Billboards: Should Baltimore City Ban Them?

November 1989 / Abell Reports / Community Development

If in October 1989 you wanted to make an informal sampling of just how many billboards are posted and what is being advertised on them in Baltimore’s black and low income neighborhoods, you could have ridden west out Lombard Street (it becomes Frederick Avenue) for about two miles, beginning just beyond the University of Maryland, and through to Irvington. Here is what you would have found:

  • at Poppleton: Gordon’s Gin
  • Monroe St.:  Martell Cognac; Australian Lamb
  • Landwehr St.: Johnny Walker; Marlboro
  • Bentalou St.: Australian Lamb
  • Willard St.: Bacardi Rum; Newport; Bacardi Rum
  • Franklintown Rd: Salem; Canadian Mist; 7-Eleven
  • Parksley Ave: Gordon’s Gin
  • Mt. Olive Lane: Crown Royal
  • Alpine Caton Ave.: Marlboro; MOST (credit card); P.T.A.
  • Ellamont St.: Salem; N.A.A.C.P.
  • Loudon Ave.: Australian Lamb; CIGNA; Marine Corp.; “Schocker” (the movie)
  • Pratt St./Payson: Salem
  • Fulton Ave.: Salem
  • Stricker St.: Newport
  • Calhoun St.:  Gordon’s Gin

Driving through the black and low income neighborhoods of Balti­more, one needs no scientific survey to be convinced of the obvious: there are a lot of billboards in these neigh­borhoods and most of them feature advertising of addictive products –­ tobacco and alcohol.

One formal survey supports the observation with hard data. The sur­vey was made by Scenic America, which lists its mission as a “private, non-profit organization that works to clean up visual pollution.” It documented 2,015 billboards in Bal­timore City. Here are some of its findings.

  1. Over three-quarters of these bill­boards are located in predominantly black, usually poor neigh­borhoods.
  2. 70 percent of these billboards advertise tobacco or alcohol prod­ucts.
  3. Ouly 12 out of 50 billboards se­lected at random from 2,015 bill­ boards, or 24 percent, had per­mits; on this basis, 76 percent of the billboards in Baltimore City may be illegal.
  4. The city has permits for 1,737 billboards. If this number represents only 24 percent of all bill­boards in the city, there may be up to 7,000 billboards in Balti­more City. Washington, D.C. has less than 100.
  5. There are more billboards promoting lottery sales in Baltimore City than in the entire rest of the state. As to who makes up the buying market, the report quotes Sun Business Editor Philip Mo­eller, “Lottery tickets are overwhelmingly purchased by lower income people.” The report ar­gues that the State of Maryland has responded by targeting their ads where low-income residents of Maryland congregate.


Total lottery billboards —

Maryland:  72

Baltimore City:  43