Last December I wrote a post about Sao Paulo, Brazil's economic capital and one of the world's largest metropolises, enacting a radical ban on almost all outdoor advertising under the "Lei Cidade Limpa", the clean city law, pushed by the city's mayor Gilberto Kassab. As I described in that post, the measure was a response to the excesses of advertising, which had become "conspicuous visual pollution", in the words of the mayor. Since January 1st, when the law went into effect, thousands of billboards, oversize signs and logos, big video screens, ads on buses and taxis have been eliminated, leaving behind, writes AdBusters, "blank marquees, partially torn-down frames and hastily painted-over storefront facades". The magazine also says that according to surveys, "the measure is extremely popular with the city's residents, with more than 70 percent approval".
Photographer Tony de Marco has published a photoset on Flickr on " São Paulo No Logo". Here just three of his telling images:
Apart from creating a different visual experience of the city, the ad ban has also had some unexpected side effects. In the same article, AdBusters reproduces a transcript of an NPR interview with Vinicius Galvao, a reporter for Folha de Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest daily. Excerpt:
What did São Paulo look like up until the ban took place?
São Paulo’s a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria.
And now it’s amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. For example, there are some favelas, which are the shantytowns. I wrote a big story in my newspaper today that in a lot of parts of the city we never realized there was a big shantytown. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area.
No writer could have [laughing] come up with a more vivid metaphor. What else has been discovered as the scales have fallen off of the city’s eyes?
São Paulo’s just like New York. It’s a very international city. We have the Japanese neighborhood, we have the Korean neighborhood, we have the Italian neighborhood and in the Korean neighborhood, they have a lot of small manufacturers, these Korean businessmen. They hire illegal labor from Bolivian immigrants.
And there was a lot of billboards in front of these manufacturers’ shops.And when they uncovered, we could see through the window a lot of Bolivian people like sleeping and working at the same place. They earn money, just enough for food. So it’s a lot of social problem that was uncovered where the city was shocked at this news.
I want to ask you about the cultural life of the city, because, like them or not, billboards and logos and bright lights create some of the vibrancy that a city has to offer. Isn’t it weird walking through the streets with all of those images just absent?
No. It’s weird, because you get lost, so you don’t have any references any more. That’s what I realized as a citizen. My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was covered through this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s got now new language, a new identity.