A City Devoid Of Billboards

Under a bold plan from the city's Mayor, the 11 million residents of Sao Paulo, Brazil, are enjoying a city free from outdoor advertising.

"It can be hard to shut Homer Simpson up, but São Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab did it. In August, Fox Films and Brazil's Gol Airlines decked out the fuselage of a Boeing 737 with Homer adhesives to promote The Simpsons Movie. But since the plane was scheduled to fly over municipal airspace, city hall nixed the campaign under its new Clean City Law that bans outdoor advertising and severely limits storefront signs. As a result, the airspace above São Paulo is a Homer-free zone.

In fact, much of this teeming metropolis of 11 million people is now ad-free. Implemented gradually over the past year, the Clean City Law targets almost all forms of external advertising, including ads on planes and blimps as well as those adorning the 12,000 legally registered billboards and untold thousands of unregistered placards that dot the city. The removal of what Mayor Kassab calls "visual pollution" has exposed both the beauty and beastliness of Brazil's bustling business capital. For the first time in decades, the ornate facades of old downtown buildings have been revealed in all their glory; On the other hand, the slums, or favelas, that line the expressways are no longer hidden behind gaudy billboards.

Residents of São Paulo seem to like what they are seeing-or not seeing, as the case may be. Some 73 percent approve of the law, and 54 percent think the city is a better place for it. Even many merchants and executives who were forced to change the layout of their storefronts have come to endorse the overall effect. "The visual cleanup of the urban environment has contributed to the well-being of residents," says António Freitas, general director of Drogasil, a pharmacy chain that revamped all the signs adorning its establishments."

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