Scenic America’s stance on major policies affecting scenic conservation is based on positions adopted by our board of directors and the expertise of our staff, guided by the values outlined in our white paper Taking the Long View: A Proposal for Realizing America the Beautiful, and the input of our chapters, affiliates, and supporters.
The distinctive character and individual sense of place of many American communities is threatened by a variety of pressures, including poorly planned urban and suburban growth, misguided community leadership, and powerful business forces, and the proliferation of massive chain businesses and their concomitant corporate franchise design. Blighted streetscapes, light pollution, and invasive, non-native plants can further mar the scenic qualities of our communities.
Parks, open spaces, forests, wilderness areas, and greenways contribute greatly to the health and prosperity of the American public, yet many Americans do not enjoy equitable access to parks and open spaces. Vigilance is essential to ensure that federal resources are appropriately stewarded to ensure maximum positive impact. Gateway communities require careful attention to ensure the quality of the visitor experience and to protect the ecology. Extraction and infrastructure projects must minimize harmful scenic and environmental impacts. Greenways benefit communities by combining parks, trails, and transit with development.
Many of our most treasured roads have received state or federal recognition as scenic byways for their scenic, natural, cultural, historic, recreational, or archaeological value. Scenic byways are sources of pride and economic engines for the communities they traverse. In 2019, Scenic America led the way to restore the program through the passage of the Reviving America’s Scenic Byways Act and has since secured $22 million to fund the program with more anticipated in FY 23. In February 2021, 15 new All-American Roads and 34 new national scenic byways were designated, the first new entries to the program since 2009. Scenic America is now working to ensure the program’s long-term funding, to institute a consistent cycle for new byways designations, and to preserve the integrity of existing byways routes.
Above-ground utility infrastructure has a tremendous impact on the visual quality of our built environments due to its proximity to the streetscape and its sheer ubiquity. However, this infrastructure provides the public with tangible benefits. The challenge is how to best limit the impacts of these necessary wires on our visual environments, and how to ensure that upgrades to power infrastructure also serve as opportunities to improve the aesthetics of our communities. We must work to provide communities with technical standards to achieve more efficiencies and a better understanding of undergrounding costs and benefits. We should also build awareness about new sources for federal support for undergrounding.
The White House Conference on Natural Beauty discussed how to protect the visual character of the roadsides of America’s burgeoning highway system. It produced an early draft of the Highway Beautification Act (HBA) with a stated purpose to protect the public investment in highways and to preserve the natural beauty of the landscapes they traverse. However, commercial and private interests, particularly those of the outdoor advertising industry, continue to threaten our roadsides and undermine the goals of “Lady Bird’s Law.” Many provisions of the HBA are poorly enforced and other policy options are underutilized. Digital billboards are also growing rampantly. Highways must also reflect proactive beautification efforts, taking advantage of the benefits provided by tree planting and the use of native plants.