Sáo Paulo Bans Outdoor Advertising in 2007

From last month’s New York Times and posted here in case it becomes difficult to access in the future. And a special note of hope to residents of the United States: as fantastic as a the Sáo Paulo ban sounds, remember that Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine have all banned billboards in their state. There are various other advertising regulations in effect nationwide banning such things as alcohol advertising near schools. Regulating advertising (at any point along the spectrum) doesn’t just happen in exotic foreign countries.

Sáo Paulo Journal
Streets Are Paved With Neon’s Glare, and City Calls a Halt
Published: December 12, 2006

SÁO PAULO, Brazil – Imagine a modern metropolis with no outdoor advertising: no billboards, no flashing neon signs, no electronic panels with messages crawling along the bottom. Come the new year, this city of 11 million, overwhelmed by what the authorities call visual pollution, plans to press the “delete all” button and offer its residents an unimpeded view of their surroundings.

Buildings in the historic center of downtown Sáo Paulo are covered with billboards. They will be banned as of Jan. 1, when a city law takes effect.

But in proposing to transform the landscape, officials have unleashed debate and brought into conflict sharply differing conceptions of what this city, South America�s largest and most prosperous, should be.

City planners, architects and environmental advocates have argued enthusiastically that the prohibition, through a new “clean city” law, brings Sáo Paulo a welcome step closer to an imagined urban ideal.

The law is “a rare victory of the public interest over private, of order over disorder, aesthetics over ugliness, of cleanliness over trash,” Roberto Pompeu de Toledo, a columnist and author of a history of Sáo Paulo, wrote recently in the weekly newsmagazine Veja. “For once in life, all that is accustomed to coming out on top in Brazil has lost.”

Advertising and business groups, though, regard the legislation as injurious to society and an affront to their professions. They say that free expression will be inhibited, jobs lost and consumers less informed in their purchasing decisions, and even that streets will be less safe at night with the loss of illumination from signs.

“This is a radical law that damages the rules of a market economy and respect for the rule of law,” said Marcel Solimeo, chief economist of the 32,000-member Commercial Association of Sáo Paulo. “We live in a consumer society, and the essence of capitalism is the availability of information about products.”

The most visible impact promises to be at eye level and above. The outsized billboards and screens that dominate the skyline, promoting everything from autos, jeans and cellphones to banks and sex shops, will have to come down, as will all other forms of publicity in public space, like distribution of fliers.

The law also regulates the dimensions of store signs and outlaws any advertising on the sides of the city’s thousands of buses and taxis.

The law as passed also applied to advertising banners trailing airplanes and ads on blimps. But in the first of what promises to be a long series of legal challenges, a court ruled that clause unconstitutional, on the ground that the federal government and not the city controls airspace.

“What we are aiming for is a complete change of culture,” said Roberto Tripoli, president of the City Council and one of the main sponsors of the legislation. “Yes, some people are going to have to pay a price. But things were out of hand, and the population has made it clear it wants this.”

The law, approved by a vote of 45 to 1 in September, goes into effect on Jan. 1. Opponents complain that the date does not allow enough time for merchants to comply, that fines of up to $4,500 for violations are extreme and that the result will inevitably be a diminishing of urban life “like New York without Times Square or Tokyo without the Ginza,” Mr. Solimeo said.

“I think this city is going to become a sadder, duller place,” said Dalton Silvano, who cast the sole dissenting vote and is in the advertising business. “Advertising is both an art form and, when you’re in your car or alone on foot, a form of entertainment that helps relieve solitude and boredom.”

This is not the city’s first effort to regulate outdoor advertising. A few years ago it was prohibited in the historic downtown area. But there have been complaints about inspectors taking bribes and advertisers simply flouting the law.

“All our efforts to negotiate have had no effect, because none of the accords and agreements we reached with the advertising sector were ever complied with,” Mayor Gilberto Kassab said in an interview.

Since “it is hard in a city of 11 million to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what was and wasn’t legal, we decided to go all the way, to zero things out,” Mr. Kassab said. “When you prohibit everything, society itself becomes your partner in enforcing the law” and reporting violations.

Popular reaction has largely been supportive. “I’m in favor of anything that improves the way this city looks, and this law will definitely make things better,” said Fernando Gil, 25, a student interviewed on Avenida Paulista, the main street in the heart of the financial district.

Advertising companies generally acknowledge that abuses of public space have occurred and that a majority of the city’s estimated 13,000 outdoor billboards have been installed illegally. But they also complain that they are being made scapegoats.

“It is not politically correct to talk about the million-plus posters and signs that small businesses and mechanics’ shops have up all over the place, because they are poor,” said Francesc Petit, an outspoken advertising executive. “It’s easier to attack McDonald’s and Coca-Cola and the banks, because that doesn’t offend anybody.”

Mr. Kassab said that once the situation is under control he hopes to allow limited, strictly regulated advertising at bus stops, newsstands, outdoor street clocks and public bathrooms. But some residents who support the new legislation hope that day never comes, even if it were to profit the city’s coffers.

“The truth is that there are so many banners, billboards, placards, signs and posters all over the place that they’ve lost their impact, and I hardly pay attention to them anymore,” said Lévia Okamoto, a dental technician. “So what’s the point in the manufacturer of a product paying for advertising if all it is going to do is block my view and irritate me?”

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  1. wilson says:

    an urban ideal? with such a nescient people? hahahaha that can only be a joke…

    and a ps about the slack translation: “Avenida Paulista”, as the name implies, is not a street, but an avenue.

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