Cu­ritiba: vi­sion­ary city

A great city does not need record-break­ing tow­ers or ad­jec­tives, but rather, a far-sighted mas­ter plan that puts its cit­i­zens’ well-be­ing first.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By CHIN MUI YOON star2­green@thes­

ONE of the world’s best planned and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ur­ban cities is Cu­ritiba, an unas­sum­ing south­ern Brazil­ian city that ex­em­pli­fies the im­por­tance of im­ple­ment­ing a far-sighted devel­op­ment mas­ter plan dat­ing back 40 years.

Cu­ritiba be­gan as a shanty town. In 1654 it was a gold min­ing camp. By the late 1800s, its pop­u­la­tion had grown to 50,000. To­day it is the cap­i­tal of the state of Parana with 1.8 mil­lion cit­i­zens.

To­day, Cu­ritiba is recog­nised for nu­mer­ous achieve­ments – it is among the world’s most sus­tain­able cities, best planned ur­ban cen­tres and boasts of the world’s best pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem and re­cy­cling pro­gramme.

Sim­i­lar to cities around the world, Cu­ritiba was con­fronted with the grow­ing pains of ris­ing ur­ban mi­gra­tion, over­crowd­ing, ex­pand­ing slums, poverty and pol­lu­tion.

“What made a dif­fer­ence was a mas­ter plan where the top pri­or­ity was el­e­vat­ing the qual­ity of life for our cit­i­zens,” ex­plains Cu­ritiba mayor Lu­ciano Ducci who was in Kuala Lumpur re­cently for the 2nd World Class Sus­tain­able Cities Con­fer­ence. “Cu­ritiba did not be­come a model city overnight. It took us 40 years.”

Mi­gra­tion to Cu­ritiba started from the 1940s and by 1960 the pop­u­la­tion had swelled to nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple with many Euro­pean mi­grants. Mayor Ivo Arzua called for plans to pre­pare the city for fu­ture growth.

A young ar­chi­tect, Jaime Lerner, led a group of like-minded col­leagues and plan­ners from the Parana Fed­eral Uni­ver­sity in pre­sent­ing a bold, vi­sion­ary plan for their city, which was later adopted as Cu­ritiba’s mas­ter plan. It called for a mod­ern, high-speed pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem to min­imise the use of cars there­fore re­duc­ing traf­fic jams; the preser­va­tion of Cu­ritiba’s his­toric quar­ter, and the devel­op­ment of clearly marked in­dus­trial zones and hous­ing ar­eas.

In 1968, Lerner es­tab­lished the city’s first ur­ban plan­ning di­vi­sion to specif­i­cally im­ple­ment the mas­ter plan. Four years later when he be­came mayor, he or­dered the first of many rad­i­cal changes. Six blocks along a street be­came a pedes­trian zone in just three days. Shop own­ers and mer­chants ve­he­mently protested but af­ter see­ing the in­crease in busi­ness, they soon de­manded for an ex­ten­sion of the pedes­trian zone.

Lerner then had hun­dreds of school­child­ren and their teach­ers en­joy­ing a day out sit­ting on the street to draw and paint, much to the dis­may of mo­torists.

“Of course, this was very em­blem­atic,” Lerner re­counted in an in­ter­view with the New York Times. “We were try­ing to say, ‘This city is not for cars.’”

Mov­ing peo­ple

By the 1980s, Cu­ritiba’s pop­u­la­tion reached nearly one mil­lion. Yet, pro­tected green lungs in­creased through­out the city. And Cu­ritiba’s ac­claimed trans­porta­tion sys­tem was ex­panded. The city could not be­gin a light-rail or sub­way sys­tem be­cause it lacked funds. So it made do with buses. What was pre­vi­ously a high­way cut­ting the city into half be­came busy bus lanes form­ing a north-south axis for the city’s fleet of mod­ern buses and tubes that ply over 100km routes in and out of the city. The buses op­er­ate like a sub­way sys­tem mi­nus the cost. They run on an eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able colour coded sys­tem for dif­fer­ent zones that are equally priced, even for trips out of the city. And upon reach­ing a stop, six doors open on each side of the bus for quick ex­it­ing and board­ing.

“There re­ally isn’t a need for cars,” says Ducci. “We al­lo­cated to­tal pri­or­ity for pub­lic trans­porta­tion be­cause it was very clear that much of the ur­ban is­sues are due to over-con­ges­tion, traf­fic jams and pol­lu­tion that would later lead to many ad-hoc mea­sures to con­tain these prob­lems.”

Cu­ritiba’s mas­ter plan also called for rede­vel­op­ment of ex­ist­ing build­ings. Govern­ment de­part­ments are housed in retro­fit­ted fac­to­ries and ware­houses; an opera the­atre was built on an aban­doned quarry. De­com­mis­sioned buses are turned into mo­bile recre­ation cen­tres for chil­dren. The Cen­tral Busi­ness District does not com­mand the heart of the city as in the case of most cities. In­stead, it is sited in the out­skirts of the city.

A re­cy­cling pro­gramme took off in the early 1990s way be­fore the cur­rent green move­ment be­gan. Cit­i­zens sep­a­rated their trash at home. These are col­lected by the city coun­cil and sold off to cover op­er­a­tional costs. A prac­ti­cal so­cial ser­vices pro­gramme was also im­ple­mented where sal­vage col­lec­tors could ex­change their finds for food.

And while cities, in­clud­ing Malaysia, are desperately fight­ing to save their ever shrink­ing green lungs, Cu­ritiba’s cit­i­zens revel in 3.5mil sqm of pro­tected ar­eas teem­ing with wildlife, in­clud­ing 350 bird species – more than what some coun­tries have.

“Our goal of a bio city is to have 17mil sqm of green ar­eas that are pro­tected from devel­op­ment,” Ducci says. “We have yet to con­sol­i­date all our green ar­eas and we are work­ing with wildlife ex­perts, en­vi­ron­men­tal so­ci­eties and NGOs to reach our goal.”

Many cities, grap­pling with ur­ban growth is­sues, are turn­ing to Cu­ritiba for so­lu­tions. Var­i­ous ques­tions were raised by par­tic­i­pants at the con­fer­ence in Kuala Lumpur, mainly by town plan­ners, ar­chi­tects, govern­ment of­fi­cials and concerned cit­i­zens. One gen­tle­man wanted to know the cost of Cu­ritiba’s renowned bus sys­tem – which could not be an­swered as it was im­ple­mented dur­ing the 1970s – and if it is profitable.

“It is a pri­va­tised sys­tem held by 23 com­pa­nies and the govern­ment does not sub­sidise it at all,” an­swers Ducci. “The city coun­cil merely dic­tates the bus routes and keeps its fares af­ford­able. As mostly poor or mid­dle in­come peo­ple utilise the sys­tems, we en­sure that it is the same fare, which is about US$1 (RM3.50) whether they are trav­el­ling 7km or 70km. It is a mat­ter of will, not money, to en­sure that a pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem is suc­cess­ful.”

Cu­ritiba’s city coun­cil does not just pay lip ser­vice to its tax­pay­ers. Devel­op­ment plans sub­mit­ted to the coun­cil are eval­u­ated in a trans­par­ent process where even a pro­posed build­ing’s pos­si­bil­ity of block­ing wind and sun­light from its neigh­bours is as­sessed.

How did Cu­ritiba man­age to fol­low and im­ple­ment so dili­gently a mas­ter plan that was drawn up in the 1970s? The an­swer is sur­pris­ingly sim­ple: “The plan is car­ried on to each suc­ces­sive mayor,” says Ducci. “Ev­ery plan is tabled to the cit­i­zens who are very much aware of what is hap­pen­ing in their city. If the sub­se­quent mayor ap­proves a devel­op­ment or does any­thing con­trary to the agreed plan, Cu­ritiba cit­i­zens will boot him out at the next elec­tion.

“It is vi­tal to en­gage the peo­ple in all plans that con­cern their city, their well­be­ing and their fu­ture. This is in­te­gral for a city to be happy, liv­able and suc­cess­ful.”

Car-free: A well-con­nected pub­lic trans­porta­tion sys­tem has made the Brazil­ian city of Cu­ritiba free of traf­fic con­ges­tion.

Cu­ritiba is not a city for cars.

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