Corporate advertising in our parks and playgrounds?

Council is soon going to be debating some significant and alarming changes to the City’s Naming Rights and Sponsorship Policies.  The proposed changes would effectively allow corporations to buy naming rights to public places, including streets, parks, and children’s playgrounds, with little or no community consultation.  In my opinion, the City should not be selling off the names of public spaces for corporate gain; it should be consulting with communities to ensure that names for public spaces reflect the identity and interests of the community that uses them.

Some of the policy changes about which I think we should be most concerned include:

–       the loophole that allows for “honourific” names for streets to be sold to “organizations” which could include corporations.  Previous street naming policy included a clause expressly forbidding using street naming to facilitate advertising.  For some reason, this clause has been removed, leaving the door open to naming streets after corporations.  The clause forbidding this should be reinstated.

–       the granting of virtually unlimited authority to City staff to enter into advertising deals with corporations for naming rights and sponsorships.  The policy changes would give City staff the authority to enter into contracts for naming rights and sponsorships if the sum of money involved is less than $500,000.  This proposed increased delegation of approval authority to staff will make it much more difficult for Councillors, local communities, and interested groups to challenge naming rights and sponsorship sales and raise their legitimate concerns.

–       the selling off of the naming rights to children’s playgrounds to corporations.  Children are particularly vulnerable to advertising.  Playgrounds should be places in which children should feel welcomed as members of a community, not targeted as potential consumers of corporate products.

The naming of public places is one of the most important ways in which a community can build its sense of identity and its understanding of its heritage. Naming places after corporations undermines civic identity. Let’s urge all Councillors to reject any proposed policy changes to naming rights and sponsorship that would promote the interests of corporate advertisers over the interests of the community and encourage them to promote policies that would strengthen the requirements for community consultation and transparency in these matters.

– Anne Keary

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