The City of the Clean City, São Paulo

2017 Upcoming Fulbright Research Project


The People of The Clean City, São Paulo

Introduction and Objectives

In 2006, the city of São Paulo enacted a piece of legislation entitled Lei Cidade Limpa – the clean city law. This legislation effectively eliminated the “visual clutter” of the city by banning advertising signage like billboards, truck-side and taxi cab advertisements, and by standardizing other printed commercial matter to singular formats. There is no other city in the world that has created a law as firm and clear as São Paulo, and the city’s bold move provides a unique opportunity to explore how changes in urban design relate to changes in individual-level decision-making. I am interested in understanding the degree to which people in São Paulo are aware of and sensitive to the presence and effects of advertising signage. In the context of this project, awareness is the consciousness of an average citizen to the presence and influence of commercial culture. It is well known that the environment around someone influences the decisions they make. In short, this project aims to understand the factors that determine how people make decisions in the commercial sphere in a city where there has been a distinct change to the commercial equation. To explore this relationship, my project will examine how Lei Cidade Limpa may have sensitized citizens in São Paulo to advertising signage. This awareness will serve as an indicator for how influenced a person is by commercial culture and ultimately how vulnerable that person is to this deterministic influence. My hypothesis is that the Clean City Law has sensitized residents to advertising signage, resulting in a less pronounced expression of determinism. Higher levels of awareness might indicate more conscious, critical thinking on a day-to-day basis, allowing people in São Paulo to observe and suppress deterministic influence. This project will provide critical information for urban designers, policy makers, and, more broadly, city-dwellers concerned about their role as consumers and the influence of advertising signage. The ultimate goal of this project is to apply this understanding of awareness and determinism to make recommendations on best practices for city advertising and media.


The primary data collection method for this project is a one-on-one qualitative interview process. I will set up a stationary “research stand” that invites passers-by to participate in the project rather than seeking out individuals in their homes or businesses. The interviews will be conducted in Portuguese, and recorded for review and coding. I aim to recruit two University of Sao Paulo (USP) student researchers to assist in reviewing and coding the interviews.

I will be engaging with three communities in São Paulo in order to obtain a varied demographic sample in my interviews. Each month of the study, I will spend one week conducting interviews in each of the three selected neighborhoods, followed by a fourth week of study reflection and refinement. Below is a schedule illustrating the research cycle with three prospective neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have been selected for their architectural and cultural diversity within the city. I will repeat the interview cycle as needed to achieve a satisfactory amount of information. At the end of each three-week data collection period, I reflect and refine the interviews, coding language and directing the future of the project. This reflection will take place in my affiliate institution and with the aid of my affiliate, Dr. Priscila Farias.

Week 1 Centro

Week 2 Largo Treze

Week 3 Vila Madalena

Week 4 Reflection + Refinement

These interviews will begin in late March or April, approximately one month after my arrival. The interviews at the research stand will continue until August, at which point I will travel to a different city in Brazil that still allows adverting signage in public spaces to obtain results from the same interview process. By including a city not affected by Lei Cidade Limpa, the study gains a “control.” I have consulted with the research ethics review board (Internal Review Board or IRB) within VCU, and I will be submitting the study for review prior to commencing my journey. The office of research indicated that this study would likely fall under “exempt” or “expedited” review due to its low risk factor for participants. This ethics review will be continued by USP while I am in-country. The study will be complimented with an exhaustive visual architectural survey of the neighborhoods in order to contextualize the findings. The inclusion of an architectural review and survey will create a more holistic snapshot of the urban fabric in São Paulo and provide a new layer of context to discuss the findings.

Host Country Commitment and Engagement

São Paulo, Brazil is the only city in the world where this project could be completed. To expand my learning and exploration of the city, I will engage with another interest of mine: animal rescue. I have personal experience with animal adoption, and I have been an advocate for its use to friends and family. While in São Paulo, I will volunteer with a local animal shelter to aid the human and animal populations around me. Through working with an animal shelter in São Paulo, I will forge connections with Paulistas and a new understanding of the city; this engagement will give me the opportunity to conduct service for the community and meet new people.


The output from this interview process will come in two parts. I will assemble the interviews into a scholarly paper analyzing the significance of the interview results from each area of São Paulo and comparing these results to those of the “control” city. This analysis will be followed with discussion as to whether these attitudes may be influenced by determinism. I will examine the decision-making process of study participants to understand how commercial culture changes the way participants think, and to make conclusions as to how Lei Cidade Limpa may ameliorate the psychological pressure of advertising signage.

The second half of the project will take a more holistic, narrative-based approach. The analysis will be less technical, and intended for the participants and people of São Paulo. I will create a visually-based document to be distributed both online and in a limited print run that explains in simple, digestible terms and imagery what the study has revealed about awareness of commercial signage. Hopefully, the document will inspire increased awareness and empowered decision-making among the general public.


The intricacy and cross-disciplinary nature of Lei Cidade Limpa makes it a critical and complex topic for study. Its broad-ranging implications for the citizens of São Paulo and the common practice of advertising signage make it an important and unique piece of municipal legislation. Existing literature aptly dissects the physical changes in São Paulo, but as yet, there is no exploration of the human result. This study is important so that we might understand the City’s deterministic influence on the average citizen, and guide best practices in other cities to enable awareness and strong, informed decision-making in their residents.