Billboards, Visual Clutter, and the Heritage District of Iloilo

Billboards--signs of commerce and marketing. They are integral in commerce informing their markets of their products or services, especially on commercial districts. But what if, these billboards seem to steal the limelight and character of the heritage districts? In Iloilo, there seems to be an ongoing war between the capitalist billboards versus appreciating heritage and history--especially in its historic commercial center, Calle Real.

Billboards are Part of Commerce

Commercial districts often have billboards as a sign of marketing, of commerce. Billboards advertise different products, services, and what have yous. These banners have become part of the everyday life in a commercial district.

Billboards have been an integral part of commerce in commercial areas like Calle Real.
Calle Real, being the center of trade and commerce, is no stranger for billboards and ads. Historically these have been in the district for years, especially in its heydays as the "international sugar trans-shipment hub" in the Philippines. It simply is part of the economic life of a city, an urban area.

Ilonggo shophouses: Some old-school signage in Iznart area--painting the signposts on the buildings.
Billboards also make an aesthetic touch to a district. Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo, Hong Kong's skyline, Times Square in New York, or even Las Vegas's glamorous neon signs.

A tarpaulin of a beverage dominates the background of historic Arroyo Fountain at Plaza Nicolas Jalandoni. The Fountain is "Kilometer Zero" for Panay Island, commemorates the establishment of Iloilo's water works, and a work of art. Note: Arroyo Fountain is not within the Calle Real Heritage Zone, yet it is a significant landmark along with old Casa Real Building (old Iloilo Provincial Capitol, a historically marked structure).
As time progresses, billboards have become bigger, bolder, and even more intrusive visually. From the old, painted signs, these became neon. After the era of neon has ended, comes the PVC signposts.

Iznart. Old school. Signposts for shops were just like this in the past, or even smaller.
Nowadays, gigantic tarpaulin billboards have already dominated commercial districts--Calle Real included.

This portal leads you to two things: Billboards to your left, heritage buildings ahead, commercial life everywhere.
In the great war for the target market, the bigger, the bolder, the better, at to what price?

The Great Billboard Wall of Guadalupe

Now, Iloilo is not alone in this trend of "marketing war for bigger signboards."

Credit: @Berniemack Arellano

EDSA, Metro Manila's most infamous thoroughfare, is littered with big signboards, notably in Guadalupe Bridge crossing Pasig River. These gigantic billboards, often looked like walls of tarpaulin, takes advantage of the humongous pedestrian and vehicular traffic EDSA has, and it also has garnered some controversy in the past--from the conservative folks irked at bikini clad ladies, to advocates who called for regulation of billboards because it is a "traffic hazard."

Ohayo EDSA! Ads are everywhere in EDSA.
Now, that's marketing, but isn't it visual cluttering and pollution already? That's an equivalent of a website full of ad-ware, malware, and sponsored posts. There seems to be too much visual clutter! Sakit sa mata!

Ano Pagasapakon Haw? Billboards versus Architectural Details

Eusebio Villanueva Building, aka "International Hotel," is the landmark building in Calle Real--perhaps the most photographed. On your left, is a billboard on an Art Deco S.Villanueva Building
The Historic Commercial District of Iloilo, also known as "Calle Real," has witnessed its transformation from a common rundown old and haggard downtown district Philippine cities usually have, to a testimony of Iloilo's prominence in shaping the socio-economic history of the country during the colonial times. It was later recognized as a "Pook Pamana" or a "Heritage Zone," by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines--putting more laurels to its crown.

"The Tres Marias" -- Regent Builing, YCA Dale (Trading), and Javellana Building. 
As soon as awareness has hit the mainstream Ilonggos and Filipinos combined, there was a boom in cleaning up the heritage buildings--repainting, cleaning, and perhaps retrofitting, to make these heritage buildings look more presentable to the tourists, visitors, and instill pride for the local Ilonggos.

The RCBC Bank (S. Villanueva Building) has made its billboard a bit minimal and less intrusive. Building owners and tenants were given time to adjust with the regulated sign posts in Calle Real area.
The Iloilo City Cultural Heritage Conservation Council has set up guidelines on how Calle Real Heritage District should be maintained and improved, back in 2009.

Despite the implementation, one couldn't help but notice that while some establishments have complied, others haven't. Worse, some of the identified buildings, which are part of the Heritage District catalogue, seemed to have covered the entire facade of a giant billboard!

J. Melliza Building. One of the identified heritage buildings in Calle Real. It's corner facade has been covered completely by a rhum billboard. It is one of the few buildings that have not been "renovated" yet in the heritage zone.
There are some buildings that is cluttered with ads from a big telco company. Others come from breweries and other commercial sectors.

Dali lang bala, ano bala ayhan ang pagasapakon ko haw? 

The Locsin-Coscuella Building at corner Ledesma-Iznart (Plazoleta Gay)'s corner facade has already been completely covered by a giant billboard. And an additional one on top of the building to add.
It seems that billboards either become nuisance in its surrounding architectural conformity, or takes attention all by itself by covering the entire building.

That seems to be a downer if I'm the tourist, right?

Back in the day, during Dinagyang season, the Regent Building and Iloilo Trading Building are dressed with tarpaulins and streamers, covering the architectural details that might have added more impact to the iconic festival and its streetscape. Kasabad gid ang commercial ads sa mga photographers kis-a.
It wasn't the first time that billboards in the heritage district were called for. During Dinagyang Festival season, heritage buildings are covered by big commercial ads. It would have been a great icon for the celebrations if the background of the street dancing would be Iloilo's iconic streetscape, right?

A Need for Dialogue

To be fair, billboards might have been a source of additional income to the building tenants or owners, as marketing arms invest in such. That additional income may have help the owners or tenants maintain the building.

7-11 at the International Hotel Building with post-war Tayengco Building at the background. The signpost follows the set regulations on signposts of the heritage zone. We guess advertisers can follow suit and adopt their creativity in advertising at special zones like these.
Taking care of a heritage building isn't a walk in a park. It needs a lot of money. Good thing though in Iloilo, heritage building owners were said to be given tax incentives in their real estate on one condition--maintain and taking care of their buildings well.

Also, we heard that the tenants and building owners were given time to adjust to the standards implemented by the guidelines.

When you regulate billboards, you appreciate the buildings more.
Personally, instead of going "Pinatubo" over the billboards in the historic district, we think that a dialogue between the tenants, the City Council, and the advertisers would be a great thing in bridging the gap between marketing and taking care of the heritage district.

A screenshot of Section 17 of the IRR of Downtown Central Biz District. You may click on the link below to read more about it.
There is Section 17 of the Implementing Rules and Regulations for the Downtown Central Business District (CBD) Heritage Zone on signage, that may be followed by the marketing advertisers or the tenants themselves.

The telcos and other advertisers can adopt to the existing regulations in the Calle Real CBD. We believe that they can still advertise, but has to be adopted for special places like these.
For the advertisers, we think that we can go creative on how to market your products and services on specialized areas--such as heritage districts, without making it either too intrusive or too nuisance. You got the best talents and we believe you folks can cross the middle way for it.

Though Pablo Dulalia Building is out of the core zone of the heritage district, though only a few meters away from the district, it should also follow the same thing that happens in Calle Real. The Art Deco details compete with the advertising billboard. 
Also, we call in to our Local Government to set better regulations or rules on advertising in the city, most especially those in the downtown area and other central heritage districts such as Jaro, Molo, La Paz, and Villa Arevalo. We think we need to revisit Regulation Ordinance No. 2013-330 which regulates streamers and billboards in Iloilo City. 

Arroyo Fountain and the old Iloilo Provincial Capitol at night. Take note that this isn't part of the existing Calle Real CBD, yet it is connected there through Iznart Street and Plazoleta Gay.
We guess we can examine and improve the implementation of these rules for the benefit of the greater public.

Good night, Iloilo!
In the end, we still believe in the power of dialogue--we just hope that by opening this up, it would make Calle Real better for the Ilonggos and visitors alike.