In September 2006, Sao Paolo, Brazil banned outdoor advertising. Are there any examples of such measures in cities in Europe or North America?

The only thing I'm personally aware of is that the former fringe political party Amsterdam Anders/De Groenen in Amsterdam, Netherlands proposed to rid the inner city of advertising, but as far as I'm aware, their proposal was never taken seriously by other political parties. I might be wrong, because this is entirely from memory and I can't find a source to confirm it.


The HIghway Beuatification Act of 1965, most often attributed to Lady Bird Johnson (LBJ's wife), curbed many forms of billboards across the United States - at least on federal roads, along their right of way. There are exceptions, but in general, a state loses its highway funding if billboards are allowed too close to an interstate.

The tricky balance is that even commercial speech is still protected speech. It can be regulated, but the Supreme Court looks poorly on outright bans.

Outside of the federal right-of-way, these things become local land use issues. Individual states and cities can use zoning laws and architectural review to prohibit certain structures (of which billboards are one), but then, as you say, property rights issues come to the fore. This leads many city zoning boards to be less than fully zealous in prohibiting commerical speech.

  • It can obviously be regulated, or else all limits to public graffiti paintings would be illegal (freedom of speech vs. property rights). – gerrit Jan 17 '13 at 14:18
  • Right, that's why I said "regulated" and "tricky balance" :) Also, graffiti (vandalism) diminishes the value of private property, and therefore has limits, as you said. – Affable Geek Jan 17 '13 at 14:22
  • @gerrit - freedom of speech in general is never legally understood to be unlimited, even in the US where it's taken to sometimes illogical extremes; especially when said speech causes harm. "fire" in a crowded theater etc... – user4012 Jan 17 '13 at 14:44
  • Right, and if one argues along the line of the Sao Paolo legislators, freedom of speech probably wouldn't make it impossible for a city to prohibit public advertising (although I'd expect it would end up in court if a city would try). – gerrit Jan 17 '13 at 14:47
  • @AffableGeek Interesting, but not really an answer to my question, which was about cities. I'd argue that it's more radical to ban it in cities than along highways. Bans along highways appears quite frequent in Europe, usually citing traffic safety. – gerrit Jan 17 '13 at 14:53

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