The early 1970’s marked change for Curitiba. Jaime Lerner, a world renown architect and urban planner, became mayor of the city. Lerner transformed the city into a sustainable, and popular city through numerous projects.
Within Lerner’s first few days as mayor, he decided to close off 6 blocks. He transformed these blocks from a street to pedestrian zone. His goal of this project was to emphasize that this city is not just for cars, but also for people. He not only achieved this objective, but also attracted more customers to stores within the pedestrian zone and brought the community together.
Lerner’s great success with his first project encouraged him to continue. His next project revamped Curitiba’s transportation system. Lerner decided against developing a subway system to save money. He recognized the strengths of a subway system: speed, comfort, and reliability, and then figured out how to implement these aspects into a Bus System. Lerner developed the Bus Rapid Transit that is now known throughout the world. Passengers load on and off quickly, it is above ground and visible, people pay their fares before boarding and it is comfortable. Citizens of Curitiba wait in glass tubes to board their rapid transit buses. Buses come as quickly as every 90 seconds. There are 6 “express-bus” avenues that allow you to navigate the city quickly. They have mini buses that run through neighborhoods, transporting citizens to the express bus avenues. 70% of Curitiba uses this system to commute to work every day. Lerner calculated that he is able to transport over 36,000 passengers every hour which is the same amount he would have been able to transport with a subway system.
Lerner also developed a great recycling system. 70% of Curitiba recycles, the highest recycling rate in the world. For the upper social classes, trash men collect weekly, similar to many parts of the US. However, the lower classes tend to live on more narrow streets that garbage trucks cannot fit down. Due to this, the lower class has a separate waste system. These people can take their waste to collection sites and trade 4 pounds of garbage for one pound of vegetables. At other collection sites, waste is traded for money and bus tokens. This system helps lower class people get rid of their waste while also providing them with food and money.
Another one of Lerner’s most famous projects in Curitiba was his creation of public parks. Lerner constructed twenty four beautiful parks throughout the city. These parks became great attractions to people throughout the city. However, also built lakes within the public parks to prevent flooding (run-off from low lying areas). Through this small project, Lerner increased Curitiba’s green areas from 5 square feet per citizen to 560 square feet per citizen.
But cities change. According to the New York Times, when this transportation system was created, Curitiba transported 54,000 people daily. Now, Curitiba is responsible for transporting over 2.3 million people. The government tried to fix this system by making both the buses and glass tubes bigger, however this has not fixed the problem completely. So what’s Curitiba like today? I’ll let you know next week.