Opinion, By Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Like all Cariocas, the Curmudgeon has always maintained that Rio de Janeiro, the “Cidade Maravilhosa,” is the most beautiful city in the world. And like most Cariocas, the Curmudgeon has maintained that São Paulo is, well, if not downright ugly, at least it’s not in the running for “most beautiful city.”

The Curmudgeon, also known as Michael Royster.

The Curmudgeon, exiled to Sampa for five years more than a decade ago, will now confess he was wrong, or at least mistaken. Most Cariocas, eyes focused on the mountains and the beaches and the forests and the parks and even the moon (this week it arose nightly, HUGE over Guanabara Bay) tend to overlook some of the eyesores that abound here.

Look on the tops and sides and fronts of multistory commercial buildings, starting downtown and heading out through Rio’s Zona Sul (South Zone), and be appalled. The clutter of visual pollution is breathtaking.

Since 2007 there is none of that in São Paulo.

But take heart! Hizzoner, the Mayor of Rio, has just signed a decree banning private outdoor advertising, and limiting the size and content of storefront advertising, at least in downtown and the Zona Sul (South Zone). The decree was signed on May 2nd, and the city began taking down offending propaganda the next day, almost all of them without permits. The rest will follow.

Why has Rio done this? The Carioca press says it’s because São Paulo passed the Clean City Law which flatly prohibited any and all publicity announcements on real estate, whether public or private property, whether built up or not, throughout the city. As in, what is there about “NO” you don’t understand?

But the Curmudgeon knows better. The true precedent for this ukase was the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Four years before that event happened, local authorities took a look around and said “Hey! Where’d the Temple of Zeus go? It used to be around here somewhere.”

Office and residential buildings in Athens had, just as in Rio, erected billboards on their tops, and were cutting off the view of hordes of historical sites. So Athens banned billboards, gradually, starting with the ones that didn’t have any permits, and were closest to places visiting business persons and tourists go.

Sound familiar? We’re now four years before the Rio Olympics, and the Decree does not affect most of the city, just the places near those areas where business people and tourists go. Hizzoner’s timing couldn’t be better, because this very next month, Rio will host the “Rio +20” conference, and the location of the non-official events is the Aterro.

The idea is, if you’re among the throngs on or near the Aterro, you should be able to see hills and green places and some of Rio’s splendid architecture.

That’s just a start, but a very good start. By 2016 the “marvelous city” should, at last, resemble billboard-less São Paulo. The Curmudgeon hopes Rio will get there even sooner. After all, in 2013, the Pope and a gazillion tourists are coming to Rio, and 2014 is the World Cup.

Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)


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