What Is Visual Pollution?

By Amber Pariona on March 14 2018 in Environment

Electrical and communication wires are an example of visual pollution.
Electrical and communication wires are an example of visual pollution.

Visual pollution is a term used to describe something that blocks or otherwise obstructs the view of a particular place or thing. It may refer to the visibility of an object that is located at a distance, to visibility in general, or to clutter within a particular view. It is primarily an aesthetic issue, meaning that it interferes with the ability to fully appreciate the perceived beauty of a specific site, landscape, or city. Given this characteristic, which is largely dependent on personal preference, visual pollution is a difficult concept to define. What one person considers a beautiful site may not be the same as the opinion of another person. Likewise, what one person considers an undesired obstruction may not bother someone else. Even when individuals are able to agree that visual pollution is present, measuring the exact quantity of visual pollution is nearly impossible. This article explains visual pollution in greater detail.

What Causes Visual Pollution?

As mentioned, properly defining visual pollution is a difficult process. One reason this task is so difficult is because different people likely have different definitions of what exactly constitutes visual pollution. For some individuals, it may be the presence of too many billboards along the road, while others may find electric wires to be a type of visual pollution. Other examples of visual pollution include: trash cans, old vehicles, reflected light, cell phone towers, business signs, buildings, highways, and graffiti. It is considered a nuisance in many urban areas, and some individuals cite distraction and eye tiredness as consequences of visual pollution.

Fighting Visual Pollution

The idea of visual pollution as an undesired consequence of urban development can be traced back to the United States during the 1960s. It is reported that in 1965 former U.S. First Lady Bird Johnson referred to billboards along highways as an ugly addition to the urban landscape. She followed this complaint by supporting the Highway Beautification Act, which became law in 1965 and prohibited certain types of advertising along federally funded highways and interstates. Additionally, the law suggested the use of more scenic additions when screening less desirable sites (like junkyards or garbage dumps). Some US states went so far as to completely ban the use of billboards along highways.

Today, the movement against visual pollution continues with individuals in urban areas focusing on infrastructure like cell phone towers and electric cables. In some instances, opposition to these objects has been so great that cell phone and electric companies have had to develop clever installation solutions. Many electric companies now bury power lines underground so as not to disrupt the landscape and cell phone companies have designed cell phone towers that are meant to look like trees, so they blend in with the surroundings. Additionally, in an attempt to decrease the presence of graffiti throughout urban landscapes, some city governments have banned the sale of spray paint to minors. However, research suggests that this move has had little succes.

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