Lamest Land Use of the Week

Nate Berg's picture

Pizza is delicious. Crop circles are cool. But what happens when you put them together?

Lamest Crop Circle Ever

This happens. And it is horrible.

A crop-pizza now covers six acres of Colorado farmland. It's directly under two flight paths leading into Denver International Airport, according to a recent article in the Rocky Mountain News. So when people peer out from their window seats, instead of looking down on the quilted tapestry of American land use patterns they see pizza.

It's the mutant cousin of billboards -- the sprawl of advertising.

Don't get me wrong: I love pizza, and crop circle art is really amazing. But there's just something about a six-acre advertisement for mediocre delivery pizza that makes me want to get drunk on moonshine, steal a tractor and destroy.

Maybe I'm overreacting. More likely, though, I am absolutely justified. This is blight, plain and simple. And it's a blight that should be wiped clean from the earth.

While the artistry and craftsmanship is impressive, it's a shameless bastardization of an artform that's been practiced on this planet for thousands of years. In honor of the history of human artistic expression, we should be ashamed. Planners especially should take warning: absurd advertisements like these have happened before and they are likely to happen again. Preventing the blatant commercialization of our landscapes is in the best interest of the public and its sense of human decency.

Update: Check out this far better use of cropspace to get out a message:,+in&ie=UTF8&ll=41.539968,-85.728357&spn=0.006216,0.009656&t=h&z=17

Nate Berg is a contributing editor for Planetizen and freelance journalist.



Josh Stephens's picture


That part of me that has given up on humanity absolutely loves this.

Pizza Ad


Get drunk, get the tractor and go for it!

papa johns tractor circle

go fer it Ken!

spring for a couple kegs and the diesel fuel.

find the nearest party school.

put the event on You-Tube.




Put it in perspective

Come on! This is a temporary, one season phenomenon. If you wanted to regulate this, what permit would you withhold? What design review criteria would you use? What viewing angles would be given priority? What would be the minimum acreage before regulation would begin? If there's an appeal, who would have standing as an aggrieved party? What noticing distance would you use? What does the rest of the sign code for the jurisdiction look like for comparison?

I'd also like to point out that as planners, we're supposed to be content-neutral in regards to signs and advertising. Would you be calling for its removal if it said "Farmers Feed America" or "Obama '08"?

I agree that it's ugly, but that's part of living in a free society - the exercise of liberty can be inconvenient.

Another Perspective

At the extreme, I can imagine that, one hundred years from now, Coca-Cola could pay a licensing fee and convert the moon into a Coca-Cola logo. Would that also be part of living in a free society?

If this sort of crop advertising becomes common, the obvious solution is a law that simply forbids this sort of commercial advertising. It would have none of the difficulties you mention. Since commercial speech can be regulated more tightly than political speech, it wouldn't have to apply to Farmers Feed America, etc.

Tangentially related: I would like to see a law banning the use of planes with trailing signs for commercial advertising. Several times a year, small planes buzz my house trailing signs telling me to buy a Honda.

We certainly have the right to ban this sort of public nuisance. The supreme court has consistently made the common-sense finding that government does not have the right to regulate the content of speech but does have the right to regulate the time and place of speech.

Charles Siegel

Who would pass the law?


Would this be a federal, state, or local law? Most sign regulations are squarely under the control of local jurisdictions, and many rural areas of the country have little or no sign regulation. There are greater problems with other more intrusive signs (such as animated LED billboards adjacent to freeways, seen by far more people every day than crop advertisements) that are constructed in urban areas where there are generally more restrictive land use regulations - do you think the issue of crop advertising will actually show up as a priority on any legislator's agenda?

Greg Redeker


is this really that bad? I actually think it's a pretty ingenious use of a field. Only a few people are actually going to see it (as you couldn't see it from the ground) and the guy who owns the field makes a few extra bucks... Designating it a blight is a bit over the top as is a reactionary ban on all such advertisements (especially on the very tenous grounds of being "in the best interests of the public" and a "sense of human decency" has to wonder which public and which human's sense of decency?).

Your thoughts do bring some interesting questions though: Do you have some "right" not to be offended by such advertising? Do you own the view from your airplane seat and does that ownership allow you to dictate what other people do with their property within your view from the airplane? Is this really blight? By what definition? If I am not offended by it, but you are, is it really in the "public's" best interest to ban such advertising?

Now, I think we can all agree with Charles' straw man moon advertisements ban below (who owns the moon in order to license it to Coca Cola I wonder... if the US owns it, and we license it to Coke for governmental revenue, can that be considered a public good ala New London?), but how far down can one draw the line for designating offenses as blight and requiring their banishment?

Not A Question Of Ownership

Do you have some "right" not to be offended by such advertising? Do you own the view from your airplane seat and does that ownership allow you to dictate what other people do with their property within your view from the airplane?

You reduce everything to individual rights, with property rights holding the trump card.

But in addition to individual rights, as a necessary balance to individual rights, we have the political right to decide democratically what sort of a country we want to live in.

You miss this point completely when you reduce this question to ownership of the field vs. ownership of the view from the airplane. This is a common view among economic conservatives, who use it to argue for an unfettered free market. Dogmagtic libertarians carry this view to an extreme: reducing everything to property rights and individual choice, they leave no room for democracy and political choice.

Charles Siegel

Tyranny of the Majority

Yes, I do. Although, I do agree with you that certain, maximum individual rights interpretations should be limited for the public good due to negative externalities or free-riders (pollution, national defense, rule of law, etc.). And, I do agree that we have a political right to decide democratically what sort of country we want. However, there's a fine line between democracy and tyranny of the majority, and the reduction of an individual's rights in the name of the "public good" should be done with EXTREME caution because, let's be honest, it's often done to enrich a political crony of some sort. In the above case, what public good is being served by a complete ban on this type of advertisement other than a subjective sense of "human decency" by certain members of the public?

Libertarianism: A Sad Vision

It is a sad vision: each person caring about his self-interest and asserting his rights against everyone else, with no concern for the public good.

People who think like this obviously cannot build attractive public spaces (unless you think pizza ads are attractive). I believe that they also cannot build a society that is viable in the long term - which requires citizens who care about the public interest as well as about their own interest.

This vision attracts people because it is so simple: society is a collection of rational individuals whose only goal is to maximize their own self interest. The simplification lets economists create the market model, which is very useful in understanding economic behavior.

But it is a mistake to think that people really are nothing more than homo economicus - and it is even worse to think that people should be nothing more than homo economicus.

Charles Siegel

Interesting Comment

"People who think like this obviously cannot build attractive public spaces". Charles, you do realize that the majority of great urban civic spaces in the United States were created in almost exactly the environment you are decrying above (I know you know about the City Beautiful Movement)? Also, the majority of walkable places that you favor (most likley including your neighborhood in Berkeley) were also built prior to the overlay of all land use regulations (by self-interested developers)? I find it ironic that most of the urban forms you favor were created in very unregualted environment by folks participating in what you call a "sad vision".

Caring about private self-interests and the public good are not mutually exclusive events as you imply. I think you are confusing government with the "public good" when they are not one in the same (see urban freeways, urban renewal, slum clearance, sprawl zoning, auto-centric design requirements, zoning that makes housing unaffordable.... all in the name of the "public good"). In the example provided by the article, I still fail to realize how an absolute ban on such advertising is in the best insterests of the "public good" simply because some think it in bad taste. Forcing one's aesthetic tastes on everyone else through government action is the very reason I doubt that banning this type of advertisement is really in the interest's of a "public good".

Interesting Discussion

Ricardo: It is an interesting discussion, but I think you can't see beyond the two polar alternatives of the twentieth century - the free market vs. government bureaucracies.

The people who built those neighborhoods were not homo economicus concerned with nothing but self-interest. There were two faces to Victorian society - the economic face that cared only about the market, and the human face that cared about family, neighborhood, and church. The human face was showing when they built the walkable neighborhoods that we both love. (The economic face was showing when they built the tenements and factories.)

They built those neighborhoods because they wanted good places to live - a good public realm - not because they cared only about self-interest and ignored the public realm. Those old Victorians would have died of shame before they would have put up a pizza ad in front of their home.

Look more carefully at your libertarian theory, and you will see it has no room for the public realm. Society is nothing but a collection of self-interested individuals, who view public goods only as a means to their own private goods. That is why it thinks about this pizza ad purely in terms of individual rights.

This is not just a question of taste. It as a question of what is a good society, and of whether people can act democractically to create a good society. Libertarians make this sort of democratic action impossible: they are so strongly opposed to "the government" that they do not want to allow self-government.

(PS: A later thought. I think you have trouble understanding me because you think the only alternative to laissez-faire is bureaucratic modernist liberalism, but I actually want to go back to an earlier, more Jeffersonian liberalism. One good source of info on this is Michael Sandel, Democracy's Discontent.)

Charles Siegel


"They built those neighborhoods because they wanted good places to live - a good public realm - not because they cared only about self-interest and ignored the public realm."

I completely agree, I just think you can do this (just as they did) without forcing it through a top down approach. I know that we are both a tad guilty of labelling the other's position, but just as I may see your side as "bureacratic mondernist liberalism", which you are not, I am not a true "libertarian" either... more like a small-government republican (lower case "r"). In terms of this particular field advertisement, I find it tacky, but I still don't think a ban is appropriate as I can't get around my thoughts that a ban isn't really doing anything that good for the public at large to justify something as ominous as a ban.

Mmmmmm pizza for lunch

Mmmmm Pizza. What an awesome post to read at lunch.

I've flown into Denver and the impression I had was that the airport was an exceedingly ugly piece of architecture; that goofed-up circus tent thing is just embarassing. I think it's kind of nice that those few with a window seat on their way to Denver have something else to look at. I mean, who was there to protect them from seeing the monstrocity they fly in to?

Nate Berg Best Journalist Ever!

Congrats on having an opinion Nate, considering your are obviously unaware of the economy vs ecology struggle the farmer has to often fight.There in so-cal, its no surprise here that you put your unapproving aesthetical 30 second window view of this advertisement from 30,000 feet in front of the farmer's prospective of taking a few bucks for a advertisment. It looks as if he will still be able to harvest the wheat as well. Art has always been philosophically impenatrable anyway so why rant on that subject? I'll I ask is to take a look from the farmers side. I know life is hard in L.A. Good luck finding that tractor out there.

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