This is the story of how one mans vision transformed a chaotic
third world backwater into a city that works and a Mecca for urban
planners and environmentalists around the world. In
the 1960s the mayor of Curitiba, Brazil sponsored a contest for
a city development plan. He circulated the best entries for public
debate and turned over the results to some upstart architects. Jaime
Lerner was one of them. Lerner became mayor in 1971 and embarked
on a path that has gained him worldwide respect and admiration for
his visionary leadership in transforming Curitiba into what some
planners call the most environmentally advanced urban area on Earth.
Today, Lerner is Governor of Parana State and is known for his
innovations in mobility and land use. He believes that cities need to be rediscovered
as instruments of change. Trained
in France as an architect and urban planner, he has become a figure
of international interest among green thinkers. Lerners approach
focuses on three principles: Keep It Simple. Begin It Now. Don't
Rush to Have All the Answers.
The conventional wisdom, he said, is that the future
of our cities is tragic. There is a lot of pessimism afoot, and
not much generosity; politicians are especially in love with the
tragic projections. But if you project tragedy, he said, you'll
likely get tragedy. If, however, you concentrate your efforts on
changing negative trends, you may very well succeed. In the
1970's, most cities were pouring money into public works and working
for the car. We do not work for cars. We work for people. If a city
treats the people with respect, they will respect the city.
Lerner began the process of redesigning Curitiba by addressing
the transportation system in the city.
Subways are normally considered a necessity for a city the
size of Curitiba, but they didn't have the money for underground
construction so they developed a mass transport system based entirely
on buses. While the city manages the program, all of the buses are privately
owned and operated, and the fares virtually pay for the system.
In the last 25 years its capacity
has grown to 1.8 million passengers a day. On one line it has more
passengers than on all of Washington, DC's, and it is 200 times
less expensive. The trick, Lerner
said, is how to integrate transportation into the city.
The Curitiba bus system includes exclusive
corridors for mass transit vehicles, a central, slow moving arterial,
and lateral freeways. Curitiba's Integrated Mass Transit System
is composed of express bus lines, feeder lines, and
interdistrict lines. The system is based on routes
following concentric circles through the city, fed by feeder and
interdistrict lines. During rush hour, buses are as frequent as
one per minute on the busier routes.
The city has used zoning to encourage
development near transit stations and to encourage mini-centers
outside the center of the city. Retired buses are either used as
mobile training centers or as free transportation to parks and open
spaces. These mobile training centers serve as education facilities
for Curitibans, who pay $1.00 to take courses in auto mechanics,
electricity, typing, hair dressing, artisan work or the like. At
the end of these training courses the students are placed in jobs
throughout the city or they often start their own businesses.
Every problem has a solution that
involves everyone; we believe in shared responsibility, Lerner
said. Money is not always the answer. Curitiba has
pioneered in developing innovative, small-scale, low-cost and practical
solutions to urban problems. Instead of building costly new recycling
plants, for example, Lerner set out to get households to sort their
garbage before putting it out. He launched the campaign in schools, sending out people dressed
up as trees to make the point that recycling paper could save forests.
By stressing to the public that the recycling of paper goods
saves an estimated 1,200 trees a day, 'we transformed the garbage
man into an environmental hero.' The efforts
turned children into 'secret agents inside each home.'
In slums that garbage trucks could not enter, Lerner gave residents
bus vouchers or bags of vegetables, fruits and dairy products bought
from outlying farms in exchange for bags of rubbish brought to recycling
stations. In this way he made the city cleaner while also improving
health, nutrition and boosting public transportation.
The city's recycling plant for non-organic rubbish is on the grounds
of a foundation for recovering alcoholics, disabled and homeless
people who are actively employed in the recycling program. The proceeds
earned from the recycling go back into social services provided
by the city for its residents. 'We don't just recycle garbage, we
recycle people here,' says Enrique Goldenstein, the foundation's
Orphaned or abandoned street children are a problem all over Brazil.
Lerner got each industry, shop and institution to 'adopt' a few
children, providing them with a daily meal and a small wage in exchange
for simple maintenance gardening or office chores. Another Lerner
innovation was to organize the street vendors into a mobile, open-air
fair that circulates through the city's neighborhoods.
The success of these programs comes from the commitment of the
government and the participation of the residents. You cannot
solve a city's problems only with money, you need a change in mentality.
We invest in public awareness. When people understand the importance
of the projects, they become involved, Lerner explained. .
Curitibans have a strong sense of solidarity and take pride in their
city because they are creating and maintaining systems that work.
The one sour note I uncovered in researching this story is that
due to the increasing economic crisis and high unemployment rates
in the area, rural workers organizations have intensified land occupations
in Brazil. In the last two years, the number of families squatting
in rural camps increased by 10,000. Apparently, under the Brazilian
Constitution, idle land that is occupied in this way is supposed
to be appropriated from the landowners and ceded to the squatters.
There have been a number of assassinations and human rights violations
against rural workers who have been expelled from rural camps. The
workers union (MST) has accused the state government, the military
police and the large landowners association (UDR) of complicity
in the violence. The UDR has announced it will start using land
mines as a weapon against rural workers.
The MST has been constantly denouncing this violence to the state
government, the local police as well to the Human Rights Commission
in Congress. In addition to disregarding these claims, the government
of Parana has apparently not investigated the killings or any other
human rights violations.
For further references see the following
Article entitled 'The city of first priorities' by Donella Meadows
in Whole Earth Review, Spring '95
Case Study Source:
Sustainability in Action: Profiles of Community Initiatives Across
the United States -
American Forum for Global Education. 1995
Sustainability case study for The International
Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 1818 H Street,
N.W., Washington, DC 20433
Bill McKibben, Hope,
Human and Wild: True stories of living lightly on the earth
(Little, Brown and Co, 1995)
Jonas Rabinovitch, and Josef Leitman, Urban Planning in Curitiba,
Scientific American, March 1996
Jaime Lerner, The Curitiba Bus System Transportation Experiences
and Options in Developing Countries, edited by Mia Layne Birk and
Deborah Lynn Bleviss, International Institute for Energy Conservation,