The visual contamination is a menace to traffic safety for drivers and pedestrians.
The mayor’s office isn’t enforcing the regulations. Businesses close to the seat of power exercise unfair competition. Law regarding signage is stuck in the legislative pipeline.
By Xavier Mantica (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The streets of Managua are covered with signs, banners and billboards. Every corner, lamppost and wall along the public roadway is used to promote the sale of a product or service, or to announce an event. The public space has become the new “yellow pages” where anything can be advertised. Many of these signs remain for a long time after their usefulness has expired.
Urban planning experts define the problem as “visual contamination” – the set of elements outside of the architecture that perturb visibility and perception. The invasion of signs has become a true concern for the population, since it doesn’t only affect the urban landscape, but also represents a danger for traffic safety.
Wilmer Martinez, an instructor at the “Mano al Volante´[“Hands on the Wheel”] driving school, states that he’s seen a motorcyclist knocked off his motorcycle after becoming entangled in an advertising banner that had broken loose from a pole along the Masaya highway. “The banner tore apart, grabbed the guy and wrapped around him like an Anaconda snake!” he assures us.
An on-the-street survey conducted by Confidencial revealed that residents do consider excessive the profusion of signs and publicity banners throughout the city, and they blame the Managua mayor’s office for not adequately controlling the problem.
“Everyone just puts up their banners as they please. The mayor’s office, which I believe is in charge of regulating this, doesn’t do so,” said Rigoberto Lopez. Bayardo Granados agrees: “This has to be regulated; it’s a problem for the mayor’s office.”
Confidencial requested a response from the Managua mayor’s office regarding the comments criticizing the lack of regulation, but neither Mayor Daisy Torres nor Camilo Fonseca, the director of urban planning, responded to our request.
In 2003, when the office was headed by Herty Lewites, the mayor’s office approved a measure entitled “Signage Regulations for the Managua Municipality” which established norms for the installation, positioning and distribution of signs and advertising banners.
The norms established that there should be “harmony” in the placing of advertisements in public spaces, in order not to put traffic safety at risk. Nonetheless, the norms didn’t specify technical considerations such as height, material, color, or the location of the sign or banner.
Architect Fatima Darce, a specialist in landscapes and consultant for projects like the planned broadening of the Juan Pablo II roadway and the redesign of the green spaces for the port of San Juan del Sur, considers that the current regulations don’t allow an effective control of signs. Darce adds that the Managua roundabouts, originally created to clean up the intersections, are now a disorderly display of colors full of distractions for the drivers. “The signs don’t have a format that allows them to be clearly perceived. They’re all jumbled together and you can’t really make out anything,” she says.
The architect is also concerned that many of the “mega-signs” are installed very close to the highway and represent a serious danger in case of an earthquake. “In Florida, for example, there’s a regulation that stipulates that the massive signs should be installed 660 feet away from the outside line of the highway. Here we haven’t thought about that. If there’s a natural disaster, they would likely collapse, and we’d have a series of obstacles across the roads,” she notes.
In the last weeks, former deputy Agustin Jarquin has sent a series of letters to the Managua mayor’s office demanding that some of the signs and postings that block driving visibility be taken down.
“The amount of visual contamination is impressive,” he asserts. Jarquin warns that there are pedestrian bridges that are covered in signs on both sides, converting them into dark tunnels where muggings could happen. “We ask not only the authorities, but also the companies that put them up to begin correcting this situation, and not wait until there’s a murder or a serious crime,” Jarquin declares.
Confidencial contacted half a dozen signage companies in Managua to request an interview, but all of them refused. In business circles, there are complaints about the disloyal competition practiced by companies close to the presidency and the FSLN secretariat, practices not subject to any regulations from the mayor’s office. “They can put their signs anywhere they want. They’ve even resorted to economic and political pressures to get some competitors out of the game. There’s a company that was forced to sell its spot to an (Ortega) family business,” said a source from the entrepreneurial world who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
Carlos Cuadra, director of the Carlos Cuadra Cardenal Advertising Agency assures that the saturation of signs and billboards affects the dissemination of their message, to the point where they lose relevance and effective communication. “Many signs aren’t in an adequate place; the passers-by there aren’t the segment of the population they’re meant for, nor are there adequate conditions so that the message can be seen with sufficient time and attention,” he assures.
Carlos Cuadra’s agency is part of the McCann-Erikson global network, and utilizes publicity tools to evaluate the scope and value of every sign or billboard. “Many billboards in Managua don’t reach the standard minimum score, because there are too many elements working against them to allow an adequate transmission of the message,” Cuadra notes.
In October 2013, Daniel Ortega sent to the National Assembly the draft of a Signage Law that would regulate the posting of signs via a tax on the individuals or companies that install it. Nonetheless, the initiative has been stuck in the legislative pipeline for almost four years, due to a lack of consensus in the private sector.
Jose Adan Aguerri, president of the Superior Council of Private Enterprise (COSEP), states that reaching an agreement with the government to approve the Signage Law forms part of the private enterprise agenda for the second half of the year. “We’ve been working to unify our positions so we could put this in order and decontaminate, while establishing a price range that allows the sector to be competitive,” he states. “I believe that we should close 2017 with a new Signage Law.”
Nevertheless, ex-deputy Agustin Jarquin feels that the law hasn’t been passed due to a lack of political will. “They should focus on the municipal government’s reason for being: the population. The idea isn’t that they stop advertising, but that they do so adequately, and that they take into account the people, the citizens,” he affirmed.