Urban Communication Regulation

Communication Freedoms and Limits

by Harvey Jassem (Volume editor) Susan J. Drucker (Volume editor)
©2018 Monographs XX, 256 Pages
Series: Urban Communication, Volume 5


Cities are where the majority of people in the world live. As such, it is critically important to understand cities when seeking to address quality-of-life issues. While the concentration of people in cities presents many complex issues that warrant attention, the focus of this book is on urban communication and human interaction as regulated by municipal governments. Thirteen scholars—whose backgrounds range from community organizing, to law, telecommunication, architecture, city planning, art, policy studies, and urban communication—examine public communication venues and opportunities, all of which are impacted by municipal regulation.
Whether it is the selective funding of public art, the establishment of architectural standards for public buildings, the regulation of signage, public assembly, food trucks, or telecommunication access, the authors in Urban Communication Regulation: Communication Freedoms and Limits contend that urban policy and regulation shape communication in cities. Through zoning, funding, "private law," and a host of other means, the regulation of communication has significant impacts on the quality of life for those who live in cities. The essays in this volume focus on many of these impacts, and suggest both why and how municipal regulation can improve the quality of urban communication.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Figures
  • Introduction (Harvey Jassem / Susan J. Drucker)
  • References
  • Part One: Content and Regulation
  • Chapter One: Didactic to Collaborative: A History of Public Art Policy in New York City (Emily Bauman)
  • Didactic Democracy: The Origins of Public Art in the US and NYC
  • Changing of the Guard: Depression, World Wars, and a Decline in Public Art
  • Resurgence of Art: New Frontier, NEA and Art’s Return to Architecture
  • Low Economy, High Art: Art in the Parks, Non-profits and Alternative Spaces
  • Economic Art Boom: Percent for Art and the Precedent of the 1980s
  • Lessons Learned: The Elusion/Illusion of Success, Defining Public Art’s Role
  • Notes
  • References
  • Preface to Chapter 2
  • Chapter Two: How Public Architecture Communicates (Faith Rose)
  • Introduction
  • How Public Buildings Communicate
  • Uncovering, Assimilating, and Expressing Meaning Through Buildings
  • Government Support of Good Public Architecture
  • The Department of Design and Construction
  • The Design Excellence Program
  • The Public Design Commission
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter Three: The Roles and Regulation of Urban Graffiti as Communication, Art or Criminality (Gene Burd)
  • Art of Crime
  • Graffiti as Urban Expression
  • Conclusions
  • References
  • Chapter Four: Urban Sign Regulation (Harvey Jassem)
  • Why Regulate Signs?
  • The Process/Home of Sign Regulation
  • The Sign Regulations
  • Categories of Signs
  • Legal Review
  • Post “Reed v. Gilbert”—What Is a City to Do?
  • Notes
  • References
  • Part Two: Place and Regulation
  • Chapter Five: Public Space and Communication: The Zoning of Public Interaction—Revisited 2016 (Susan J. Drucker / Gary Gumpert)
  • Introduction
  • Public Space and Communication: The Zoning of Public Interaction—1991
  • Public and Electronic Space
  • The History and Purposes of Zoning
  • Zoning and Interaction
  • Protection from Interaction: The Setback
  • The Electronic Setback
  • Facilitating Interaction: The Cafe as Medium
  • Segregating Uses and Interaction
  • The Mediation of Public Space
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • References, Introduction 2016
  • Chapter Six: Limiting Participatory Culture: The New Police Power and the Legitimization of Free Speech Zones (David S. Allen)
  • Introduction
  • Participatory Culture and Democratic Spaces
  • The Police Power and Expressive Freedom
  • The Rise of the Police Power and the Spatiality of Expression
  • The New Deal and the Decline of the Police Power
  • The New Police Power: The Foundation of Free Speech Zones
  • The Public Forum Doctrine and the Categorization of Public Life
  • Time, Place, and Manner and Free Speech Zones
  • Free Speech Zones as an “Ample Alternative”
  • The New Police Power and Participatory Culture
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter Seven: Street Performers, the First Amendment, and New York City’s Activity Zones (Juliet Dee)
  • Introduction
  • Background
  • Legal Questions
  • Definitions
  • Value of Street Performance as Communication
  • Time-Place-Manner Regulations: Is There a First Amendment Right to Busk?
  • New York City’s Twentieth Century Ordinances
  • Legal Challenges to Restrictions on Panhandling
  • Legal Challenges to Restrictions on Busking and Street Performances
  • Does the First Amendment Protect Panhandling?
  • New Regulations = Teal Boxes
  • Discussion
  • References
  • Chapter Eight: Privatopias and Freedom of Expression: Speech Problems in Paradise (Donald Fishman)
  • Privatopias as a New Housing Paradigm
  • Legal Issues Related to Privatopias
  • (1) City of Ladue v. Gilleo (1994)
  • (2) Twin Rivers Home Owners Association (2007)
  • (3) Mazdabrook Commons Homeowners Association v. Khan (2012)
  • (4) Bloch v. Frishholz (2009)
  • (5) Flag Flying Controversies
  • Privatopias and Government-Based Regulations
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Nine: Contested Urban Space: Zoning Regulations as a Political Resource for Community Groups (Kevin M. Carragee)
  • Contested Urban Spaces and Discursive Struggles
  • Engaged Research and Contested Urban Space
  • The Context of the Presentation Struggle
  • Using Zoning Regulations and Codes Relating to Historical Preservation as Political Resources
  • Transforming the Struggle into a Crisis
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Part Three: Manner and Regulation
  • Chapter Ten: The Urban Broadband Revolution: What Cities Can Do to Bolster Connectivity (Charles M. Davidson / Michael J. Santorelli)
  • The New Urban Core: Broadband’s Ubiquitous Presence in the Modern City
  • The Failed Municipal Wi-Fi Experiment
  • The False Promise of Municipal Fiber
  • The Political Economy of the Modern GONs Movement
  • How to Enhance Broadband Connectivity in Urban Areas
  • Bolstering the Supply of Broadband
  • Improving Broadband Adoption and Digital Literacy
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter Eleven: Broadband Adoption and Access in New York City: A Case Study (Emily M. Long Vito)
  • Defining Access and Adoption
  • Barriers to Broadband Adoption and Access
  • Efforts from the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT)
  • Nonprofit Efforts
  • The New York City Department of Education
  • Lessons Learned and Recommendations
  • Acknowledgments
  • References
  • Chapter Twelve: Regulating the Place of Food Trucks (Gary Gumpert / Susan J. Drucker)
  • Mobile Street Vending and the Food Phenomenon
  • Regulation of Food Carts and Trucks
  • Location, Location, Location
  • On the Streets of New York
  • Vending and the Privatization of Public Space
  • Cart vs. Truck
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Contributor Bios
  • Subject Index
  • Names Index
  • Series index

| vii →


Figure 1.1. Looking West from Peristyle

Figure 2.1. Rugby Library

Figure 3.1. Graffiti Artist

Figure 4.1. Neon Sign

Figure 6.1. Speech Zone

Figure 7.1. Costumed Characters

Figure 9.1. Community Center

Figure 12.1. Food Vendor

| ix →



Professor Emeritus, University of Hartford


Hofstra University

Urban communication regulation is about as compelling and important an area for examination as we can think of. The 21st century has been dubbed the urban century. It is an era marked by recentralization and a return to the inner core after decades of suburban sprawl. It is an era of urban sprawl. It is the first century in which the majority of the world’s people will live in urban areas with over three billion residents in cities representing a demographic transformation on an unprecedented scale. Cities have always been social settings.

As this is being written, people around the world are proclaiming that these are times of profound change and instability. Of course, such has often been said, and is often accurate. There are issues of political, economic, structural, climate, military, patriotic, educational, and racial concerns that are on the minds and in the voices of many. And how some of those and other concerns play out gets us back to urban communication regulation. At least if one believes, as we do, that decision making and the life of the mind depends on, and is reflective of, what people are aware of, thinking about, and acting on or choosing.

Nicholas Johnson, a former Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, noted that “The choice you’ll never know is the choice you’ll never make.” (Johnson, 1972, p. 45) Knowing entails communication. So, to know, to understand, and to act, requires communication with other human beings. Increasingly, human beings are urban. By definition, “urban” is where the masses of people are. ← ix | x → Most people in the United States, the focus of this volume, and most people in the world, live in urban areas. That concentration is forecast to grow in the coming decades. So, if we want to know what most people are thinking about, if we want to know what most people can think about, a focus on urban is essential.

More than that, urban areas, because of their concentration of people and the constant mix of people, present special communication-related issues. Consider the communication issues that are purely density-related. If one lives in a very rural area, miles from another human being, would it matter if they crank the volume of their music such that it could be heard 500 feet away? Not at all. Would it matter if they put a large sign or flag or graffiti or a food stand outside their home? Hardly. Assuming there were a sidewalk outside their home, would they impede traffic if they stood there in a costume or playing an instrument asking passers by for money? We don’t think so. But in a densely populated area, an urban area, all of these same things could be troublesome. And when people are bothered, they seek help. Government regulation is one avenue for such help.

Similarly, communication in urban areas involves infrastructure, more so than is likely the case in rural areas. Infrastructures and designated public spaces are more critical to life in an urban area than is the case in rural. Rural areas don’t have the same need as urban ones for designated public outdoor spaces. There’s already a lot of space. Rural areas tend not to need zoning or design standards because one person’s design will hardly be seen or impact others. Funds for public art are likely slim, as funds tend to come from taxing individuals and businesses, and if there aren’t many people, and they are spread out over a large area, financial resources likely do not run deep. And there are even differences in the physical infrastructures. One reason telephony became a regulated “natural monopoly” was that in the early days of telephony, when there were many competing telephone companies, the enormous amount of wiring that was necessary to handle all of those customers and competing companies in cities blackened the urban sky or clogged the underground conduits. Rural telephone poles didn’t have that issue. And there are no rural underground conduits.

Urban areas differ from rural too due to their being the hub of multiculturalism. Immigrants bring different languages, foods, customs, and cultures to cities, adding to and sometimes clashing with, or at least not fully aware of some of the preexisting norms. There is the cacophony of rich and poor, young and old, residents and tourists, business districts and residential, vehicular and pedestrian traffic, crammed closely together. While all of that is exciting and can be fun, there are just more opportunities for misunderstandings, more opportunities for people to get in each other’s ways, and for conflict.

And regulation, at its core, is about resource allocation and conflict resolution. Regulation is about setting up the rules of the game. Regulation is the result of ← x | xi → choices and, affects the choices others will make. Regulation creates winners and losers—not just in terms of individuals or businesses, but in terms of arts, culture, ideas, politics and everything.

Regulation may be restrictive or expansive, negative or positive. By way of regulation, and we use the concept broadly in this volume, we refer to the roles governments play in affecting the communication landscape of cities. Sometime governments regulate who can say what to whom through what channels and under what conditions. In such cases, governments empower or disempower some “speakers.” Governments may limit what may be “said” and those limits might be applied broadly or applied narrowly. Governments are also in positions where they may assign or limit the channels of communication. But it is not just about government limiting communication. Government policies or regulations can also serve to encourage or pave the way for some kinds of communication. Government grants for the arts or for infrastructure or for technological innovation can all serve to impact who says what to whom.

Some regulations directly control free expression in cities through licensing and control of content. Perhaps more interesting are the regulations which indirectly control urban communication, ostensibly targeting non-communication related activities but that purposefully or accidentally determine the nature of communicative interaction. Regulations are of two types: a) primary regulation: regulation primarily aimed at communicative activity and b) secondary regulation: regulations aimed at non-communicative activity but which affect communication. These secondary regulations include anti-loitering, anti-littering, gambling and public nuisances and the licensing of alcoholic beverages, minimum drinking age and driving age, parking regulations, anti-babble locations prohibiting the use of mobile phones. Smoking laws are among the most significant indirect regulators of communication opportunities in public places. Land use regulations, especially zoning laws are important secondary regulations (e.g. addressing signage, facades, display windows, take-out and delivery service, and vending machines, and the segregation of functions or design districts) all influence communication patterns. Additionally, much of the communication infrastructure is shaped by diverse regulations.

Communication regulation and regulatory theory also must deal with notions of jurisdiction and property rights. Who owns a place and does it matter? Do private property owners have rights to communicate in ways that travel beyond their property? Do they have the right to curtail communication when their spaces are open to the public? Do they have the right not to communicate?

“Regulations and licensing governing activities within the built environment influence communication by controlling communication activities or by controlling communication contexts” (Drucker & Gumpert, 1996). In 1996 Drucker ← xi | xii → and Gumpert argued there are “manifest and latent ways in which regulations governing both public spaces and the behavior in those spaces function as a unique, often overlooked area of communication law” (Drucker & Gumpert, 1996, p. 281). At that time they noted:

A complex regulatory web constitutes the regulation of communicative activities and impact.

There is a growing literature on urban communication and media and cosmopolitanism Featuring cosmopolitanism is featured by such authors as Myria Georgious’s Media and the City: Cosmopolitanism and Difference (Georgiou, 2013) and Alexa Robertson’s A Mediated Cosmopolitanism: The World of Television News (Robertson, 2010).

There has long been a literature on municipal law which addresses communication among myriad other areas of regulatory concern. More recently, several books have addressed communication rights in cities such as Speech Out of Doors: Preserving First Amendment Liberties in Public Places by Timothy Zick which deals with changes in the legal status of lands once available for the exercise of communicative rights in outdoor public spaces. Other volumes have dealt with the implications of privatization of public space. Brave New Neighborhoods: The Privatization of Public, by Margaret Kohn (2004) deals with First Amendment rights in public spaces which are becoming increasingly privatized and Beyond Zuccotti Park: Freedom of Assembly and the Occupation of Public Space by Ronald Shiffman et al. (2012) which deals with the legal status of public spaces in different countries as sites for public protest. A growing literature is concerned with smart cities (e.g.: Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia by Anthony Townsend (2013). Several volumes address the growth of the wired or smart city which includes provision of municipal wi-fi. While policy and regulations (often retarding development) are addressed, these volumes feature a technological notion of communication while neglecting other forms of urban communication subject to regulation. This volume seeks to place communication in the foreground of the examination of urban/municipal regulation.

Of course the reach and scope of government regulation are always subject to debate, but those questions of reach and scope are of even greater significance and complexity when framed in a First Amendment context. The First Amendment ← xii | xiii → appears on its face to prohibit government restrictions of speech, press, and the right to assemble, all issues germane to urban communication regulation. The First Amendment is always the elephant in the room, rightly so, we believe, when considering urban communication regulation.

It is with that broad perspective, that communication, broadly conceived, matters to the quality of life of individuals and so the broader society—both in terms of the aesthetics of individuals and the societies, and in terms of the ability to grow and govern smartly, and that communication in urban areas is profoundly important, because that is where most people are and where potential conflicts and opportunities are magnified by the density, and finally that government regulation or policy that affects communication is present and important, that we share the insights and stories of thirteen scholars and thinkers.

The intent of this volume is not to be overly “New York City centric” but to use this city as a prototype revealing how regulations can shape the communication landscape of any city. We have grouped the essays in this volume into three foci. In the first section, the authors look at content-centric issues in urban communication regulation.

In Chapter 1, Bauman examines the history of public art in New York City. And by “public art,” she means government-sponsored and supported art. Generally driven by the gentry, there has been a long history of the City directing funds and other kinds of support and encouragement to art that helps set the public tone of the city. Art is sometimes seen as less than instrumental. Perhaps it is a luxury. Yet, to people living in crowded urban areas, to people coming from old worlds to new, art can play pivotal roles in helping them understand their community, its values, and its connections to others. It can sooth, inspire, excite, as well as agitate, mystify, and offend. Should the government, the same one that is supposedly barred from abridging speech, favor some expression over others? Should the government support some arts and not others? And if so, how? Clearly public art is chosen because it communicates. The intersection of government policies that promote or affect public art is the focus of this chapter.


XX, 256
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XX, 256 pp. 8 b/w ills.

Biographical notes

Harvey Jassem (Volume editor) Susan J. Drucker (Volume editor)

Harvey Jassem is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hartford School of Communication, and is on the Board of Directors for the Urban Communication Foundation. He received his PhD from the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Susan J. Drucker is Professor at Hofstra University, Lawrence Herbert School of Communication in New York, and is Treasurer of the Urban Communication Foundation. She received her JD at St. John’s University School of Law.


Title: Urban Communication Regulation
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