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Fliers: The Hidden Problems

Written by: Ruby Perez

Author Bio: Ruby Perez is an undergraduate student at Columbia University studying Political Science and Computer Science. Hailing from the underserved and predominantly minority community of South Central California, Ruby hopes to  uplift communities through her voice and writing.

Striding past the loud and chaotic city, a lamp post shines: pink lettering; white backgrounds; red bolding; purple borders; big words; telephone numbers; websites; promises and worries; a cry for help. Need a babysitter?! Call (3X3)-XXX-XXXX. Selling and Buying Gold: Fast sale! Help the environment, STOP LITTERING! Gentrification is Not Okay: Protest 10/9 @. Homeless Shelter on 8th Avenue - free food and clothes. Children’s Pumpkin Contest X Park! Missing Person Report. On the other side of the city, where it's quiet and calm, rests a starving lamp post: there’s hardly any color; barely any visual sensory. Reward: missing dog. Here stand two areas within a broad city—one city but two very different experiences. While fliers in a city seem uplifting to the community, they actually reveal the contingency within, which has been set aside by the magnification of individuality. It’s vital to understand the reality of cities for what they really are in order to implement effective solutions. 

Projects of redevelopment define the difference between areas, one where there is livelihood and the other where it is desolate, which can be extended onto fliers. Jane Jacobs’ “Downtown is for People” describes urban planning as the equivalent of homogenizing cities and, as a result, losing all aspects of individuality and character. Jacobs criticizes the new redevelopment projects for cities as they will “deaden” them. Constrastingly, she notes that developers are not focusing on making livable creations but rather “flashy, deserving of admiration” pieces (Jacobs). In order to create such spectacular buildings, residents must be pushed out to replace them with the same buildings, and so every sense of character is lost with them. By recreating cities as uninformed spectacles, their purpose to be flashy is reduced at the fault of the loss in life and leaves instead emptiness. Jacob's opposition to redevelopments comes from the lack “of individuality, whim, or surprise; no hint that here is a city with a tradition and flavor all its own”, which they possess (126). Jacob’s appreciation of the city's individuality can be connected to the fliers installed on lamp posts within cities. Onlookers are not only memorized by intricate fonts and colorful words, but they also receive an insight into the area: teenagers looking for jobs, buyers looking for gold, public resources, and the list goes on. Then there is the other side, with just one printed flier that presents nothing but the words themselves. This is the side Jacobs is worried about—a place where no individuality or community exists. A place that will result from new redevelopment plans.

Still, what exactly exists in an area filled with fliers? Well, fliers implicate core details within cities, which are overlooked by Jane Jacob’s idea of the superficial “dream” city. The reality is that areas that contain a lot of character and individuality are those that are the most disadvantageous, while those that feel dull are not. Mabel Wilson highlights the historical and present-day actions of society to reserve ownership of land and property away from Black Americans (Wilson). Governmental actions such as redlining have long suppressed African Americans and other minority groups, which has led to housing segregation. When you pass down the glowing lamppost overcrowded with various papers, it is within segregated communities, oppressed from the outside, where it is the most prevalent. South Central Los Angeles, for example, is crowded with fliers, but up north, where it is quiet, "symmetrical, and orderly,” places like Monetebello are famished (Jacobs). The truth is, areas filled with character and individuality—those with an abundance of fliers—contain the most severe problems lacking in areas filled with dullness—those with little or no fliers. While the initial presentation of irresistible, cheerful, and spontaneity, as Jacobs puts it, seems appealing, it takes no regard—even hopes to hide—for present and life-hindering problems happening around the city.

Much like Mabel Wilson, Mike Davis details the unfair conditions imposed on disadvantaged groups. But his focus on the actual problems that affect communities extends the impact of racial segregation as a generator of socioeconomic division. He notes, “The pleasure domes of the elite Westside rely upon the social imprisonment of a third-world service proletariat in increasingly repressive ghettos and barrios” (156). The ghetto and barrios are relevant to areas inhabited by racially disadvantaged groups and with lower-income residents as well. It is not a mere coincidence that racial minorities are also an impoverished group. South Central is often referred to as the "ghetto,” and it remains filled with fliers. Fliers are symbols of the individuality and character of these areas, but they also allude to the social, racial, and financial challenges communities like these hold. Challenges dealing with access to water, land, parks, and every other public area dictated by the rich (Davis). Davis highlights the privatization of public resources and places, which prevents disadvantaged groups from receiving or interacting with them. When we look at the contents within fliers, there will always be either a promotion of a free resource or a plea for a resource. Regardless, they demonstrate the same thing: that this place is in need. It’s not that the other area, where only a missing dog is shown, cannot put up a similar sign; it’s that they have no need to. There is no display of community or character via fliers because they do not have the same need as an area that does have a lot of fliers. No rich person will ever seek free food. In this way, the initial segregation racially imposed connects to socioeconomic division, demonstrating the various means by which communities are oppressed.

As it stands, an environment rich in fliers, culture, and individuality may amplify a sense of belonging and even familiarity amongst the community. Yet, its glorification masks the deep and encapsulating problems of socioeconomic and racial division. As you walk through Los Angeles, South Central is hidden as a result of the dominating posters, while up north, closer to Montebello, where districts are quiet and calm, fliers seem to be forbidden. According to the fliers, one area has a problem with pollution, while the other does not. One area contains people seeking jobs; the other does not. Homeless shelters aid those who have lost a place to call home, but the other neighborhood speaks of no such problem. Jane Jacob’s emphasis on community and tradition neglects the real-life crises occurring in the areas she hopes to preserve.

Yes, it’s true that fliers are literal decorations of the streets, which Jacob values so highly, but they also expose the problems of the city. In this sense, such decoration—the amplification of a city's character and personality—actually promotes a truly crucial conflict, which should be prioritized over individuality. Jacobs notes, “The problem of insecurity cannot be solved by trading the characteristics of cities for the characteristics of suburbs” (107). Suburbs are more costly than urban areas, places where the middle class or wealthy could afford to reside, and an area empty of fliers and individuality. While they do not have the benefit of character, they do have money. The character-rich area posted a missing person report; the other area presents an award because areas such as those can afford the incentive of an award. And so, do the community attributes that Jacobs honors outweigh the city's desperate needs? In this case, a lack of character seems favorable if it means being able to amend one’s problems.

The collective perception of the community is that unity can resolve and rectify issues within a community, but this simply isn’t true. Jane Jacobs promotes the importance of community as a way to amend some of the problems within a city. Noting that cities have “the capability of providing something for everybody" (130). Jane Jacobs is pointing out the true meaning of community: a place in which members are able to aid each other. Well, isn’t the message within the fliers that too? When community members plant paper to ask for help, they demonstrate faith that their neighbors will help them. When others promote the resources of different fliers, it’s because people in the community hope to aid. The action of pointing up fliers is then a way of seeing a visible community. Yet, it is the fliers themselves that also indicate the ineffectiveness of community reliance. South Central’s fliers increase as the years go by, and not because there is an increase in community. If that were true, then the number of fliers would decrease or at least stagnate. As one problem is resolved, one flier comes down, or it’s replaced with a different flier, right? But this is not the case. Fliers are never being taken down; they only increase because the problems are never addressed. In fact, the increased need in the community indicates problems that need fixing and have otherwise not been able to be resolved. The idea of a community that aids, though an ideal plan, is not productive.

Both Wilson and Davis affirm the unfair, outright tragic situations imposed on communities within cities. As such, Jane Jacob's idealistic city persona underserves the members of the city themselves. She asks one simple question: “Will the city be any fun?” (131). How about, will the city be safe? Will it be just? Will it be liable? Without a doubt, a city rich in community, individuality, and personhood is important; this should not be negated, but there is no use for it when no one can enjoy it as a result of the overwhelming crises burdening residents. There must be a system of reformative action to aid cities in an effective manner. To do so, developers and planners must be consulted, even when the masses argue otherwise. Only after that will “fun” begin to develop, and only after that should such a question be asked. Actions of “privatization” or extreme methods of isolating disadvantaged groups, as Mike Davis talks about, are not what should be used to fix cities, but there must be acceptance for resolve that is not solely dependent on city individuality and community.

Fliers are not only decoration or a demonstration of a city’s character, but a key way to communicate the troubles of a community. While the idea of a city's individuality seems captivating, in truth, it helps hide the extensive difficulties within a city. Rather than individuality, personhood, or the reliance of community, which so many have given importance to, fliers attest to the socioeconomic and racial problems of cities, which can only be amended using outside forces. Not to assimilate cities into well-mannered and uncultural buildings, as so many narrate, but to create relief amongst cities. It’s important to reevaluate the conventional ideas many have asserted and understand not only the most impactful but advantageous measures based on what’s truthfully going on within cities.


Hayward, Keith. Cultural Criminology: Theories of Crime . 1st ed., Routledge, 2011, 

Jacobs, Jane. "Downtown is for People." The Urban and Regional Planning Reader, edited by

Eugénie Birch, Routledge, 2008, pp.124-131.

Wilson, Mabel O. “Mine Not Yours.” Dimensions of Citizenship, e-flux Architecture, 7 July

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