Prague City Hall moves to curb visual pollution

Kristýna Maková

Prague City Hall is pushing ahead in its efforts to fight visual pollution in the Czech capital. After banning giant bubble blowers and ‘street artists’ wearing animal costumes from the city centre, Prague councillors have now focused on excessive commercial advertising and shop window design, which harm the visual image of the historic centre.

Photo: Kristýna Maková
The historic centre of Prague is not only overcrowded with tourists, it also suffers from visual overload, caused by an excess of advertisements, signs, posters and product displays. Martin Zídek from the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Monument Inspection says there are many offensive elements:

“The biggest problem is caused by various advertisements: from posters to boards offering products and services. Such advertisements usually don’t respect the appearance of the historic façade of buildings and their colour or lights are too aggressive.”

In an attempt to make the historic city centre more tasteful, city councillors recently approved a set of rules to reduce the visual overload in Prague’s heritage conservation area. The new rules, outlined in cooperation with conservationists and other authorities, including the Prague Institute of Planning and Development, will apply to all city-owned buildings.

City Councillor Hana Třeštíková from the civic movement Praha Sobě, responsible for culture and heritage preservation, hopes the new measures will make the requirements on street ads more transparent for entrepreneurs:

“We don’t want, for example, the shop windows to be completely covered and we don’t want very striking ads or flashing signs. We sent the rules to all city districts within the city’s protected heritage zone. Prague 1 has already approved them and the other city districts will probably follow suit.”

Under the new set of rules, corporate signs on shop windows should not exceed 20 percent of the glass surface, and establishments are to stop using mass-produced or flashing signs.

The problem is that many buildings in the city centre are not owned by the city. For instance, the city of Prague only owns around one fifth of the houses along the Royal Route, which runs through the historic part of the city up to Prague Castle. Therefore city councillors have to negotiate with each of the private house owners individually.

Photo: Romy Ebert
City Councillor Jan Chabr from the United Force for Prague, responsible for property, says the ultimate goal of Prague City Hall is to unify the visual elements of all establishments in the historic centre:

“We will ask individual house owners to respect the new rules as much as possible and try to gradually eliminate at least the most striking cases.”

Mr Chabr is now holding talks with the Czech Chamber of Commerce about the possibility of extending the rules to objects owned by private owners.

Based on the example of other Czech cities, like Brno and Pilsen, Prague City Hall is also drafting a good practice handbook of advertisement and labelling, which would give a more accurate description of what establishments in the city centre should look like.