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Signs of Change: From Billboards to Gardens

Billboards are a tool of advertising, conveying a brief message at high speed. To artist Stephen Glassman, they’re a canvas, and a potential tool for confronting pollution challenges as cities grow.

What better place to experiment than here in Los Angeles? This region supports an estimated two million cars every day, many of which pass by dozens of billboards. Summit Media, an LA-based company that owns billboards, offered Glassman and former advertising executive Dan Burrier a billboard in a highly trafficked part of LA to try out their  project. To understand how it’ll look, picture a simple billboard, but instead of an advertisement, imagine tall stalks of bamboo and other native plants that gobble up carbon dioxide and create a tiny, cool microclimate.

Glassman promotes the idea to anyone who will listen. He’s even raised an impressive $50,000 in an online campaign–halfway to the $100,000 he thinks he’ll need. Next spring, he told me, he hopes that the finished garden billboard at the corner of La Cienega Blvd. and Interstate 10 in Culver City will make people think differently about commercial space, especially some areas that can be repurposed for public benefit.

The proposed site, at a busy intersection in Los Angeles.

“It’s not about advertising, it’s about rediscovering the structure,” he told me in his studio nestled inside Topanga Canyon, just south of Malibu. Then we drove to see the actual site. As we looked up at the structure, diesel trucks passed by spouting exhaust.

If all goes as planned, the project could spread to other parts of LA, and other cities too. “We’ll very quickly get this down to a conversion kit for other people to do themselves,” he says. It likely won’t be cheap. Truly ambitious things, however, rarely are.


  1. Eric
    December 24, 2013, 9:04 pm

    1. Plant/Create native grasses/wildflowers, trees, and wetlands along highways to absorb emissions,put of oxygen, capture runoff, and beautify the drive

    2.CREATE/PLANT large fields in meadows, forest and wetlands next to cities for people to recreate and CLEAN AIR/WATER

  2. Jena
    December 19, 2012, 10:16 pm

    Okay….but just take down all the billboards in America…it will cost a lot less than $100,000!!!! In their place plant trees….its that simple!!!!

  3. sutaria hetal
    December 14, 2012, 8:21 am

    i like this soooo much..nd i hope that every people of this world make some own ideas for save environment.

  4. Kalin
    San Diego
    December 9, 2012, 9:50 pm

    This is a really neat idea. I would like to see more roof top gardens and billboard planters. My concern is the Santa Ana winds that come every fall. These high powered winds would blow plant debrie all over the roads. Also it would be expensive and dangerious to maintain billbord planters directly over traffic. I like the idea, I just dont think the billboard planters should be directly over traffic.

  5. Joey
    Williamsburg, VA
    December 9, 2012, 9:36 pm

    Why Bamboo? That contributes nothing to the native environment. Why not native plants that could spread offspring to the city as well as provide habitat for things like insects and birds? Plus, what if the bamboo invaded the city? That would be a natural disaster.

  6. Cedric
    December 9, 2012, 6:06 pm

    I love this idea to be honest, sadly i think the money gained from the ads will win over this great idea. Money will always win out. Could be just the pessimist in me.

  7. Henrike
    December 9, 2012, 5:53 pm

    In German cities, you have to plant a new tree for each old tree you cut. I wonder why sustainability is not a general principle in the New World.

  8. bb
    December 9, 2012, 4:43 am

    @ Nate,

    plants don’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they die, unless you burn it as a fuel.

  9. me
    December 9, 2012, 12:42 am

    aren’t there easier ways of getting plants up somewhere? like john says, on top of buildings, or in the ground. it just seems rather dangerous to be up there when on top of a building is much less so.

  10. Randy
    December 8, 2012, 10:17 pm

    Do you get wind in LA? Looks like the person doing the planting might want an attorney on retainer.

  11. Elizabeth
    December 8, 2012, 9:58 pm

    This is a really nice way to help make the world greener.

  12. john
    December 7, 2012, 8:40 pm

    put trees on top of buildings not billboards

  13. John
    December 7, 2012, 7:10 am

    It looks nice, but seems to me there’s already a bunch of native plants next to the proposed site gobbling up CO2.

  14. Nate Whilk
    December 4, 2012, 3:08 pm

    “imagine tall stalks of bamboo and other native plants that gobble up carbon dioxide”

    And release it when they die.

  15. James
    December 4, 2012, 10:00 am

    This is a truly ambitious project. I hope that something like this would be duplicated across the nation.