Realising the scale of the visual pollution “monster”

“The ugliness of ungoverned visual pollution has become a monster, which is increasingly swallowing the aesthetics of built environments,”

Head and shoulders pic of man holding a text book.

Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Raheel Nawaz with his new book on visual pollution

What we see is reflected in our memories and often influences our behaviours. The visual impact of living environments is of key importance in this context. Therefore, visual pollution and urban aesthetics are important agendas to be addressed in the living surroundings of the 21st century.

Professor Raheel Nawaz, Pro Vice-Chancellor for Digital Transformation

In Visual Pollution: Concepts, Practices and Management Framework, published by Emerald, authors Professor Raheel Nawaz and Dr Khydija Wakil link the rise in visual pollution with rapid global urbanisation.

Although billboard advertising and hoardings have long been recognised as a form of visual pollution and measures have been developed to combat them, the new book identifies a comprehensive list over 40 visual pollution objects (VPOs) which can impact negatively on the aesthetics or the environment of an area.

Although their research originated in Pakistan, co-author Professor Raheel Nawaz, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Staffordshire University, explained that he was prompted to delve deeper into the subject of visual pollution after hearing people refer to “eyesore” buildings in some of Europe’s most beautiful cities.

A leading researcher in Artificial Intelligence, Professor Nawaz said he became further immersed in the subject on realising there was no existing way of measuring visual pollution.

“AI is a method of enabling better control, but you can’t do AI without data and what we realised was that there was no objective way to quantify visual pollution. We started to question how people will legislate and think in terms of policy and regulation without quantification of what classes as visual pollution.”

In their book, Nawaz and Wakil link human behaviour and urban aesthetics to define and assess visual pollution. They use existing literature, personal observations, a public survey, and a university-based photo competition to identify 42 VPOs.

These are then classified by a panel of experts as falling into 10 broad groupings which includes graffiti, open waste dumps, sewerage issues, architecturally poor or dilapidated buildings, poles, wires and transformers and broken roads.

They also list seven indicative characteristics of objects that can be used to determine whether they constitute VPOs including being non-uniform, out of scale with their surroundings and visually disturbing.

Having established a system of measuring ‘visual pollution’ which can be applied to developed as well as developing countries, the authors discuss management frameworks and practical solutions for mitigation of visual pollution in planning, regulatory, and enforcement terms. They conclude with several policy and regulatory recommendations.

Professor Nawaz stressed that the study of visual pollution was an important consideration and related to the United Nation Sustainable Development Goal 11 which aims to make cities and human settlements inclusive safe, resilient and sustainable by 2030.

He added: “What we see is reflected in our memories and often influences our behaviours. The visual impact of living environments is of key importance in this context. Therefore, visual pollution and urban aesthetics are important agendas to be addressed in the living surroundings of the 21st century. Moreover, visual pollution is of great concern, particularly for developing countries, where matters related to the visual quality of the built environment have lower priority than in developed countries.”

Providing the first holistic guide on the subject, Visual Pollution: Concepts, Practices and Management Framework is an essential read for students, professionals, researchers, and policy makers in the fields of urban planning, smart cities, civic management, and societies of future.

Professor Raheel Nawaz, PFHEA, is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Digital Transformation) at Staffordshire University, U.K. He is a renowned expert in industry-academia co-creation and is a world leading researcher in Applied Artificial Intelligence, Digital Technologies, and Digital Education. He is a board member for four research and charitable organisations and regularly advises national policy organisations.

Dr Khydija Wakil is a professional urban planner and researcher at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, National University of Sciences and Technology, Pakistan. She is also the founding CEO of City Pulse Pvt. Ltd, an urban planning consulting firm in Pakistan, specialising in visual pollution assessment and mitigation.

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