Curitiba, the capital of the state of Paraná, is one of Brazil’s largest cities with a population of 1,764,540 people. In 1964, city officials had to face the fact that the city’s population was growing quickly and that there would have to be changes made to the master plan. The way they did it was incredibly innovative and should serve as a model for cities large and small across the globe. City planners rejected the past several decades of sprawl and favorability towards cars and went with a more ecological approach – their main goals for Curitiba were moving away from urban sprawl, reducing vehicular traffic, creating a cheap, convenient public transportation system, and preserving the historical sectors and green areas of the city.
The new Curitiba relied less on cars and thus reduced pollution in the city. In fact, they even took a large street and made it pedestrian-only, which is something I think many larger cities could benefit from doing. Transportation in Curitiba should be a model for other metroplexes – and their bus system has been an inspiration for many others currently in use, including the highly-acclaimed TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia, the Orange Line in Los Angeles, and the upcoming MetroRapid in Austin, Texas. The similarities among these transportation systems is that they are essentially above-ground subway systems that use buses. These buses have their own lane, so vehicular traffic is never a problem, and they cost significantly less than a typical subway system. There are no rails to lay down, no subway tunnels to dig, and oftentimes the buses use roads that were already built. A highlight of Curitiba’s public transportation system is that all trips cost the same amount. Whether you’re traveling from just one stop to the next, or if you’re going across town, ticket fare for a single trip costs exactly the same no matter where you get off. Citizens love the system, too. Roughly 75% of Curitibans use public transportation to get around.
Now, these ideas are nothing new. Saying that traffic reduction and affordable public transportation are end results of your plan is one thing, but finding an effective way to do so is an entirely different animal. Many changes to city infrastructure result in a very high price tag, but the planners of Curitiba managed to change their city very economically. Jaime Lerner followed the philosophy of urban acupuncture, which basically states that a city can undergo radical and meaningful change if one focuses on a few specific “pressure points” that need change rather than overhauling large urban areas. The city decided to reuse, rather than rebuild, and they gave incentives like meal and bus tickets to citizens for doing things that would help the city, such as recycling and disposing of trash appropriately. They even took old buses that were no longer in use and transformed them into mobile schools and offices.
Curitiba was ranked 3rd in an analysis of the 15 greenest cities, and a recent survey claims that 99% of Curitibans are happy with their city. If I lived in a city that put the happiness of its citizens first, I think I’d love my city as well. More about Curitiba’s amazing trash system, social programs, and green areas can be found here.