Sunday, July 31, 2011

City clean-ups and chutzpah in Sao Paulo


Bureaucratic banality or Mayoral chutzpah? I recently learned about a remarkable urban experiment in Brazil.

Prior blogs discuss beautification and the CPTED strategy called image ("management and maintenance"). While image cannot stop crime, it can trigger positive change.

The town of Celebration illustrates how new urbanists and their form-based zoning take that one step beyond. Sao Paulo has another.

In 2007, Sao Paulo, one of the world's largest cities, instituted a radical experiment in beautification: a ban on unsanctioned, outdoor advertising. No billboards, no posters on buildings, and no brand advertising on busses. It is called the Clean City Law (Lei Cidade Limpa).


Unlikely instigator of the law was conservative mayor Gilberto Kassab. Four years later, in spite of plans to reintroduce a few isolated advertising zones (and unsuccessful legal challenges by the advertising industry), the law is deemed successful.

They have removed 15,000 billboards and levied fines of $8 million for companies violating the new law. In a modern, free-market democracy a city without public advertising is an anathema. Yet, the law remains.

The difference between pointless and consequential in law is whether it works.

True, they are still working to clean up unsightly blank billboards. Sao Paulo remains poor and gang infested. None of that, of course, is what the Clean City Law was about. It was about visual pollution and civic pride in the public realm. Survey's indicate over 70% of Sao Paulo's population love the new law.

Beautification can make a place seem like someone cares. It's a small, consequential step to help residents feel pride in their city. And as we know, a sense of place and pride is the first step in the long journey to neighborhood engagement.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting experiment. I wonder what they'll do with all the empty billboards. A number of cities have taken advantage of empty storefronts to display local artists' work. Billboards would be a great canvas, and the art would go further to beautify than would an empty billboard.

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  2. Yes Tod, I wondered that myself. We just had a year-long community "debate" about public art in our town...ended up with a huge mechanical bolt on the waterfront (don't ask). Can you imagine the rukus over these billboards?

    Maybe they can just get the more competent graffiti artists to organize, give them some general guidelines (no profanity, etc), and let them figure it out. Might cut graffiti in Sao Paulo too.

    Thanks for the insightful (as usual) comment.

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