‘Clean City’: The fight against Visual Pollution in São Paulo.

Photo by Tony de Marco

In 2007, ‘Clean City’ was enacted in São Paulo. The radical legislation banned advertising, regulated the size of commercial signage and removed the graffiti from the city’s urban space as a way to fight visual pollution. However, no definition for visual pollution was included in the law, and no research has been conducted on its impact on society.

The ban on billboards is not unique to São Paulo (Vermont, Hawaii and Maine in the US have banned advertising since the 70s), but ‘Clean City’ was the first to officially classify advertisements (and the other mentioned visualities) as pollution.

São Paulo’s law is creating a new urban identity, a ‘clean’ urban space free from commercial communication, signage, and graffiti. However, how is visual pollution understood and what are the consequences of classifying visual communication as pollution?

Photo by Marina Da Silva

Public Space Translations

In 2014 I conducted field research in São Paulo on ‘Clean City’ to understand how it came into being and how citizens, politicians and experts responded to it. The research also explored how São Paulo’s public space is being shaped by the removal of ‘visual pollution’ and the political nature of this classifications.

Photos by Marina Da Silva and participants

The methodology used multidisciplinary techniques, not only to sense the city but to better “translate” it. The data collected during the city walks (photography, soundscape and videos) have been used in a series of installations to discuss the many, and often contrasting, viewpoints on visual pollution raised during the city walks.

“You can see tension in São Paulo’s public space, but what you see is not as strong as the one you feel…These visual interferences are reminders of the city’s dissatisfactions.” Cláudia Vieira

What does São Paulo’s new space tell us about that society? My current research continues to use ‘Clean City’, looking into how visual pollution is made to exist and subsequently experienced as pollution.


Installation by Marina Da Silva



Marina Da Silva is currently doing an MPhil in Visual Sociology at Goldsmiths. Her research is multidisciplinary and draws from her professional background as a Graphic Designer.







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