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Brazilian city of Curitiba may be most livable city in the world

Page history last edited by Rosemary 10 years, 2 months ago

A small Brazilian city named Curitiba has become an international model for sustainable development because it puts its people first and plans in a strategic and integrated way. Curitiba is a “livable” city, say residents and visitors alike; American journalist Bill McKibben calls it a ”global model for development that respects the earth and delights its inhabitants.” Other local governments call it “a model ecological, people-centered city.”

Led in the 1970s and 1980s by charismatic mayor Jaime Lerner who ‘imagined the ideal and did what was possible today’, Curitiba is best known as a pioneer of sustainable urban transportation and waste recycling. But it has also created a city with more green space per citizen than the United Nations’  ideal standard, preserved cultural buildings at no cost to the city, and created a strong economy that benefits all of its citizens.

Strategic and integrated urban planning “is what underpins the individual projects system-wide that improve the environment, cut pollution and waste, and make the quality of life in the city better,” says a study by ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, an international organization of more than 875 cities, towns and counties. “The result of the strategy--which put people at the center and emphasized integrated planning--is that the city has become a showcase of ecological and humane urbanism, with ongoing improvements over the past 38 years to social, economic and environmental conditions for its residents.”

Transportation: Curitiba’s Public Transportation Integrated Network maintains 2,100 buses that transport 2.04 million passengers each workday along 385 different lines that cover the city and surrounding regions. There are 5,000 bus stops, 351 tube-stations and 29 integrating terminals. While the population has doubled since 1974 and Curitiba has the most car owners per capita of any Brazilian city, auto traffic has declined by 30%, and Curitiba has Brazil’s lowest rates of ambient pollution and per capita gas consumption. Curitiba’s system has inspired Bogota’s TransMilenio, Mexico City’s Metrobus, Guatemala City’s Transmetro system, and Los Angeles’ Orange Line. 

Waste Disposal: Since 1989, when Curitiba became the first city in Brazil to introduce wide-spread separation and recycling of domestic waste, its recyclers have separated 419,000 tons – enough to fill 1,200 20-storey buildings. Now 70% of the city's trash is recycled, with sorting into organic and inorganic waste done by residents at home and picked up from the curb by a fleet of brightly coloured trucks. Recycling is done at a plant (itself made from recycled materials) by previously unemployed people including the homeless and recovering alcoholics. Paper recycling alone saves the equivalent of 1,200 trees a day. Recovered materials are sold to local industries, and the proceeds used to fund social programs.

Green Exchange: Poor residents in 62 neighbourhoods unreachable by truck have been able to bring their waste to neighborhood centers, where they have exchanged 11,000 tons of garbage for nearly a million bus tokens and 1,200 tons of food since 1991; currently, 7,000 people benefit from about 44 tons of food annual, through 78 exchange points. In the past three years, more than 100 schools have traded 200 tons of garbage for 1.9 million notebooks. The program improves the diet of the poor and supports small local farmers.

Green Space: When the national government was distributing flood control funding in the 1970s, the city used the funds to buy up vacant land and create a network of 30 parks that include lakes created by damming rivers. Now the city has an astounding 51 square meters of green space per person as well as an effective flood control system. The city also has dozens of squares, playgrounds, and gardens; 200 kilometers of bike paths; and 1.5 million trees planted along streets by volunteers. Builders get tax breaks if their projects include green space. Land around the parks has increased in value, bringing the city higher tax revenues.

Cultural Heritage: Many of the city's buildings are "recycled" and retired buses are often used as mobile schools or offices. A flooded quarry was turned into the Wire Opera House inside two months, and another into the Free University of the Environment, which educates people on ecological issues. The refuse damp became a botanical garden with a duck pond, French parterres and a classic Victorian greenhouse; an old gunpowder storage facility was transformed into the cherished Teatro do Paiol; a glue plant became the children's center; and an old trolley on the first pedestrian mall in the region, Rua Quinze, became a free babysitting center for shoppers. The mayor called it “urban acupuncture” that energized the development process.

Downtown areas were transformed into pedestrian streets, including a 24-hour mall with shops, restaurants and cafes, and a street of flowers with gardens tended by street kids. The “sol criado” system finances restoration of historical buildings, creates green areas, and supports social housing. The city’s zoning plan sets two standards for the number of floors that can be built in each zone – normal, and maximum; building the maximum requires buying the difference in the “sol criado” market by providing funds to restore an historical building, create a nature park, or build social housing.

Housing: Since 1990, the Municipal Housing Fund has been providing financial support to housing for lower income populations. After national housing finance collapsed in 1985, just as people from the countryside poured into Curitiba, the city’s public housing program bought one of the few remaining large plots of land, Novo Bairro, as home for 50,000 families. While landowners built the houses themselves, each received a pair of trees and an hour’s consultation with an architect to help them develop their plan. COHAB also built Technology Street, an avenue of 24 homes in the centre of Novo Bairro, each built using different construction techniques.

Economy and Jobs: In the early 1970s, when Brazil was welcoming industry with open arms, Curitiba accepted only non-polluters and constructed an industrial district with so much green space that it was derided as a “golf course” until it filled up with major businesses while its counterparts in other Latin American cities flagged. The city's 30-year economic growth rate is 7.1%, higher than the national average of 4.2%, and per capita income is 66% higher than the Brazilian average. Between 1975 and 1995, Curitiba’s domestic product grew by some 75% more than the entire State of Paraná, and 48% more than Brazil as a whole. In 1994, tourism generated US$280 million, 4% of the city's net income.

Curitiba has municipal health, education and day care networks, neighbourhood libraries shared by schools and citizens, and Citizenship Streets, where buildings provide essential public services, sports and cultural facilities near mass transportation terminals. At the Open University, residents can take courses in subjects such as mechanics, hair styling and environmental protection for a small fee. Policies for job creation and income generation also became part of the city's strategic planning in the '90s, for the metropolitan region as well as the city.

Lerner, who went on to serve as Governor of the Parana Region, now is consulted by city governments around the world. In 2007, he was working on a project to revitalize the marine coast, solve the garbage management issues and transform the road system in Luanda, Angola. And he remained optimistic about cities, stating in the foreword to the State of the World 2007 - Our Urban Future:

“In terms of physical configuration, the cities of the future will not differ significantly from the ones of yesterday and today. What will differentiate the good city will be its capacity for reconciling its residents with nature. Socially just and environmentally sound cities—that is the quest! By having to deal directly with economic and environmental issues, this quest will foster an increasingly positive synergy between cities, regions, and countries. As a consequence, it will motivate new planetary pacts focused on human development.”

This story was prepared from a variety of sources, including Curitiba’s website; the IPPUC website; Curitiba: A Global Model for Development, Bill McKibben, Nov. 8, 2005 (excerpted from The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, ed. by Paul Rogat Loeb); Orienting Urban Planning to Sustainability in Curitiba, Brazil, ICLEI; Foreword by Hon. Jaime Lerner, State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future, Worldwatch Institute, January 12, 2007; Curitiba: the Brazilian City which left the Third World, in Designing Bioregional Economies in Response to Globalization, by Bernard Lietaer and Art Warmoth, 1999 ; Maverick mayor: 'Eco-architecture not ego-architecture!', Zara Bilgrami, CNN June 6, 2008 ; City Solutions: A Healthy Urban Future - Garbage that’s not Garbage; Transportation Tuesday: Curitiba Public Transit, Emily Pilloton, Dec. 11, 2007; Jaime Lerner on Sustainability in Curitiba and “Urban Accupuncture”, Paula Alvarado, 11.12.07; Jaime Lerner’s websiteCuritiba - City with a Soul, Warren McLaren, 06.23.05;  and Recycle City: The Road to Curitiba City: The Road to Curitiba, Arthur Lubow, New York Times, May 20, 2007. The picture of Curitiba, and of the recycling truck, come from the website of the city of Curitiba; the picture of the transit system comes from Emily Pilloton's article entitled Transportation Tuesday.

You can listen to Jaime Lerner talk about his work in a TED talk that was posted on the TED site in February 2008.


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