Does anything of note stand out in the photo below?
A city skyline? A beautifully crisp sunny day? An abundance of high-rise buildings? The haze of smog above them?
Well yes, but that’s not what I was looking for.
Ok, let’s take a closer look. What about in my street-level photo of Avenida Paulista (São Paulo’s main avenue)?
A traffic jam? More high-rise buildings? Another sunny day?
Again yes, but it’s still not what I’m looking for.
Ok, let’s pause for a moment because maybe I’ve been a little disingenuous. What about if I instead told you that what I was hinting at was not what you can see, but what you can’t?
Take another look…Any ideas now?
Ok, don’t worry about it too much, it took me a while too…
After arriving in São Paulo in February I slowly started to become familiar with my new surroundings, first around my local neighbourhood, then the more well-known areas where the ‘sights’ are, and later the rest, as and when the opportunity arose.
As I don’t drive I’ve made most of my observations and best discoveries on foot, which is something of an alien concept in São Paulo – a city, let’s be frank, that is not hugely pedestrian friendly.
Opting, where possible, to walk around São Paulo has enabled me to discover countless things that I would’ve undoubtedly missed had I instead sped past them on a bus or avoided them altogether by taking the Metro.
And, yet, despite this, whilst I strolled the streets of Sampa I still felt as if I was missing something, although I couldn’t really put my finger on what.
Until that is, I received a message from my buddy Maarten and everything fell into place:
Watching a documentary showing São Paulo’s lack of outdoor advertising. Very cool.
“Of course”, I thought, “that’s what is missing!”
Yes, what is missing from my photos, and what I subconsciously felt was missing, is advertising.
“Advertising?” I can hear you jest, “Missing?”
Yes, missing. And that, in my opinion, is the coolest thing about São Paulo, because here in Sampa outdoor advertising has been made illegal.
Well, it was the result of a law passed in 2006 by the former mayor, Gilberto Kassab, and for reasons which he explains below in a clip taken from the Morgan Spurlock film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold - the one my buddy mentioned in his message.
The law not only bans billboards but also advertisements on the sides of buses and taxis, as well as restricting the size of signs on shopfronts. As a result nearly 15,000 billboards were removed and $8 million in fines handed out for non-compliance, which isn’t bad for a country where the passing of a law hasn’t necessarily always meant it’ll be enforced.
What’s also impressive is that this has never happened anywhere outside of the ‘communist world’, which again isn’t bad for somewhere that in pretty much every other way is your archetypal 21st century capitalist city. For example, São Paulo has the ninth highest GDP of any city in the world, making it the richest city in both Brazil (the state of São Paulo’s GDP makes up a third of the total of Brazil) and South America. Add to this the fact that it is also home to almost every major financial institution and boasts one of the largest private fleets of helicoptors in the world, and you’ll start to understand that São Paulo’s a city where a lot of money is being made, and where a lot of money is waiting to be spent on consumer goods.
In light of this, you have to give credit to Gilberto Kassab and his successors because Brazilian politicians aren’t exactly known for being adverse to mixing their day job with other bits on the side. In other words, it would have been very easy for Kassab to have been ‘influenced’ by an advertising firm or big business to bin the law, and for that credit is due.
A testament to this is that six years after the law was passed the ban is still in place and São Paulo remains ad-free, and it’s absolutely refreshing – well, it is for someone like me whose feelings about advertising can be pretty much summed up by the following:
Ok, so maybe death is a little harsh, but, you know, I just think that it’s very cool that when I step outside my apartment my views aren’t dominated by companies trying to convince me how much I need to buy a new car, gadget or some other such thing which I really can’t afford and probably don’t need anyway.
This wouldn’t be a blog by me without a little moan, because whilst we live ad-free it has had the effect of exposing us to the fifty shades of beige that is São Paulo’s often uninspiring and ‘functional’ buildings – and believe me there are a lot of them (cast your eyes back to the first photo).
Although, without the distraction of advertising your eyes are free to observe what sits in its place – and that’s mainly graffiti. On the one hand this consists, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, of some the finest and most abundant street art anywhere in the world. On the other it is ugly street-tagging called Pichação.
Somehow São Paulo’s facades can at the same time be uninspiring, beautiful and ugly – sometimes all in one street or even one building. But this, I guess, kind of sums São Paulo up perfectly: it’s a city of extremes.
C’mon Paulistanos, let’s not just be content with keeping the city ad-free, let’s get rid of the drab too! Instead of a beige, khaki or grey for your building why not a blue or red? Or why not something a little more adventurous:
These pieces were produced by local artists and collectives, however it should also be noted that they were commissioned by GE Brasil, so depending on how you look at it they might as well be the very things I was raging against earlier – advertisements.
Whilst not branded they do have a GE logo (I couldn’t spot them), though GE states that they are “pieces of art” that are a “gift to the city” to make it look more colourful.
So, what do you Paulistanos think? Are they pieces of art or just advertisements in disguise? Does it even matter?
And finally, what about the ad ban itself? Are you in favour too?
You tell me…