Corporate Visual Responsibility Initiative

For a full analysis of corporate visual responsibility, read Saving Face: How Corporate Franchise Design Can Respect Community Identity

Blatant corporate brand names and homogenized buildings have trivialized some of our nation's most cherished sites. The entryways to national historic and scenic areas such as Gettysburg National Military Park, Yellowstone National Park and the Great Smoky Mountains are prime targets for the marketing efforts of major corporations competing to sell fast food and gas. This trend results in communities disrupted by large, garish signs and banal buildings, in self promotional design that drastically contrasts with the very qualities that bring people to these places.

Some communities have challenged this corporate visual self aggrandizement by establishing design review standards, persuading corporate chains such as Pizza Hut, McDonalds and Burger King to adopt building and sign styles that harmonize with or even enhance the existing cityscape. Unfortunately, most cities and towns do not have the resources or sometimes the political will to conduct the detailed research and negotiation that will fashion effective design review standards and transform franchise design.

The Corporate Visual Responsibility Initiative (CVRI) takes Townscape's advocacy role one step further, into the boardrooms of some of America's largest corporations. CRVI seeks commitments from entities such as major oil companies and fast food chains to adopt policies that will modify their visual advertising in "gateway" areas adjacent to historic and scenic sites.

The CVRI will rely heavily on the research materials collected for Saving Face: How Corporate Franchise Design Can Respect Community Identity, Townscape's recent American Planning Association publication (2002) showing design alternatives to standard corporate prototypes, as well as the extensive public-speaking experience of Townscape's President, Ronald Lee Fleming, A.I.C.P. Mr. Fleming has been actively involved in public interest advocacy for more than thirty years and has presented this issue to the Prince of Wales Business in the Community conferences for corporate CEO's in Charleston, South Carolina and London, England.

The most efficient and cost-effective way to preserve and enhance our visual heritage is to develop a program that focuses on those corporations whose designs have had the most impact on the visual environment. Rather than working incrementally on a community-by-community basis, this strategy first aims to increase awareness of design issues at the top levels of corporate management, and then to work with this management to develop design alternatives in critical environmental areas. Facts about context, statistics about costs and visual evidence about alternatives will be assembled to persuade these corporate executives that thoughtful, prudent changes in design that respect local character can be advantageous for the corporation, both in financial return and in terms of public image enhancement. For instance, more modest signage and contextual design using local materials can sometimes be less expensive, even if some custom work is included. In addition, a positive program that included community involvement and recognized community character would save the costs of project delays and litigation initiated by citizens concerned about maintaining the visual integrity of their towns. The corporations can also benefit from environmental advertising campaigns (such as those undertaken by Mobil Oil Corporation and Phillips Petroleum Company) that would publicize the corporations' participation in programs that help maintain local identity. Efforts will be made to create an alliance with as many national preservation and environmental groups as possible in order to generate increased leverage in negotiations with the corporations.
The Townscape Institute and its president, Ronald Lee Fleming, propose to develop and initiate this program. The objective is to secure corporate commitments to do the following:

  • Work with national, state and local preservation and amenity groups to alter existing signs and buildings at mutually agreed-upon sites using cost-effective alternatives over a specified amortization period.
  • Use those architectural and landscaping styles that are compatible with the vocabulary of designated historic districts.
  • Use designated colors, building materials, landscaping and architectural styles for structures to be built or remodeled within two miles of National Park and Monument boundaries (where colors, materials, and styles can be agreed upon by participating preservation and environmental groups).

The Townscape Institute's extensive library of visual resources is uniquely positioned to carry this project through to a successful completion - securing visual policy change at key sites.