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Curitiba Case Study of a Sustainable City

Residents of Curitiba, Brazil, think they live in the best city in the world, and a lot of
outsiders agree. Curibita has 17 new parks, 9 !iles of bike paths, trees everywhere, and
traffic and garbage syste!s that officials fro! other cities co!e to study. Curibita"s
!ayor for twelve years, #ai!e $erner, has a 9% per cent approval rating.
&here is nothing special about Curitiba"s history, location or population. $ike all $atin
'!erican cities, the city has grown enor!ously ( fro! 1), people in the 19)s to 1.*
!illion now. +t has its share of s,uatter settle!ents, where fewer than half the people are
literate. Curibita"s secret, insofar that it has one, see!s to be si!ple willingness fro! the
people at the top to get their kicks fro! solving proble!s.
&hose people at the top started in the 19*s with a group of young architects who were
not i!pressed by the urban fashion of borrowing !oney for big highways, !assive
buildings, shopping !alls and other showy pro-ects. &hey were thinking about the
environ!ent and about hu!an needs. &hey approached Curibita"s !ayor, pointed to the
rapid growth of the city and !ade a case for better planning.
&he !ayor sponsored a contest for a Curibita !aster plan. .e circulated the best entries,
debated the! with the citizens, and then turned the people"s co!!ents over to the upstart
architects, asking the! to develop and i!ple!ent a final plan.
#ai!e $erner was one of these architects. +n 1971 he was appointed !ayor by the then
!ilitary govern!ent of Brazil.
/iven Brazil"s econo!ic situation, $erner had to think s!all, cheap and participatory (
which was how he was thinking anyway. .e provided 1.) !illion tree seedlings to
neighbourhoods for the! to plant and care for. 0"&here is little in the architecture of a city
that is !ore beautifully designed than a tree," says $erner.1
.e solved the city"s flood proble!s by diverting water fro! lowlands into lakes in the
new parks. .e hired teenagers to keep the parks clean.
.e !et resistance fro! shopkeepers when he proposed turning the downtown shopping
district into a pedestrian zone, so he suggested a thirty(day trial. &he zone was so popular
that shopkeepers on the other streets asked to be included. 2ow one pedestrian street, the
Rua das 3lores, is lined with gardens tended by street children.
4rphaned or abandoned street children are a proble! all over Brazil. $erner got each
industry, shop and institution to "adopt" a few children, providing the! with a daily !eal
and a s!all wage in e5change for si!ple !aintenance gardening or office chores.
'nother $erner innovation was to organise the street vendors into a !obile, open(air fair
that circulates through the city"s neighbourhoods.
Concentric circles of local bus lines connect to five lines that radiate fro! the centre of
the city in a spider web pattern. 4n the radial lines, triple(co!part!ent buses in their own
traffic lanes carry three hundred passengers each. &hey go as fast as subway cars, but at
one(eightieth the construction cost.
&he buses stop at 6le5iglas tube stations designed by $erner. 6assengers pay their fares,
enter through one end of the tube, and e5it fro! the other end. &his syste! eli!inates
paying on board, and allows faster loading and unloading, less idling and air pollution,
and a sheltered place for waiting ( though the syste! is so efficient that there isn"t !uch
waiting. &here isn"t !uch littering either. &here isn"t ti!e.
Curitiba"s citizens separate their trash into -ust two categories, organic and inorganic, for
pick(up by two kinds of trucks. 6oor fa!ilies in s,uatter settle!ents that are unreachable
by trucks bring their trash bags to neighbourhood centres, where they can e5change the!
for bus tickets or for eggs, !ilk, oranges and potatoes, all bought fro! outlying far!s.
&he trash goes to a plant 0itself built of recycled !aterials1 that e!ploys people to
separate bottles fro! cans fro! plastic. &he workers are handicapped people, recent
i!!igrants, alcoholics.
Recovered !aterials are sold to local industries. 7tyrofoa! is shredded to stuff ,uilt for
the poor. &he recycling progra!!e costs no !ore than the old landfill, but the city is
cleaner, there are !ore -obs, far!ers are supported and the poor get food and
transportation. Curitiba recycles two(thirds of it garbage ( one of the highest rates of any
city, north or south.
Curitiba builders get a ta5 break if their pro-ects include green areas.
#ai!e $erner says, "&here is no endeavour !ore noble than the atte!pt to achieve a
collective drea!. 8hen a city accepts as a !andate its ,uality of life9 when it respects the
people who live in it9 when it respects the environ!ent9 when it prepares for future
generations, the people share the responsibility for that !andate, and this shared cause is
the only way to achieve that collective drea!."
Summarised from an article by Donella Meadows entitled 'The city of first priorities' in
Whole Earth Review (Spring '!" subs #$!" %& 'ate (ive Road) Sausalito) *+ ,-!) tel
,.! $$% .&.-" fa/ ,.! $$% $..012

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