Even though there’s nothing wrong with a few classy advertisements here and there, let’s be frank—there are far too many of them in the modern world. And as these colorful collages compete for your attention, they also hide the beauty of the architecture. Sometimes, it can feel like you’re living in Night City, not a gorgeous historic city with stunning buildings.
There’s some good news on that front, however. The Polish port city of Gdańsk (along with other cities, including Warsaw) is winning the fight against chaotic adverts that clutter up the public sphere. And it’s all thanks to the local and national versions of the Landscape Protection Act. It’s been having a direct impact on how the city looks and we’ve got to say—it’s a marked improvement that helps highlight how the city would look ‘in the wild.’ Already, hundreds of buildings have had ads removed from them and are showing their facades proud and unconstrainted.
The ‘Pogromcy Reklamozy’ (‘Advertising Busters’) Facebook page is dedicated to documenting these changes and they’re showing the vast improvements when the ads are booted out of Gdańsk and other Polish cities. The group also calls out any illegal ads that are put up in the city. Check out some of the photos they featured below, upvote the pics you liked the most, let us know what you think of the changes, and share your thoughts on the limits we should place on ads in historic cities.
"We are a group of people who decided one day that we can’t stand the so-called visual pollution in our city and we want to do something about it, rather than only complain," one of the team members from 'Pogromcy Reklamozy' told Bored Panda. "Our main goals are, on the one hand, fighting visual pollution and, on the other hand, promoting stricter landscape regulations and show positive examples. We don’t have any external funding, we do not even collect money at one of those fundraising platforms. We invest our own time and money." Read on for their insights into how much Poland has changed recently.
Bored Panda also spoke about the fight against excessive public advertisements with a representative of the Gdańsk City Hall. Read on for their detailed insights about the Gdańsk Landscape Protection Act (LPA), how the city's businesses adjusted to it, and the extremely positive reaction that the citizens have had to the changes.
"The city of Gdańsk has changed in an enormous way over the last months after adopting the so-called Landscape Law. Almost all large format advertisements have been removed from the central districts of Gdańsk. Some of them have been covering literally entire buildings for decades and now we can finally see the architecture and it turned out that some of the buildings are actually very well designed," the 'Pogromcy Reklamozy' team member told Bored Panda.
"The epidemic situation in 2020 slowed down the adjusting process and of course there are still some advertisements non-compliant with the new regulations, however, local authorities are working on that on a continuous basis and citizens can also report illegal advertisements online." This bodes well for the future.
The Facebook page rep explained that Poland has adopted the so-called Landscape Protection Act in 2015 (though Gdańsk, for instance, has its own version of the law). "According to the recent report, however, only 32 Cities out of almost 1,000 in Poland took this opportunity and implemented such regulations. Over 600 haven’t even started working on that and some representatives claimed even that they are not interested in incorporating it.
Our recent report from Gdańsk was received very enthusiastically and citizens from other cities around Poland started to tag mayors of their own cities demanding similar regulations. So there is a lot to be done but the pressure to drive such change is also there."
The 'Pogromcy Reklamozy' team plans to release their second part of their report from Gdańsk soon and it will feature even more photos of how the city looked before and after the Landscape Protection Act. "Obviously, Gdańsk is one of the largest cities in Poland, but if anyone is interested how a much smaller Sopot with only 35-thousend citizens changed, we invite you to review our other report here."
Now, those business owners and service providers who wish to put up large-format ads and shop signs in Gdańsk have to meet certain aesthetic standards. What these standards are depends on each specific district and area of the city. There are 8 such areas.
So, for instance, there will be far more regulatory hoops to jump through for anyone who wants to advertise in the city center which has a lot of historic buildings and distinct architecture. According to the Polish media, one of the rules for ads there is that they can’t use plastic while the designs have to integrate themselves into the overall architecture, instead of clashing with it.
What’s more, large billboards can now no longer cover windows. We’re stunned that this was allowed before. Anyone not abiding by the rules gets fined. Most of the changes happened after April 2020 once a two-year transition period came to an end. During the two-year transition period after the Protection Act was adopted, the private and public sectors had time to adapt to the new regulations.
Bored Panda also reached out to 3 people who have visited various Polish cities, including Gdańsk, to hear their takes on the adverts there. My contacts wished to remain anonymous, but have confirmed to me that adverts in Poland can be “insane” and over the top, especially during the elections.
One of my Sweden-based contacts with a background in architecture and urban planning, in particular, explained that while the adverts in Gdańsk were very chaotic, in her experience, what caught her eye the most was actually how active the city’s wildlife was—she saw a tiny hedgehog in the middle of the city that wasn’t afraid to be around people. That experience, for her, was worth more than all the historic architecture put together.
Meanwhile, another acquaintance, an advertising and marketing specialist, pointed out that during her last visit to Gdańsk, in July of 2018, she noticed that there weren’t any billboards in the Old Town. This goes to show that, at least in some parts of the city, changes were happening right after the Landscape Protection Act (the local one, not the national one) was put into practice.
Gdańsk isn’t the only place to wage war against adverts, by far. Other Polish cities, like Warsaw, are also featured on the 'Advertising Busters' Facebook page. But this practice of restricting ads goes beyond the country. For example, São Paulo, in Brazil, has banned outdoor posters and billboards since 2006. While France and Italy are both well known for their disdain of adverts in historic areas.
"The Gdańsk Landscape Protection Act (LPA), which entered into force in April 2018, is the first such landscape protection act adopted and implemented by such a large city. The first two years of the act's validity are the so-called adjustment period. At that time, all newly created advertisements had to be compliant with the LPA, while the remaining advertisements were subject to a two-year adjustment period," the Gdańsk City Hall representative explained to Bored Panda.
They went into detail how at the start of 2020, advertisements were removed from the walls of buildings while cranes dismantled street billboards. However, it wasn't just large-format ads that disfigured the city's panorama. "Another type of advertising that has been spoiling the city’s landscape since the 1990s is the advertising banner. The implementation of the Landscape Protection Act therefore also applies to smaller-format advertisements, the owners of which are called upon every day to remove them," the representative said.
"It is difficult to estimate the number of advertisements that have disappeared from the urban landscape since the Landscape Protection Act has been implemented, but we are talking about thousands of cases. The scale of the project can also be illustrated by the number of calls and decisions imposing penalties for placing advertisements contrary to the rules and conditions described in the act."
They continued: "In 2019, still during the adjustment period, employees of the Gdańsk Road and Greenery Authority (GRGA) sent 650 requests to remove or adjust advertisements incompatible with the LPA and issued 54 decisions imposing a penalty for placing advertisements in breach of the rules and conditions set in the Act. However, in 2020, when the resolution became fully effective in April, employees of GRGA sent over 1,800 requests and issued 110 decisions imposing penalties for advertising contrary to the LPA regulations. The total amount of penalties for placing advertisements that do not comply with the terms and conditions of the LPA have already exceeded PLN 1,650,000 [around 440,000 dollars]."
The City Hall representative highlighted that the very best illustration of how significantly the Gdańsk landscape has changed is simply looking at the photos of the city before and after the LPA came into effect.
"Most business entities operating in Gdańsk or intending to start their business in the city are aware of the Gdańsk Landscape Protection Act. They come to the Gdańsk Road and Greenery Authority with requests for an opinion on the proper design of the signage of their premises. Therefore, issuing opinions and consulting on new signs and advertisements is an important part of the work in implementing the Act—last year our employees issued over 2,000 opinions on the compliance of advertisements with the LPA."
The representative continued: "Of course, there are entities that place advertisements contrary to the terms and conditions described in the LPA. Yet, as always, we start with a dialogue, informing them about the non-compliance of the advertisement with the LPA. The initiation of an administrative procedure aimed at imposing an administrative penalty is always a last resort for us!"
The vast majority of the citizens of Gdańsk appreciated the changes that the LPA brought about. "In a survey run in 2016, as many as 97% of residents supported the removal of advertisements from the facades of the buildings, and 90% supported the introduction of restrictive rules for green areas and historical districts. The great interest and commitment of the inhabitants of Gdańsk is also evidenced by the huge number of daily reports received by phone, e-mail, or via a dedicated online form on the Gdańsk Contact Center (GCC) platform. Several hundred such reports are submitted annually through GCC. The residents themselves indicate advertisements in the vicinity of their place of residence that do not comply with the Act or those that they pass during the daily journey to or from work, and ask for their removal."
The Gdańsk City Hall representative said that after nearly 3 years in effect, the LPA is obviously a very well-constructed and effective way to deal with the problem. "The city does not intend to introduce new regulations, but focus on the proper implementation of the ones already in place."