This City Banned All Outdoor Advertising Under Its “Clean City Law”


When São Paulo introduced its Clean City Law a decade ago, over 15,000 marketing billboards were taken down. An additional 300,000 ostentatious business signs — hanging over streets or painted in large letters on facades — were also subject to a hefty fine if they weren't removed promptly. Bus, taxi, and poster advertisements had to go as well. Even handing out pamphlets on the street was prohibited. While this legislation helped clean up the largest city in Brazil, it also revealed surprises hiding behind ad-covered urban signs and surfaces. All of a sudden the beautiful architecture of the old buildings could be seen and enjoyed. While the law had broad public support, some residents were worried for financial reasons. For starters, the city would not only lose revenue from absent ads, but would have to actively spend money taking down the resulting ghost town of empty billboards. Furthermore, stripping the signs would make familiar routes harder to follow. As it turned out, advertisements were quite literally covering up problems with the city that needed to be addressed. The Clean City law  forced building owners and businesses to confront unpainted and unattractive architecture, reconsidering their visual presence in shared civic spaces. Today, some ads are being reintroduced in São Paulo, but in a much more controlled fashion than before.