How Sao Paolo made their streets cleaner by banning advertising

A decade ago, Sao Paulo introduced a law called Lei Cidade Limpa, the Clean City Law, after which 15,000 marketing billboards were removed from the streets. Additionally, 300,000 business signs hanging over buildings or painted in large typography were also subject to hefty fines if they were not quickly removed.

It wasn’t just for buildings, but also bus, taxi, and poster advertisements had to go under the law, too. Handing out pamphlets on the street was against the Clean City Law too. The legislation not only helped clean up the largest city in Brazil, it also revealed a darker side of the city hidden behind ad-covered signs and surfaces.

Credit: Tony de Marco

The idea of banning ads in the huge city was controversial, partly due to the substantial estimated impact on the economy of Sao Paolo. At all stages, as you’d expect, was fought vicariously by business groups who had vested commercial interest in buying and selling the best ad space.

Some arguments were framed as selfless, such as the streets becoming more dangerous due to the lack of lightings. Other’s were clearly more self-invested, for example Clear Channel Outdoor, claimed the ban was unconstitutional. Nothing to do with the fact they’re one of the biggest outdoor advertising companies!

Credit: Marcelo Palinkas

On the other hand, most citizens of Sao Paolo enjoyed the initiative. Local reporter Vinicius Galvao who writes for a Sao Paulo based newspaper said “Sao Paolo is a very vertical city, however before the law you couldn’t even see the architecture of the old buildings, because they were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria to restrict them.”

As you can see in the pictures above and below, it has made quite a difference to the way the city looks!

Credit: Marcelo Palinkas

What do you think, is this something more cities should pass? Do you understand the businesses concerns?

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