioning the presence of ‘A’ boards advertising businesses in the city centre. Options include; businesses getting a licence from the council to display them or the complete banning of them (see Chester Chronicle article and the consultation here). I heard from another source that there were discussions around a branded Chester ‘A’ board that all businesses could use. The arguments seem to be around the look and feel of our historic city being cluttered by the varied, sometimes not well designed ‘A’ boards dotted around our city streets, as well as a few H&S issues. Well here’s why we think they should be left alone!
Yes, Chester is an historic city, we as residents and as a local business celebrate this fact. It means we have unusual and often very beautiful buildings all around us and unique relics that draw in visitors – essential to our local economy. But we are also a city which exists in the current moment. Denying contemporary culture and only celebrating history would be the death of us as a city. Yes ‘A’ boards are not a particularly aesthetic aspect of contemporary culture but they are a communication tool that is needed by local businesses, who pay very high prices to exist in the centre of a relatively small city and they need to tell people they are there. When you take into account that many of our local businesses are essentially hidden from street level view by existing in the much celebrated historic rows, they become even more important. Our local independents don’t have the luxury of the huge marketing budgets accessible to our chain-stores so they need to be able to use the simple tools like an ‘A’ board to show people they exist and they need to use them to show their unique points of difference in order to draw people to them.
From a design point of view there is an argument for a ‘more is more’ approach to ‘A’ boards – yes you heard me right. Walk down the middle of Eastgate Street, with the clock behind you and you may agree that the ‘A’ boards dotted around are the only part of the street that feels urban. We are after all a CITY not a market town. Don’t get me wrong I love the old, higgledy-piggledy or ornately crafted buildings but I also love that juxtaposed with the contemporary elements – they give each other a vibrancy that would be missed without them. Birmingham city centre have done this combination particularly successfully and the centre now radiates energy. I like the diverse, sometimes scrappy ‘A’ boards and often when things are a bit ‘rough and ready’ they look better, and sit better in their setting if there is more of them. Think of the Manhattan Skyline (yes I know we are not New York City but bear with me…) it could look overbearing and ugly – every building is different, and from early 20th century buildings to big fat overblown corporate contemporary giants the maximalism of it all makes it look fantastic! Yet if all these buildings were the same, the city may well look like a grey and foreboding place to be. On a small level the same could be said of a street full of matching ‘A’ boards – then we’d be looking at a street filled with corporate clutter.
In short ‘A’ boards are a small but important tool for our local independent businesses. They are a contemporary element of the British high street and their individuality, particularly on mass adds a little diverse urban edge to our beautiful historic pretty city – so just leave them alone – please.
You can have your say until 5th July here