Historically, the term “pollution” has referred primarily to the fouling of air, water and land by wastes or from the byproducts of human activities. In recent years it has come to signify a wider range of disruptions to environmental quality.
Both noise pollution and light pollution issues have been addressed earlier in this chapter. This section focuses on visual pollution/blight issues, addressing the issue of roadway signs, which has been a topic of discussion for several years within EQAC.Due to limitations with EQAC members’ availability, EQAC has chosen to focus on this one aspect of visual pollution, but also reserves the prerogative to further discuss other aspects of visual pollution at a later date, such as those associated with cigarette butts, litter, dumps, junkyards and the like, which are important components of visual pollution.
Unnecessary signs, almost always placed as some kind of advertising, have been called “visual pollution,” “sky trash,” “litter on a stick,” and “the junk mail of American roadways.” Nothing can destroy the distinctive character of our communities and countryside more quickly or thoroughly than uncontrolled signs.
Signs in the public rights-of-way have been around for as long as there have been public rights-of-way, but the numbers have spiraled out of control in recent years. Between fields of “popsicle-stick” signs for homebuilders and politicians and signs for weight loss, work-at-home businesses, painting, hauling and other signs plastered on every available traffic sign and utility pole, everyone in Fairfax County has something to hate about the proliferation of signs.
Communities can regain control of their visual environment, preserve their distinctive character and protect natural beauty and the environment by enacting and enforcing ordinances that control signage. Reducing sign blight helps communities reclaim local beauty and character. Excellent alternatives to large intrusive signs, such as wayfinding signs, logo signs and tourist-oriented directional
signs, can help people locate local businesses and are minimal in their visual impact.
Simply stated, “blight” is something that impairs or destroys appearance and results in a deteriorated condition. In recent times, urban blight has come to include a wide range of visual pollutants that degrade the ambience of our communities, including such things as trash and litter on roadsides, unkempt properties, above-ground power and communications transmission lines, communication towers, intrusive and objectionable advertising signage and other forms of visual impairments. Without doubt, signage that is excessive in amount and inappropriate in placement is the most ubiquitous of these “pollutants.”