The World: Insider's view - Brazil

The mayor of Sao Paulo's decision to forsake consultation and ban outdoor advertising is the wrong way to go about improving the city's visual landscape, Renato Loes writes.

In Brazil, just like in the UK, we often talk of throwing the baby out with the bath water. And never has there been a better example than that of the mayor of Sao Paulo and his decision to banish all forms of outdoor media from the city back in January this year.

According to the mayor, the new legislation, codenamed "Clean City", is designed to eliminate Sao Paulo's "visual pollution". The response has been mixed: while some applaud the progressive removal of more than 8,000 pieces, including billboards, posters and backlights, others warn against potential mass unemployment, the result of effectively taking away 20,000 jobs.

So, on one side, you have the mayor, with significant support from the general public, striving to eliminate the city's chaotic and polluted visual landscape; and in direct opposition on the other side, you have a plethora of businesses, unable to sell their outdoor advertising services any longer and on the verge of bankruptcy.

But, as ever, there is a "third way". We should look beyond the figures and above private interests and review what are legitimate concerns on both sides. Only then can we move towards newer, healthier links between different players in society so that we can throw the dirty bath water out precisely because we want to save the baby.

Recent research conducted by Instituto Ibope, the Brazilian Institute of Public Opinion and Statistics, reveals that 32 per cent of people interviewed believe that the real cause of the visual pollution in Sao Paulo is the graffiti on the walls and buildings; 18 per cent think it's the stick-on signs glued to street signposts and walls; and 16 per cent think it's the trash that litters the streets.

And let's take a look at the history that tends to shape Brazil today, a history that is all about "leaps and bounds". Remember that just over 200 years ago, the metropolis that produces most of Brazil's wealth was not much more than a large tribal homeland where people, by and large, spoke the local Indian dialect.

Today, the same country that produces millions of illiterates will, by the end of 2007, have 33.9 million internet users (Brazil has become one of the countries with the greatest number of web surfers worldwide). This is the way Brazil develops - it just grows in rapid spurts, with no planning or in-depth analysis, or, indeed, consultation.

Despite a lack of planning being very much a part of Brazil's make-up, the out and out banishing of outdoor advertising is not the most appropriate solution for the problem of Sao Paulo's polluted urban scenery. Ultimately, the mayor will find that creating a truly attractive city requires listening, engagement and consultation with the people who live, work and dream there.

- Renato Loes is the president of Leo Burnett Brazil.

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