Sao Paulo Bans All Outdoor Ads

Brazilian City Law Eliminating 'Visual Pollution' Takes Effect in January

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NEW YORK ( -- We may never live to see the lights of outdoor advertising go out in Times Square, but the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, will sure be looking a lot less cluttered next month.
Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, is taking draconian steps to eliminate all billboards and other forms of 'visual pollution.'
Sao Paulo, the largest city in Brazil, is taking draconian steps to eliminate all billboards and other forms of 'visual pollution.'

Banning billboards
Since September, the city of 11 million people has been preparing for a law, set to go into effect Jan. 1, that will eliminate all "visual pollution," including billboards, electronic signs and even fliers.

The decision comes several years after Sao Paulo Mayor Gilberto Kassab passed a law banning all outdoor ads in the downtown district, seeking an easy solution to any potential legal confusion. "When you prohibit everything, society itself becomes your partner in enforcing the law," Mr. Gilberto told The New York Times.

Not without precedent
A citywide ban of Sao Paulo levels is not without precedent. For the past year, Philippine officials have been trying to outlaw billboards after a series of billboard-related deaths in Manila due to hurricane effects and mishaps with the city's public-transportation system. Interstates in states such as Vermont and Oregon have been billboard-free for decades under the Highway Beautification Act. Even New York City's outdoor market has run into legal issues recently following its controversial $1.3 billion street-furniture contract with Spanish company Cemusa.

But unlike the majority of its global counterparts, South America has no government regulation on its outdoor advertising, making a citywide ban in Sao Paulo all the easier to execute.

Such a move would be tricky to pull off domestically, but not impossible, said Carol Rothschild, director of Kinetic Media, New York. "We're certainly seeing a tightening of rules and regulations, if New York takes the lead in making sure what's legal and illegal. Many major markets are already subject to each community permitting out-of-home. There are many areas in Boston that do not have billboards due to community regulations. We may see more of that as community activists get involved."

Financial benefits
Plus, the financial benefits of outdoor ads for American markets are too numerous to reject completely. "I believe that, looked at in a balanced way, out-of-home signage brings a considerable benefit to urban communities by way of direct revenue through rent and rates but also by providing amenities such as bus shelters and public toilets," Kinetic Global CEO Eric Newnham said in an e-mail. "Most transportation services are subsidized in some form by advertising -- witness the recent $823 million New York transit tender and airports, which also gain considerable inward revenues as well."

Curtailing outdoor ads would also be unhealthy from a political standpoint. "I doubt that many cities will go to the length of banning, especially at election time," Mr. Newnham said.
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