When we hear the word “Brazil” the first image that comes to mind is a carnival full of colors, with people dancing and rejoicing in fancy costumes decorated with feathers. But what if we tell you that there is a city in Brazil that is a carnival of green all year round? A city worth learning from, even if you don’t dance all day, and carnival colors are replaced by shades of green?
Welcome to Curitiba, the green city of Brazil. It is located in the southeast of the happiest country in the world and within a span of less than three decades, has managed to transform from a remote city into a modern metropolis with one of the highest levels of quality of life in the country. How? All it takes is listening to the needs of the residents, expanding the city’s green lungs, and placing the main emphasis on public transportation.
Okay, so maybe it’s not that simple. Urban engineers have moved mountains, literally, to create roads and parking lots, while trying to take into account the location of homes, industry and the residents’ needs.
But all too often, urban engineers are forced to sacrifice environmental interests for this purpose. After all, we don’t hear any complaints from the environment … But actually, the environment does have some complaints, and if the environment is not able to voice those complaints, the residents and environmental activists do so.
In Curitiba, they decided to do things differently. It stands out in the Brazilian landscape mainly because it presents a very different picture from the Brazilian reality one expects. Low crime rates, high levels of education and low air pollution. Or in other words: high quality of life. In even simpler words: we want what they have!
So what’s special about this city?
Obviously you have heard of promoting public transportation. But it is one thing to declare a preference for public transportation, and quite another to do so. In Curitiba urban planners not only talk but also act. As well as the roads, which have been paved with planning that takes into account ground conditions and landscape, public transport itself is efficient and convenient at levels that are rarely seen elsewhere in the world. Neighborhood bus lines complement the express lines, there are many convenient bus-stops, and even the payment system enables a saving in travel time. Instead of creating delays by paying the driver upon boarding the bus, Curitiba has a system for paying for the trip in advance. Enabling the driver to concentrate exclusively on driving, and not working as a ticket-vendor, saves about a third (!!!) of travel time. In addition, the buses have a capacity of up to 270 people, reducing the number of vehicles needed without inconveniencing the passengers.
So why have they stuck with buses when everyone is talking about subways? The calculation is simple: while the cost of one kilometer of subway ranges from $60 million to $70 million, the cost of a kilometer of road is only about a quarter of a million dollars. It makes mathematical sense, doesn’t it? Talking of money matters, the monthly expenditure of residents on public transportation is minimal and amounts to only about 10% of the average wage, so the percentage of its users remains high, preventing road congestion, limiting air pollution and avoiding parking problems. In addition, to encourage residents to travel by public transport and also increase recycling, Curitiba’s mayor, Jaime Lerner, initiated an ingenious system in which a resident who brings household garbage for recycling receives vouchers for free bus travel. That’s a WIN-WIN plan!
But Curitiba didn’t stop at public transportation. It has also significantly increased the green spaces, and has earned the nickname “the green city”. In the 1950s, the city was hit by terrible floods from the adjacent Iguazu River. In the 1960s, the municipality decided to put an end to the issue and stopped all building permits in areas on the banks of the river, establishing public parks there instead, and digging artificial lakes to drain the excess water. In this way, the problem of floods, which had frequently disrupted the lives of the residents, was solved, whilst also increasing the green lungs of the city. There is no doubt that Curitiba is a green paradise.