Sao Paulo: The Ad-Free City

The bustling metropolis of S?o Paulo has gone ad free, much to
the delight of aesthetes hungry for urban landscapes unpolluted by
corporate entreaties. According to the decidedly anti-corporate
Adbusters, the city of 11 million has been
stripped of roughly 15,000 billboards since a new law went into
effect in April. ‘The Clean City Law came from a necessity to
combat pollution,’ explains Gilberto Kassab, the city’s
conservative, populist mayor. ‘We decided that we should start
combating pollution with the most conspicuous sector — visual

Adbusters reports that more than 70 percent of
residents approve of the seven-month-old measure. But not everyone
is singing the ban’s praises. Advertising firms are enraged, and
detractors are arguing that the policy is discouraging foreign
investment and hurting the local economy.

In a June cover story for the design industry magazine
Creative Review (article not available
online), Patrick Burgoyne quotes a press release from the Brazilian
Association of Advertisers (also known as Border), which describes
the law as ‘unreal, ineffective, and’ — yes — ‘fascist.’

A common refrain among these naysayers is that the ban is
economically destructive. Burgoyne cites local press reports that
the economy stands to lose $133 million in advertising revenue.
Sepex, a S?o Paulo outdoor-media association, claims that the ban
would put 20,000 residents out of work. A less predictable
complaint is that the ban may actually be making the city uglier.
Burgoyne writes that skeptics worry that ridding the city of its
colorful, loud ads will result in ‘a bland concrete jungle
replacing the chaos of the present.’ Clear Channel Communications,
the US radio giant that has fought similar initiatives in the
United States, has launched a public campaign claiming that the law
will erode the city’s culture.

Still, some on both sides of the debate agree that the billboard
ban could be a catalyst for a new city. One ad-maker tells Burgoyne
that it’s an opportunity for advertisers to reinvent themselves,
while others find a new city emerging from a suffocating commercial
quilt. Local photographer and typographer Tony de Marco credits the
ban as giving the city a newfound sense of civic pride previously
foreign to most residents. The ban, de Marco says, has ‘revealed an
architecture that we must learn to be proud of, instead of

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S?o Paulo: A City Without Ads

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