No, You Can’t Use Public Streets as Billboards

Aerial rendering of proposed “Baby Lives Matter” mural

by James A. Bacon

Last month Venture Richmond, a nonprofit organization promoting Richmond’s downtown, obtained approval from the Planning Commission to paint a 200-foot-“Black Lives Matter” street mural on East Grace Street. Then Mike Dickenson, candidate for City Council, submitted an application to paint a “Baby Lives Matter” mural in front of Richmond Planned Parenthood.

After a closed meeting earlier this month, the planning commission reversed its previous approval of the “Black Lives Matter” approval, and Venture Richmond withdrew its application.

Dickenson told Virginia Public Media that he was trying to make a point: “If you allow one, you have to allow all.”

Venture Richmond’s Proposed “Black Lives Matter” road mural

Street murals are a thing now. First introduced in Washington D.C., the practice has spread to numerous other cities across the country. Then conservative groups countered with requests for “Blue Lives Matter” murals.

“I think it’s best if government just stays out of making roadways and other public areas political art displays, because then you pick and choose and government shouldn’t be in the business of doing that,” he said. 

Bacon’s bottom line: Dickenson makes an important point. Public streets are for the public. They should not be suborned by private interests. If someone wants to make the point that black lives matter — or baby lives, or blue lives — let them buy a billboard!

The incident also calls into question the judgment of the Venture Richmond leadership. The organization is focused on downtown development, marketing, tourism, and beautification. It puts on events and manages the Richmond riverfront. Venture Richmond is not a political advocacy organization. It has no business involving itself in political or public-policy controversies beyond narrow issues impacting its downtown initiatives.

In the wake of the city’s inability or unwillingness to enforce public order in the face of continued “protests,” many businesses are rethinking their commitment to downtown. At the very least after this episode, I’d be rethinking my commitment to Venture Richmond.

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14 responses to “No, You Can’t Use Public Streets as Billboards”

  1. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    They can just use the photoshop version of the proposal and spread that all over social media. Few will know it is actually not there, especially since so few of us are going downtown anymore.

  2. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    At this point they should just paint it. With civil discourse, perceived (believe it or not I don’t care) threats of violence, meal taxes, closing restaurants, and general riff raff downtown RVA may be in some dire straights.
    Painting it will allow those who historically, and probably those in the future, left behind to pick up the pieces… mostly black people, should at least have a reminder that yes they do matter. Quite honestly the crappy schools, spray painted buildings, trashed alleys, uncut grass, and food deserts perpetrated by their government doesn’t affirm their lives matter.

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    Not only Richmond but also point out – not ALL of Richmond either.

    Ditto other cities.

    I agree that it’s either an “all can” or “no one can” sorta like religion in public schools.

    Way too many people, government and private, and NGOs got way out in front of their skis showing thei support for BLM and related and just riled out others who had different thinking.

    But then all those attaboy “white supremacy matters” symbols in public places, not so good either and still has supporters.

  4. Nancy_Naive Avatar

    Unless you’re a high school and paint animal paw prints in your school’s colors for a mile in each direction. It the only regular maintenance the streets in the neighborhood gets.

  5. idiocracy Avatar

    This could be a new major funding source for transportation. Selling pavement space for ads.

  6. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Under the Constitution, which the Ds are saying they want to protect, a government’s regulations must be content neutral. I have no trouble with BLM painted on a street. But, despite being pro-choice, I think folks against abortion have the same right to advocate. I hope a federal judge shoves an injunction up Stoney’s *** and makes the City of Richmond pay all of the attorney fees.

    Up in NE Pennsylvania tonight. Trump signs all over. It would make Fairfax County residents very upset and cause life-long trauma for the snowflakes in college. Sure glad snow-flaking didn’t take hold of my two kids.

  7. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead V

    My 1970 Volkswagen Beetle leaks like a sieve. I can take care of any mural a Baconite objects too with just a few passes. Bad main rear oil seal. I just add a quart of oil about once a week. Let me know the location. Glad to be of service.

    1. idiocracy Avatar

      So you’re the reason that some parking lots look like the Exxon Valdez crashed there.

    2. That’s not very eco-friendly. Think about what that is doing to your carbon footprint! 😉

      Do you need a hand fixing it? I don’t have a lot of experience on the old VW flat four engines but I am very familiar with old BMW boxer twin motorcycle engines and the procedure for replacing a rear main seal is pretty much the same on both engines.

      1. James Wyatt Whitehead V Avatar
        James Wyatt Whitehead V

        Mr. Wayne I am waiting on the parts. Going to replace the clutch too since the clutch plate is probably soaked in oil. Last time I pulled the engine I did it 19 minutes. Hope to beat that time this weekend.

        1. Matt Adams Avatar

          I was going to say, it’ll be a very simple engine pull for you Mr. Whitehead.

        2. “Going to replace the clutch too since the clutch plate is probably soaked in oil.”

          Good plan. You’ll already have it apart anyway. It sounds like you have it well in hand.

  8. I think a 75′ long “Guns Save Lives” pavement mural would look nice painted on Broad Street in front of the GA building…

    1. Matt Adams Avatar

      The PTSD claims for such an obvious affront on peoples right for such a sign would be monstrous.

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