Curitiba, once called the ‘sleeping city’, has toiled hard to rise and wake up to the title of the best planned city in Brazil and to being referred to as an international model for sustainable development
WORDS: SEJAL MATHUR
The capital of the state of Paraná in southern Brazil, it is certainly more than simply the result of a few successful projects. The city’s achievements talk of its strategic and integrated urban planning with people at the core of urbanism.
Curitiba has its share of innovative and all-inclusive planning geared toward the strategic need of making the city a better place to live, as defined in its Master Plan of 1965. From the 1990s, the city’s key focus has been on sustainable development and inclusion of Curitiba’s metropolitan region.
The principles laid out in the city plan facilitated planning for efficiency and sustainability even in tough circumstances especially during the military dictatorship, times of economic crisis in Brazil, and despite rising inflow of poor migrants into the city.
This all-embracing stratagem has taken consideration all parameters in urban planning including social, economic and environmental aspects. A well-defined plan and foresight coupled with strong leadership has resulted in an effective, long-term implementation of strategy.
What’s most unique about it is how it maximises the efficiency and productivity of transportation, land-use planning and housing development, such that they support one another to improve the quality of life in the city.
The city had no such unique landmarks or rich heritage to vaunt of, apart from a few architectural structures, yet its architects and urban planners have transformed it into a lively town with good quality of life that lures many a tourist. Over the past three decades, Curitiba’s population has grown two folds to reach 1.8 million.
From chaos to creativity
Curitiba transitioned through this radical innovation right from the epoch when the city was considered a mere outpost for travelers moving between São Paulo and the surrounding agricultural expanses. Its image from a city which earlier offered very few tourist attractions has refurbished to one which is now popular among foreigners, who refer to it as the urban ecological capital of Brazil.
As in many parts of the world, city plans in Brazil are often created but not implemented – particularly when major amendments are called for. The master plan created for Curitiba called for some extensive changes in the city’s natural environment, its public transportation system, and its central shopping district. Curitiba serves as an example of how a modern and progressive city plan can be fruitful.
As a planner first and mayor of Curitiba, Jaime Lerner developed a fundamentally unique vision for Curitiba: “It was a change in the conception of the city,” he told The Guardian, the leading UK-based publication some time back. “Working, moving, living leisure … we planned for everything together. Most cities in South America separate urban functions – by income, by age. Curitiba was the first city that, in its first decisions, brought everything together.”
Curitiba’s master plan focused on transportation with land use planning, calling for a complete physical, socio-economic and cultural transformation of the city. It modified the existing trends in travel and work by regulating growth in the central city, while furthering commercial development along the transport corridors radiating out from the city centre.
Sustainable urban planning
The paper went on to add that while Brasília is appreciated as a white elephant city, Curitiba set the gold standard in sustainable urban planning apart from having acquired the coveted title of “green capital” and often being tagged as the “greenest city on Earth”, as well as the “most innovative city in the world”.
Curitiba’s master plan focused on transportation with land use planning, calling for a complete physical, socio-economic and cultural transformation of the city. It modified
the existing trends in travel and work by regulating growth in the central city, while furthering commercial development along the transport corridors radiating out from the city centre.
It was partly closed to vehicular traffic and pedestrian streets were formed. Linear development along the arteries narrowed the focus and commute to the downtown area, diminishing day-to-day transport activity, thus minimising traffic bottlenecks and the typical peak hours in the mornings and the evenings. Instead, the rush hour in Curitiba now has heavy commuter movements in both directions along the public transportation arteries.
Success of the transit system
Other policies have also contributed to the success of the transit system. Land within two blocks of the transit arteries is earmarked for high density, as it generates more ridership per square foot. Beyond the two blocks, residential densities decrease proportionally to the increase in distance from transit ways.
Planners dissuade auto-oriented centres and direct new retail growth to transit corridors. Limited public parking is available in the downtown area, and most employers offer transportation subsidies, especially to low-skilled and low-paid employees to de-densify the centres.
The advantages of the systems include:
• Reduced transportation time: the per capita income loss due to severe congestion is ~ 11 and 7 times lower than in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively;
• Employment creation: The creation of the CIC has generated about 50,000 direct jobs and 150,000 indirect jobs, and about 20% of the state’s exports are from the CIC;
• Reduced fuel consumption: Curitiba’s fuel usage is 3% lower than in Brazil’s other major cities;
• Improved outdoor air quality and associated health benefits;
• Waste recycling: 70% of the city’s residents are actively recycling and 13% of solid waste is recycled;
• Increase in land value: Property values of neighbouring areas have appreciated, and tax revenues have increased;
• Reduced flood mitigation expenditures by promotion of park development in flood-prone areas (the cost of this strategy is estimated to be 5% lower than building concrete canals).
The BRT success story
The bus system of Curitiba typifies a model Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, and has played a key role in making the city rank high on the livability index. The buses here run frequently with some as quickly as every 90 seconds and are reliable.
The stations are at convenient locations, which are not just well-designed but are comfortable and attractive.
As a result, Curitiba has one of the most heavily used yet low-cost transit systems in the world. Around 70% of Curitiba’s commuters use the BRT to travel to work, resulting in congestion-free streets and pollution-free air for the 2.2 million inhabitants of greater Curitiba.
The popularity and wide acceptability of Curitiba’s BRT has led to a modal shift from automobile travel to bus travel. Twenty-eight percent of BRT riders previously traveled by car. Compared to eight other Brazilian cities of its size, the city consumes about 30 percent less fuel per capita, resulting in one of the lowest rates of ambient air pollution in the country.
Today about 1,100 buses make 12,500 trips every day, serving more than 1.3 million passengers—50 times the number from 20 years ago. About 80 per cent of travelers use the express or direct bus services. Best of all, Curitibanos spend only about 10 percent of their income on travel,much below the national average.
A clear strategy and vision of the future in Curitiba with smaller positive steps taken over the course of years have added up to a city that’s a model of ecological, people-centred urbanism and today is being read about as a model for sustainable planning.