No Advertisements Welcome on These City Streets

John Jackson :: Friday, September 30th, 2011

Do you ever get weary of the sight of billboards and advertising popping up within every viewshed?  As if static image billboards weren’t enough, we now have digital displays presenting us with moving images.  And it’s not just on billboards…advertising shows up on busses, taxis, at bus stops, on the sides of semi-trailers and delivery vehicles. Sure, it’s not all bad – sometimes well-designed campaigns can brighten your day with a laugh or cause you to appreciate some worthy cultural issue.  Advertising revenue also can help fund perennially under resourced services, including transit.  But did you ever wonder what it would be like if there was no advertising anywhere….at all?  No billboards, no signs on the sides of trucks, busses or taxis.


Photo Credit: Tony de Marco for

It seems impossible to consider, but I’ve only just recently learned about a place where advertising in any form is banned. It may be old news to some of you, but thanks to the terrific film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold by Morgan Spurlock, I have just learned about Sau Paulo, Brazil’s incredibly bold move to make outdoor advertising in all forms illegal.

You read that right. Illegal.

The 2007 effort was championed by Sau Paulo’s Mayor Gilberto Kassab.  Kassab created Lei Cidade Limpa, or the Clean City Law. The move was, of course, heavily contested by the outdoor advertising industry, but ultimately passed through Kassab’s determination and help from the City’s elite. Since the law took effect, Sau Paulo has been stripped of more than 15,000 billboards and the City has handed out $8 million in fines.  But perhaps the most significant metric is the 70 percent public approval rating revealed by surveys.

Photo Credit: Tony de Marco for

Some interesting things have happened as a result.  Once-covered architectural gems have been uncovered and now serve as part of the City’s new identity…without having to construct anything.  Big companies like Citibank and Dolce and Gabbana reacted by painting their buildings in bold colors that tie to their brand. Interiors of some buildings became more visible, sometimes revealing illegal activities inside that have since been addressed. In many cases, there are now more eyes on the street as a result of less visual clutter.

Photo Credit: Tony de Marco for

What’s the take away? We all know the benefits of strong zoning ordinances, which are the most common tool in the United States for controlling visual pollution. Drive through somewhere like Myrtle Beach and you’ll see what happens when there are very few controls (or perhaps none at all?) on outdoor advertising. By contrast, spend some time in Hilton Head or any other heavily-regulated community and you can see the aesthetic benefits of the other end of the regulatory spectrum. It’s not likely that many (any?) communities in the United States will get to a law as sweeping as Lei Cidade Limpa. But the Sau Paulo story does show what a strong leader with a passion for quality of life in their communities can accomplish if they set their mind to it.

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