Page 1

An Ethos  of  Sustainability     Curitiba’s  Model  For  Multi-­‐Dimensional  City  Planning  Policy   Aiden  Irish   April  2,  2013   The  University  of  Portland    

ABSTRACT Curitiba  has  become  an  international  model  for  sustainable  development  and  social   regeneration.  Its  success  has  been  despite  a  diminutive  budget  and  rather  has   depended  on  creative,  multi-­‐dimensional  solutions  that  solve  multiple  problems   simultaneously.  This  paper  begins  by  describing  a  vision  of  holistic  sustainability   before  outlining  the  socioeconomic  background  of  Curitiba,  and  investigating  the   success  of  Curitiba  in  light  of  how  its  policies  promote  or  develop  a  holistically   sustainable  society  by  creating  a  culture  of  sustainability.  The  purpose  of  this  article  is   to  highlight  the  manner  by  which  Curitiba  has  created  an  ethos  of  sustainability  so   that  other  cities  might  learn  to  emulate  this  model,  while  recognizing  how  many  of   these  policies  are  specific  to  the  place  where  they  are  implemented.  


Table of  Contents   INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................................................... 3   SUSTAINABILITY:  PARAMETERS  FOR  PROGRESS ..................................................................................... 4   CULTURAL  SUSTAINABILITY .................................................................................................................................................... 6   SOCIAL  SUSTAINABILITY .......................................................................................................................................................... 9   ENVIRONMENTAL  SUSTAINABILITY .................................................................................................................................... 15   THE  POLITICS  OF  CURITIBA .......................................................................................................................... 16   CURITIBA’S  SOCIO-­‐POLITICAL  BACKGROUND ................................................................................................................... 17   THE  POLICIES  OF  CURITIBA  IN  RELATION  TO  SUSTAINABILITY .................................................................................... 23   THE  LERNER  PLAN:  MULTI-­‐DIMENSIONAL  SOLUTIONS ................................................................................................. 23   CONCLUSIONS..................................................................................................................................................... 31   KEY  LESSONS  FROM  CURITIBA ............................................................................................................................................ 32   OBSTACLES  TO  INTERNATIONAL  IMPLEMENTATION....................................................................................................... 35   SUMMATION ............................................................................................................................................................................ 38   BIBLIOGRAPHY .................................................................................................................................................. 39  


Introduction   “The city of the future – the quality city – will be about the reconciliation of people with nature. It will replenish itself, respect its history, its human scale, its part of nature.”1 ~ Jaime Lerner


ccording to the United Nations 2011 World Urbanization Prospects report, between 2011 and 2050, the global population is expected to grow by 2.3 billion people, from seven

billion to 9.3 billion. Simultaneously, global urban populations will grow from 3.6 billion to 6.2 billion, an increase of 2.6 billion people. This means that over the next four decades, on the present trajectory, the world’s already overburdened cities will not only absorb all of the global population growth, but will also take in 0.3 billion of the rural population and constitute 67 percent of the global population.2 Even at their current level, 80 percent of the world’s pollution originates in urban centers, and this percentage will increase with increased urbanization. An initial look at these growing problems appears gloomy, but it also offers a global opportunity for change if handled correctly. The three-time mayor of Curitiba, Jaime Lerner has repeatedly pointed this out, saying, “Cities aren’t the problem, they’re the solution.”3 Cities have long been the focal points of change in history, a result of the “clash of ideas” made possible by higher density living. From the development of democracy in Athens, the Renaissance in Florence, and countless civil rights, suffrage, and antiwar movements throughout the world, cities have proven themselves to be the centers of global, societal change. In an age of growing societal and ecological crisis, the historical trend of cities provides great hope for the future.                                                                                                               1  Chris  Zelov,  "Jaimer  Lerner:  Toward  a  Rechargeable  City,"  Whole  Earth  Review  85  (1995):   60.   2  United  Nations  Department  of  Economic  and  Social  Arrairs,  World  Urbanization  Prospects:   The  2011  Revision,  Highlights,  Population  Division,  United  Nations  (New  York:  United   Nations,  2012),  1.     3  Jaime  Lerner,  "Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City,"  TED:  Ideas  Worth  Spreading  (Monterey,  CA,   2005).  

4 Urbanization offers a chance to encourage communities to grow around a sustainable

ethos and to transform cities from take-make-waste beasts of burden, into ecologically appropriate mega-organisms. While the role of technology in this transformation, through renewable energy sources and new forms of transportation, is undoubtedly important, its further advancement is not critical to immediate change. The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how city public policy can be used to move entire societies towards an ethos of sustainability that deals with sustainability in all issues rather than treating “sustainability” as a carefully contained, clearly delineated problem to be solved by a group of “experts.” The first step in this process is to clearly outline an appropriate understanding of the word, sustainability; a word often used, but, arguably, little understood. After establishing a basis from which to judge progress towards sustainability, this paper will analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the policies Curitiba, Brazil in their effectiveness in encouraging greater sustainability. To be fair, none of this is to say that this city epitomizes an idealized organization such as that described in Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia. However, Curitiba represents an example of significant positive progress and potential models for other cities.

Sustainability: Parameters  for  Progress   Sustainability is an oft used word with a little understood meaning. Since the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, sustainability has become a central talking point, if not a point of action, on the global stage. Yet despite its ubiquitous presence in political and environmental conversations, the term itself lacks specificity. “Sustainable,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, simply describes something that can be “maintained at a certain rate or level.” What, though, is being maintained when the term is employed in the political lexicon? In the broadest sense, the conversation around sustainability concerns maintaining the survival of the human


species at a standard of living that permits, at the very least, a safe and healthy existence. Assuming this broad goal of perpetuating quality human life on earth, what other factors need to be made sustainable in order to make that goal a reality? While an exhaustive list of such needs would be endless, three meta-categories routinely appear as necessary components of healthy, maintainable living: culture, society, and environment. These components are best envisioned as concentric spheres, culture on the inside surrounded by the society in which the culture exists and both surrounded by the environment in which they occur. Each progressively larger circle impacts those within it and at the center of all these circles of influence is the health and wellbeing of the individual. Holistic sustainability is best pursued when sustainability within each of these categories is incorporated into the very framework of policymaking and implementation rather than “bolted on” as a side note in a separate department or division. Chris Laszlo and Nadya Zhexembayeva describe this strategy for businesses as “embedded sustainability,” a conception of sustainability where “the goal is not green or social responsibility for its own sake,” but rather an incorporated ethos of sustainable practices.4

                                                                                                              4  Chris  Laszlo  and  Nadya  Zhexembayeva,  Embedded  Sustainability:  The  Next  Big  Competitive   Advantage  (Stanford,  CA:  Stanford  University  Press,  2011),  100.    


Environmental Sustainability  

• The ability  of  a  system   to  endure  over  time  

Social Sustainability    

• Inter-­‐generational   • Intra-­‐generational    

Cultural Sustainability    

• Personal Identity   • Source  of   geographically   appropriate  wisdom  

Cultural Sustainability     As a relational species, both to other people and to their living environment, humans have developed myriad unique customs, traditions and beliefs that distinguish one group of people from any other. These unique attributes constitute a culture and dictate to a large degree how humans react to their surroundings. Many cultural customs are direct responses to the environments in which they developed; food is possibly the best example of these adaptations. For instance, Iñupiaq tribes of northern Alaska rely on a traditional, cultural diet heavy in animal fats, particularly whale and seal while the Nahuat (Aztecs) relied on a largely vegetarian diet grown from chiapa style farming in the lake around Tenochtitlan. These widely varying diets are immediate responses to environmental factors, means of best utilizing available resources for continued living. Additionally, the development of cultural customs around unique environmental conditions reduced undue burdens on the environment, contributing to environmental sustainability, the importance of which will be discussed shortly. To return to an example from a Native American culture, many Pacific Northwest tribes traditionally depend on


salmon as a primary food source. In these tribes, the salmon is valued as the sustenance of life. During the salmon season, tradition among many tribes was to appoint a salmon chief, whose responsibility it was to ensure that the salmon were not harvested in excess. This tradition both ensured salmon for upstream tribes and the perpetuation of a strong salmon run in the future by allowing enough strong salmon to return to their spawning grounds to continue the cycle. Moreover, culture provides a sense of individual and community identity that is critical to the continued health of both. In the face of modern technology and growing globalization, many cultures are losing the traditions and values that inform their regionally sustainable lifestyles and provide community identity. Languages serve as a usefully quantifiable measure of culture, as they often embody the values of the cultures that employ them. As evidence of the immense threat that the world’s languages and their cultures face, it is estimated that by 2100, 90 percent of the world’s languages will be extinct. Current estimates suggest that 94 percent of the world’s languages are spoken by less than six percent of the global population and 133 languages have fewer than 10 fluent speakers.5 Whatever the benefits of increased globalization, and there are many, the effect on locally distinct cultures has been catastrophic. In the face of this evidence, a reasonable observer might question why maintaining cultural diversity is important to the larger goal of a sustainable human society. Two significant reasons for maintaining cultural diversity stand out. William Iggiagruk Hensley, a foundational leader behind the passing of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), which gave Alaska Natives representation separate from other groups in Alaska, made an observation about his people, the Iñupiaq, after returning home from years of fighting for political representation;                                                                                                               5  Tom  Colls,  The  Death  of  Language?,  October  19,  2009,  (accessed  January   15,  2013).  

8 One of the key problems was that we were longer identifying ourselves as a people… we had no overriding way to perceive and understand them [western institutions and ideologies] in relation to who we were – the Iñupiaq people. In the face of the great changes that were engulfing us, it was essential that we become unified again. We needed to recover our sense of commonality.6

Mr. Hensley’s comment points to a foundational need of human societies for a sense of communal belonging. Human psychological health relies heavily on a sense of identity. The degradation of cultural identity erodes the foundations of an individual’s identity impacting their spiritual and psychological health. Secondly, each culture that is lost to the annals of time takes with it the accumulated knowledge of a community of people that had learned to live, often successfully, within the limitations of their environment. In the global pursuit of a sustainable human existence, the loss of cultural diversity is analogous to the loss of possible cures for cancer as world rainforests are destroyed. Thus maintaining cultural diversity, or making culture sustainable, stands to benefit not only the well-being of individuals in those threatened cultures, but also the continued survival of humanity through the sharing of information. An important factor to recognize is that cultures are not static, nor should they be. Slavery, oppression of minority groups, and the subjugation of women have been characteristics of many cultures throughout history. Making those cultural traits less prevalent is a great benefit of globalization as exposure to different values and perspectives prompts internal reflection and change. However, change within a culture, even one that is profoundly oppressive in certain ways, is not analogous to the abandonment or destruction of that culture. Globalization, that great conqueror of cultures that is spurred on largely by western values, must not make the mistake of thinking than an affront its liberal western values constitutes grounds for dismissing the validity of a                                                                                                               6  William  Iggiagruk  Hensley,  Fifty  Miles  From  Tomorrow:  A  Memoir  of  Alaska  and  the  Real   People  (New  York:  Sarah  Crichton  Books,  2009),  218-­‐219.  


culture and the diversity to which it contributes. The continued engagement of cultures in a globalized world, a scenario that is aptly described by what John Stuart Mill referred to as the “clash of ideas,” serves to benefit all through the sharing of generations of accumulated knowledge. Preserving and protecting cultural diversity in the world is, thus, not simply a matter of moral concern, but also one of self-preservation. For illustration it is helpful to look at a similar, but more widely known situation. A common argument for the preservation of rainforests around the world is that, besides their metaphysical importance, ascribed to them by many cultures, they are vast resources for modern medicine. Every acre of forest that is destroyed also eliminates the potential of finding cures for cancer and other diseases that may exist in the plants and animals inhabiting that acre. Similarly, every culture that is destroyed by global homogenization, taking with it its traditions and accumulated knowledge, eliminates the potential wisdom that can be learned from that culture. Modern archeologists, having finally decoded Mesoamerican writing, are beginning to find a wealth of knowledge about numbers and astronomy. How much richer would the global encyclopedia of knowledge be if those cultures had not been decimated and their writings burned? The Spanish conquerors could not know the wealth of knowledge they were destroying, but their mistake was in simply assuming that the world would experience no loss from the destruction. The challenge to modernity is to recognize the importance of the wisdom within each culture and the benefits of protecting them. Making culture sustainable therefore, while morally important and essential to individual health, is also critical to the preservation and accumulation of knowledge that contributes to the betterment of all societies and cultures.

Social Sustainability     In societies composed of a single cultural group, the issues of cultural sustainability and social sustainability are, essentially, the same. Society, though, more broadly refers to the


aggregate of people living together in a relatively ordered society regardless of shared values, norms or traditions. In a globalized world, most societies contain multiple cultural groups. As pictured by the image of concentric circles, society impacts the health of the cultures that operate within it. The great challenge of maintaining society is fostering healthy interactions between cultures and ideological groups as well as between individuals. Economists, political theorists and philosophers have long debated the nature of the forces that encourage social coordination. In the simple society composed of a single cultural group, such as Native American societies before the intrusion of Europeans, shared social ideologies and values, sometimes developed into laws and social norms, supported behavior that beneficially coordinated society. In a globalized society, economic values, government policies and laws try to foster a similar kind of coordination. When a balanced relationship between cultural groups falls apart, or, perhaps more to the point, fails to ever develop in the first place, one cultural group comes to dominate the society, forcing others to the margins and setting off a cycle of poverty that is ultimately destructive to the whole society. It is no accident that in almost every city in the world, the poorest neighborhoods are set aside, explicitly or by the processes of “market efficiency,” for the poor and “minority” groups of that society. Areas of concentrated poverty in New York City, for instance, disproportionately impact black and Latino communities. Six of the seven concentrated poverty districts in New York City, characterized by over 50 percent of the population living at or below the federal poverty line, are predominantly black or Latino. One-third of all poor residents of extreme poverty neighborhoods (33.0 percent) are black, and nearly half (49.9 percent) are Latino.7                                                                                                               7  Citizens'  Committee  for  Children  of  New  York  Inc.,  Concentrated  Poverty  in  New  York  City:   An  Analysis  of  the  Changing  Geographic  Patterns  of  Poverty,  City  Data  (New  York:  CCC  Inc.  ,   2012).  


Furthermore, despite economic and political arguments that “poverty is a choice,” poverty is more accurately, a self perpetuating cycle from which it is extremely difficult to break away, such as for children who find themselves born into poverty stricken societies. In the South Bronx of New York City, 43.0 percent of children live in poverty, rising to even higher levels in Hunt’s Point (54.1 percent) and East Tremont (58.6 percent).8 Poverty concentration, and its disproportionate impact on minority groups, is perpetuated through the educational system. The disparity in the U.S. educational system serves as an unfortunate microcosm of the perpetuation of poverty in society. In Oregon, 80 percent of African Americans live in the Portland Metro Area and 23 percent of all Oregonian African Americans live in North Portland. Between 1997 and 2008, the disparity between the percentage of white students and African American students meeting the Oregon state benchmarks in math has widened steadily.9 Additionally, reading scores of African American students in Oregon trail whites by over 20 points; a “large gap” according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).10 Similarly, on reading and math in grades four and eight, Latino’s trail white students by between 21 and 26 points on the NAEP scale.11 Because public school funding relies mostly on property taxes, the trend towards poverty concentration in urban environments only furthers the educational gap in those communities. In New York City, 56 percent of third grade students from low-income households, a disproportionate percentage of which are minority households, read below grade standards and                                                                                                               8  Ibid.     9  Urban  League  of  Portland,  The  State  of  Black  Oregon,  Census  Analysis  (Portland:  Urban   League  of  Portland,  2009),  34.     10  Ibid.,  33.     11  National  Assessment  of  Educational  Progress,  Achievement  Gaps:  How  Hispanic  and  White   Students  ni  Public  Schools  Perform  in  Mathematics  and  Reading  on  the  National  Assessment   of  Educational  Progress,  Executive  Summary  (Washington  D.C.:  Institute  of  Education   Sciences,  2009),  1.    


26 percent of those will not graduate on time or at all.12 Low education reduces business investment and job opportunities resulting in higher unemployment. The unemployment rate in the Bronx, New York City hit 14.1 percent in early 2012 while the rest of the city was at 10.2 percent and the rest of the state was at 9.2 percent.13 The industries that do move to regions in the poorer neighborhoods tends to be those that are unwanted in more affluent neighborhoods, such as waste disposal and management, chemical processing, and emissions-heavy processing facilities. The proximity of these industries results in disproportionately high rates of asthma and other environment related illnesses. These trends are, once again, strongly linked to the concentration of minority groups and poverty; an African American in the U.S. is twice as likely as a white person to live in a neighborhood where industrial pollution will negatively impact his or her health.14 To add further insult to injury, low income neighborhoods are often passed over for infrastructural improvements, such as green spaces and pedestrian throughways, which reduces activity in the neighborhoods and increases rates of obesity and heart disease, as in the Bronx, once again, where the obesity rate is 27 percent.15 Hostile health environments that deter, or at the very least do not encourage outside activity, also encourage rates of violence. As Jane Jacobs observed in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, streets with “fewer eyes on the street” can be correlated with high crime rates,16 and a cursory overview of crime rates in urban poverty districts such as the Bronx in New York, North Portland, East Los Angeles, and Rainier Avenue in Seattle all testify to this trend and it is not hard to understand why. In discussing                                                                                                               12  Citizen's  Committee  for  Children,  2012  Infographic:  Keeping  Track  of  New  York  City's   Children,  Statistical  Summary  (New  York:  Citizen's  Committee  for  Children,  2012).   13  Jeanmarie  Evelly,  "Bronx  Unemployment  Rate  Hits  Highest  in  Decades,"  Norwood  News,   April  19,  2012.   14  Majora  Carter,  "Greening  the  Ghetto"  (TED  Talks,  June  2006).   15  Ibid.     16  Jane  Jacobs,  The  Death  and  Life  of  Great  American  Cities,  ed.  50th  Anniversary  Edition   (New  York:  Modern  Library,  2011),  45.    


causes of violence, Howard Zinn turned to a study by the Anthropologist Colin Turnbull who had concluded, after living with tribes in Africa, that tendencies towards violence were responses to environmental conditions of hardship.17 Environments within western societies are no different. The cycle of cultural marginalization begets a vicious cycle of structural racism and repression that can cause a community to spiral into a harmful cycle very quickly. All of the common conditions of urban poverty described to this point epitomize a socially unsustainable environment where various groups in society are pushed to the margins via policy, market forces, racism and other means. So why are questions of social justice being included in a discussion of sustainability? John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, propositioned that the success or failure of each individual, while partly a result of their personal attributes, is more importantly the result of their influences in society. By Rawls’s argument, each individual’s success must be greatly attributed to the beneficial attributes of their environment and their society. Rawls was essentially describing some of the characteristics of a sustainable society, one that attempts to minimize socioeconomic marginalization and thereby promote a virtuous cycle of social activity. Analyzing the attributes that promote or deter such a society necessitates investigating the nature of the economic system. At the most fundamental level, putting aside the financial system and theories governing market activity, economics is nothing more, nor less, than the system of values, norms and social and cultural mores that govern how individuals and communities interact with each other and their surrounding environments. It is critical to point out here that economics, in this sense, is not a distinct subject area of sustainability. Rather, economics is the term for the operating norms of the social system, the proverbial “rules of the game.” Currently the value norms outlined by                                                                                                               17  Howard  Zinn,  Passionate  Declarations:  Essays  on  War  and  Justice  (New  York,  NY:  Harper   Perennial,  2003),  39.    


economics value “growth” and “efficiency” as the primary goals of society. These values encourage high consumption and waste over values such as thrift and sufficiency. Rather than encouraging high throughput of resources, a sustainable economic values would “distinguish between needs and mere wants, and it would grant a firm precedence to needs.”18 Such economic values would have a critical role in shaping how society interacts internally and with its surrounding environment. As the political philosopher Debra Satz argues in discussing economic markets, “when we think of markets only in terms of the distribution of goods and not in terms of the relationships of the people who produce and exchange those goods, crucial evaluative questions are also excluded from our decision frame.”19 The excluded questions that Satz refers to are those concerning what is to be valued, inquiries that neoclassical economists, who try to treat economics as a universally applicable and objective science rather than a less sure human science, are not comfortable discussing. Classical economists, most notably Adam Smith, were very aware of the role of economic markets in shaping society and were not opposed to the need for intervention in the name of preserving equity. The policies of cities can play a significant role in shaping the operating norms of the economic system toward towards such sustainable values of thrift and sufficiency, as will be demonstrated. On a final note, because cultures exist within the framework of society and its economic values, sustainable economic values and a resulting sustainable society are critical components of an environment in which cultures can be maintained.

                                                                                                              18  Wendell  Berry,  "Money  Versus  Goods,"  in  What  Matters?  Economics  for  a  Renewed   Commonwealth,  3-­‐30  (Berkeley,  CA:  Counterpoint,  2010).     19  Debra  Satz,  Why  Some  Things  Should  Not  Be  For  Sale:  The  Moral  Limits  of  Markets  (New   York,  NY:  Oxford  University  Press,  2010),  11.    


Environmental Sustainability     Contemporary concerns over global warming, rising environmental toxicity and species extinction, among myriad other concerns, have brought environmental sustainability to the forefront. As the largest circle of influence, both social and cultural sustainability, exist within the context of the environment and its influence. The industrial revolution and the harnessing of fossil fuel energy sources have provided the illusion that humans operate outside the constraints of the ecological environment. Such an argument ignores the complex interrelationships between society and the natural world and the degree of dependency on the natural world by humans. As Nancy Marry, a social worker, aptly noted, “the world of human behavior and the environment is complex and interconnected.”20 Appreciating the degree of complexity requires less of a scientific understanding than a degree of humility in the face of the incomprehensible complexity. From a purely scientific perspective, environmental sustainability is the ability of a biological system to endure over time. This is an ability for which natural ecological systems are well adapted and need not, nor arguably can they be entirely understood by science in order to foster environmental sustainability. Rather, permitting environmental sustainability to occur relies on aligning human activities with those natural processes in such a way that they do not draw from the environment faster than ecological cycles can renew or replenish those resources. The current dilemma involving atmospheric carbon is a prime example. Consumption of fossil fuels in its current form is not sustainable because human use of these materials outpaces the ability of the natural cycles to renew or absorb its effect. However, while carbon output and energy are notable examples, environmental sustainability is not, nor should it be, a single issue topic. As the encompassing sphere in which                                                                                                                 20  Nancy  L.  Mary,  Social  Work  in  a  Sustainable  World  (Chicago,  IL:  Lyceum  Books,  Inc.  ,   2008),  13.    


society and culture exist, environmental sustainability is pursued in order to provide a “sufficiency,” in the words of Wendell Berry, of resources necessary to a healthy existence. Making “sufficiency” of resources the goal of sustainability differentiates that movement from stereotypical “environmentalist” movements. Sufficiency does not ascribe a greater value to the natural environment than to humans, nor vice-a-versa. The goal is to ensure that environmental conditions are sufficient to ensure the wellbeing of both society and the environment on which it depends.

The Politics  of  Curitiba  


s one of the best examples of sustainable transformation, Curitiba, the capital of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, offers a glimpse of the factors behind sustainable city planning. In just over thirty years, Curitiba pulled itself up from among the

poorest, most polluted cities in the world, to the position of a global example of sustainability and social justice. The first step is to understand the socio-political background and historical underpinnings of Curitiba’s transformation. Exploring the sociopolitical underpinnings of Curitiba’s transformation is critical to this discussion because such background strongly influenced the transformation process. Understanding this background is thus important to understanding how lessons from Curitiba might be applied to cities around the world and how cultural differences have created entirely unique situations. Of particular interest to this paper is the method, and extent to which the policies and plans of Curitiba’s master plan created a citywide ethos of sustainability by intentionally or unintentionally dealing with the three components of a sustainable society. This analysis is central to following Curitiba down the path of turning the global problems of population growth and urban pollution into global social and environmental solutions.


Curitiba’s Socio-­‐Political  Background  


uch emphasis has been put on the local politics of Curitiba that preceded and contributed to its transformation and the policies that were a result of those

conditions.21 Obviously the local conditions and policies are critical, but the long term city and national level histories play a crucial role in setting the stage for Curitiba’s change as well. Even before Jaime Lerner was appointed to the office of mayor in 1972, events, both political and social, were in progress that set the stage for the Curitiba Master Plan that would be formally adopted upon Lerner’s taking office. On a national stage, the lead-up to Curitiba’s Master Plan starts early, with the shaping of Brazil’s political climate from a largely agrarian society, under Portuguese rule, to an industrial one. Under Portuguese control, Brazil developed primarily as an agricultural society and the region around Curitiba especially, with its temperate climate and rich resources, attracted many immigrants from Germany, Poland, and Italy who developed the agricultural system and corresponding societal structure.22 The societal effect of this structure was a system that resembled antebellum U.S. South with a strong hierarchical class structure and legal biases toward the wealthier classes. The hierarchical agrarian social structure prompted a populist backlash that overthrew the status quo and moved Brazil into the industrial age. The Tenentista, a semi-authoritarian group of nationalists made up of young military lieutenants instigated the social change, but without throwing out the paternalistic class structure.23 Under the vision of the Tenentista, the Estado Novo was established with a view for technocratic and anti-political rule                                                                                                               21  Jonas  Rabinovitch  and  Josef  Leitman,  "Urban  Planning  in  Curitiba:  A  Brazilian  City   Challenges  Conventional  Wisdom  and  Relies  on  Low  Technology  to  Improve  the  Quality  of   Urban  Life,"  Scientific  American,  March  1996:  46-­‐53.   22  Steven  A.  Moore,  Alternative  Routes  to  the  Sustainable  City:  Austin,  Curitiba,  and  Frankfurt   (New  York,  NY:  Lexington  Books,  2007),  75.   23  Ibid.,  77.    


and an autocratic ruling elite.24 Because the Tenentista overthrew the less popular agrarian ruling elite, the Estado Novo system put in place of the agrarian one was accepted and relatively popular, even though the structure it proposed was authoritarian and thus distasteful to many developed western societies. This system of technocratic rule and centralized control remains a characteristic of Brazilian politics, including in Curitiba. The preservation of this national political culture has attracted the ire of many scholars, including Fernando Flórez González, who has criticized Curitiba’s status as a model for political structure and city planning for the rest of Latin America and the world because, “what we find in the academic information shows the truth of the case of Curitiba, expressed in the distinct categories that represent the traditional political vices of Latin American citizens.”25 Furthermore, González criticizes the lack of direct public voice in many of the planning decisions that took place.26 While the Lerner plan emphasized a degree of transparency that is uncommon in many political systems, and invited public participation in certain design aspects, such as the design of the many parks, direct voting on the plan as a whole or components of the plan were not opened for public critique. Famously, the decision to make the Rue do Flores a pedestrian only zone in 1972 was so unpopular at first that many motorists and private business owners threatened to ignore the closure and use the street anyways. In response, the Lerner administration sponsored a day of painting for children on the newly closed street, a tradition that continues to this day.27 While most, if not all of these unilateral policies are popular decisions and features in Curitiba now, many were only successfully implemented by making decisions without public comment. However, as will be                                                                                                               24  Ibid.     25  Fernando  Flórez  González,  "Curitiba:  ¿Una  Ciudad  Modelo  Para  las  Ciudades   Latinoamericanas?,"  Entreartes:  Revista  de  Arte,  Cultura  y  Sociedad  de  la  Facultad  de  Artes   Integradas  de  la  Universidad  de  Valle  7  (August  2008):  149.   26  Ibid.,  145.     27  Rabinovitch  and  Leitman,  "Urban  Planning  in  Curitiba,”  49.  


seen in the structure of the plan, public participation was promoted in many ways within the scope of the design process. Nonetheless, rather than eliminate the structure of a centralized government established by Brazilian political history that González argues is a vice, Curitiba capitalized on it in order to expedite the process of reform and to ultimately make the whole process possible. The system reform wrought by the Tenentista also had another cultural effect that would critically influence the political culture and Curitiba in particular. Lawyers, who traditionally occupy positions of political power, lost power and prestige as untrustworthy and corrupt due to their association with maintaining the political power of the former landowning class. The discrediting of lawyers left a political vacancy in a society that was seeking a new ruling elite. Given the populist influence of the new government and the resulting view towards national planning encouraged by the autocratic motivation of the Tenentista, it is not entirely surprising that architects stepped into the role of political leadership formerly occupied by lawyers.28 Thus city architects such as Juscelino Kubitschek, the former mayor and architect of Bello Horizonte and the president of Brazil elected in 1955, and Ney Braga, the mayor and original planner of Curitiba and later the president of the state of Paraná, rose to positions of great influence.29 The combination of cultural familiarity with paternalistic, autocratic rule and a political tradition of planners and builders as political leaders set the stage for the social, political, and economic atmospheres in Curitiba that facilitated Jaime Lerner’s influence on the city. Firstly, the cultural and economic atmosphere in Curitiba contributed to the future acceptance of Jaime Lerner’s new city plan. Curitiba, like the rest of Brazil, began as an agrarian town in the early 19th century. Unlike other cities in Brazil however, the cultural climate of                                                                                                               28  Moore,  Alternative  Routes  to  the  Sustainable  City,  78.     29  Ibid.,  79.    


Curitiba is much more reminiscent of the more reserved cultures of Eastern Europe and Japan, two areas which contributed heavily to the immigrant population of the city, than to the more gregarious culture associated with Rio de Janeiro.30 The increased influence of Eastern European and Japanese Immigrants which occurred during the latter half of the 20th century, greatly added to the rate of growth in Curitiba, something which is of central importance to the adoption of Lerner’s city plan. Curitiba consistently maintained the position of the fastest growing city in Brazil at an average rate of 5.36 percent per year from the 1950’s through the 1970’s.31 On top of Curitiba’s growing industrial nature and shift away from agriculture, a result of the Tenentista, this rapid growth can be attributed to Curitiba’s temperate climate, which was attractive to many Eastern Europeans and Japanese fleeing postwar depressions and strife. The rapid growth of the city contributed to its increasingly desperate need for an effective city plan, a plan that would address the overcrowded streets and the favelas that were springing up around the city. Simultaneously however, the immigration also provided part of the solution in the form of the more reserved culture and a greater trust in government brought along by the vast number of immigrants who were largely accustomed to more autocratic forms of political rule. The cultural comfort with autocracy is partly responsible for Jaime Lerner’s success as mayor in substituting democratic, public participation in city planning policy, so valued in western political society, with political “transparency” in the process.32 In many Western political cultures, sacrificing the opportunity to be involved in politics, even if not fully utilized, cannot be replaced with simply being able to see what’s happening. For Jaime Lerner however, the ability to act unilaterally in                                                                                                               30  Jeff  Brugmann,  "Designing  the  Ecosystem:  A  New  City  Rises  on  the  Serra  do  Mar  Plateau,"   in  Welcome  to  the  New  Urban  Revolution:  How  Cities  Are  Changing  the  World,  214-­‐228  (New   York,  NY:  Bloomsbury  Press,  2009),  218.   31  Clara  Irazábal,  City  Making  and  Urban  Governance  in  the  Americas:  Curitiba  and  Portland   (Burlington,  VT:  Ashgate  Publishing  Company,  2005),  88.   32  Brugmann,  ""Designing  the  Ecosystem”,  220.    


creating the city policy was central to the success of the plan because it allowed him to maintain a public momentum during the construction process without getting bogged down in political squabbles.33 Famously, the opera house in Curitiba was built in just two months and many other projects were similarly rapid.34 Thus the social and economic conditions, namely massive immigration, not only caused the need for a new city plan, but also, in part, brought the solution inherent in those immigrating cultures. Nonetheless, the scene was also primed by political actions taken by Jaime Lerner’s predecessors, which greatly simplified the new city plan implementation process. Secondly, the political scene in Curitiba was shaped by two important political figures. The first of these individuals was Ney Braga. As previously mentioned, Braga was an architect by trade and can be credited with kicking off the urban planning revolution in Curitiba. Under Braga’s mayoral administration from 1954 to 1958, Curitiba’s first mass transit system was implemented in response to the growing population.35 While this system would prove to be highly deficient and would in fact become the central aspect of reform under Lerner, it was nonetheless the public transit starting point for Curitiba that set off the city trend towards greater mass transit use. Additionally, Braga created the Urban Planning and Research Institute of Curitiba (IPPUC) that would be of central importance to the implementation of future policy in Curitiba as it provided the “strategic” overseeing institution necessary to accomplish Lerner’s massive restructuring of the city plan.36 Most importantly though, Braga became the direct conduit by which Lerner would come into power in Curitiba. Braga placed Lerner as the head of the IPPUC during Braga’s term as mayor and would later arrange for Lerner to be appointed as                                                                                                               33  Lerner,  “Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City,”  TED.   34  Ibid.     35  Irazábal,  City  Making,  87.     36  Moore,  Alternative  Routes,  77.  And  Brugmann,  “Designing  the  Ecosystem,”  226.    


the mayor Curitiba in 1972 and reinstated again before ever coming up for election.37 Once again, by Western standards such paternalistic, autocratic decision making in politics would be completely unacceptable, but it gave Lerner the opportunity to act quickly upon coming into office and without regard to public perception, which found his first decision to turn Flower Street into a pedestrian only zone highly unpopular. Through the creation of institutions and promoting Lerner as a city leader, Ney Braga had a direct hand in influencing the future success of Curitiba’s sustainable city planning. The Second political actor to have a significant influence on shaping the stage for Curitiba’s development was the mayor directly prior to Lerner, Ivo Arzua. Arzua can be credited with priming the pump for public debate of the need for a new city plan when he put forward a competition for the development of a city plan. This competition was won by Jorge Wilhelm in 1963 and was based on an earlier model proposed by a French designer Alfred Agache.38 To be sure, both plans severely underestimated the future rate of growth of the city and were prohibitively expensive to implement given the city’s tight financial situation. The central importance of these plans was not their implementation, but the role they played in creating public discussion and awareness surrounding the issue of growth. Ultimately Arzua considered several other options, the last of which during his term was the possibility of creating more private vehicle infrastructure, a decision that would be completely reversed by Lerner. To some, Arzua’s period in office may appear a failure with respect to implementing a growth plan for the city, but the unintentional positive consequence of his actions was ongoing public discussion. Thus, when Lerner came to power by military appointment, the awareness among the population, the business community, and city bureaucrats of the importance of a new city development plan                                                                                                               37  Ibid.   38  Ibid.,  78.    


was already well instilled. This removed yet another political hurdle that Lerner would have to face upon the commencement of his restructuring of the city.

The Policies  of  Curitiba  In  Relation  to  Sustainability    


ne criticism of Curitiba’s policies is that, while it is touted as an ecologically sustainable city today, it’s policies are not specifically environmental in nature. González raises the

point that environmental sustainability was never a central goal of the policies of the Lerner administration, but rather was simply a convenient offshoot that has been trumpeted internationally to boost ecotourism and attract business and that the improvements do not benefit the majority of citizens.39 González has a valid point that environmental sustainability was not the central purpose of the Lerner plan, but fails to recognize the interconnectedness of the cultural, social, and environmental, issues at play in Curitiba, and in every city around the world. In contrast to an explicit policy of sustainability, Curitiba exemplifies a city that has taken the values of sustainability in the three categories described above and “embedded” them within every policy. Laszlo and Zhexembayeva describe “embedded sustainability,” a far more effective model in their view, as “largely invisible but capable of aligning and motivating everyone.”40 What they are describing is the creation of an ethos of sustainability that reaches beyond policy and into the very character of the populace. Nonetheless, the policies have a critical role to play in shaping and spreading that ethos. Many of the policies also have effects within multiple components of sustainability.

The Lerner  Plan:  Multi-­‐Dimensional  Solutions    


apitalizing on the socio-political foundations that have been discussed, the Lerner administration made use of the traditional high degree of centralization in Brazilian

                                                                                                              39  González,  "Curitiba:  ¿Una  Ciudad  Modelo  Para  las  Ciudades  Latinoamericanas?,"  148.     40  Laszlo  and  Zhexembayeva,  Embedded  Sustainability,  105.  


politics to coordinate the plan through the use of strategic institutions such as Curitiba Research and Urban Planning Institute, the central planning board that coordinated the entire city planning project.41 This centralization made possible the high degree of coordination needed for fast paced development towards a clearly articulated goal that is lost in a completely decentralized system.42 Like the vision of the Tenentista, these institutions relied upon politically appointed bureaucrats to organize the plan’s implementation. However, as is often pointed out, this system suffered from the usual corruption problems characteristic of a highly centralized system of government. Access of political appointees to prior development information gave people in such positions opportunities to buy cheap land that then became more valuable as the plan’s development continued.43 The response of the Lerner administration was greater public transparency within these institutions, from political appointments and connections to the source and final use of all financial resources. While political and financial transparency don’t completely solve corruption issues, it gives the public and media a vantage point from which to hold public institutions accountable for their actions. Jaime Lerner’s decision to make the city government more transparent was key to offsetting the high degree of centralization that was needed for policy reform.44 One of the strategic institutions was responsible for the coordination of the 112 private bus companies that operated without coordination in the city, making public transport use nearly impossible. The backbone of the Lerner plan was reworking the public transportation system. To this day, the transportation network remains a model for cities around the world not only because of its effectiveness, but also because of the manner of its implementation. At the beginning of the                                                                                                               41  Brugmann,  "Designing  the  Ecosystem,"  227.   42  Irazábal,  City  Making  and  Urban  Governance  in  the  Americas,  85.   43  Macedo,  "City  Profile:  Curitiba,"  541.   44  Sandra  Makinson,  "EU  Environmental  Policy,"  comp.  Aiden  Irish  (Freiburg,  2011).  


reform process, public transport in the city was a mess of 112 private bus companies, all with contracts in specific districts of the city, but with no coordination between districts, no transfer fares, and no universal schedules. In reworking this system, Curitiba Urbanization (URBS), the agency responsible for organizing public transportation, used the expiration of contracts with each bus company as political leverage. Each company was given a choice; choose to operate the new bus system under city regulation and receive a fixed profit for each kilometer traveled, or watch as the city offered the contract to the next bus company in line. Over the course of several years, this negotiation process reduced the number of bus companies to just over a dozen, all of which operate under city regulation requirements. Financially, the result of this structure was a completely unsubsidized public transport system, freeing up financial resources to be used in infrastructure development and other public policies and providing a 13 percent annual profit.45 The next feature was the physical structure of the system. In the face of the rapid population growth, Curitiba was in need of a unified, efficient metro system, such as an underground rail network, but could not afford one. Furthermore, because of the state of growth that Curitiba was experiencing, the city needed a public transportation that could be easily expanded to accommodate future growth. The response was the implementation of dedicated bus-only lanes oriented along central axes of the city that operate much like a subway system, with innovative tube boarding stations that allow for greater efficiency while loading passengers onto the double articulated buses. The result was a system that can transport 23,000 passengers per hour along the central bus lines, a capacity and efficiency that competes with the best

                                                                                                              45  Marta  E.  Frausto,  "Planning  Theories  and  Concepts,  Implementation  Strategies,  and   Integrated  Transportation  Network  Elements  in  Curitiba,"  Transportation  Quarterly  (Eno   Transportation  Foundation)  53,  no.  1  (1999):  45.  


underground metro systems in the world.46 Moreover, this effectiveness was gained at a fraction of the cost. A traditional underground metro system would have cost anywhere in the range of $60 to $70 million per kilometer, whereas the Curitiba system cost only $200,000 per kilometer, including the loading stations and buses.47 As a final benefit, the bus system could, and has, grown easily over the years to accommodate the growth of the city, from its principle single main bus line, to multiple high-speed lines that link easily with smaller lines. Such developmental growth of the system also allowed for a smaller up-front investment for the development of the system as it could be constantly improved over time. The results of the public transit system plan have been striking. The system has grown from transporting 25,000 riders per day before the plan’s implementation, to over two million riders per day currently.48 The improved system has grown with the city to include 1,550 buses, 37 miles of dedicated bus lanes, 221 tube stations, and 435 miles of public transit out of a total of 682 miles of roads for the region. The true measure of the transit system’s success however is its ridership. Despite the highest automobile ownership of any city in Brazil, one car for every 2.4 people, 72 percent of commuter travel is still done by bus and fuel use in the city is 2.5 percent less than any other Brazilian city.49 Additionally, the system maintains an 89 percent approval rating among the city’s population.50 Though the transportation system constitutes the linchpin of Curitiba’s transformation, it was by no means simply a response to a singular problem, but rather was a component in a more holistic solution to the city’s problems, sociological to ecological.                                                                                                               46  Fred  Pearce,  "Brazil's  Sustainable  City,"  New  Scientist  134,  no.  1825  (June  1992):  52.   47  Rabinovitch  and  Leitman,  "Urban  Planning  in  Curitiba,"  49.   48  Frausto,  "Planning  Theories  and  Concepts,  Implementation  Strategies,"  45.   49  Ibid.,  and  Lucien  Kroll,  "Creative  Curitiba,"  The  Architectural  Review  205,  no.  1227  (May   1999):  95.   50  Jeff  Brugmann,  ""Designing  the  Ecosystem:  A  New  City  Rises  on  the  Serra  do  Mar   Plateau,"  in  Welcome  to  the  New  Urban  Revolution:  How  Cities  Are  Changing  the  World,  214-­‐ 228  (New  York,  NY:  Bloomsbury  Press,  2009),  220.  

27 Public transportation development in Curitiba falls into two categories of sustainability

defined above, social and environmental. When rebuilding a public transit system, a large degree of the effectiveness of the new system is how well it is promoted. The ingenuity of the plan was to link two problems, promoting the fledgling transport system and cleaning up trash in the favelas, under the same solution process. To meet the needs of both problems, free bus passes were offered for every regulation size bag of trash that was collected and brought in off the streets, thus cleaning the favelas and introducing possibly skeptical citizens to the newly improved transport system. This policy had the additional benefit of providing greater mobility to favela residents improving their access to jobs and other necessities. Low-income Curitibanos spend only about 10 percent of their income on transportation, a much lower percentage than the rest of Brazil.51 Today, despite becoming one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil with the highest rate of car ownership, a majority of trips are done with public transportation, the city has one of the lowest levels of ambient air pollution in Brazil, and 70 percent of waste is recycled or reused.52 Linking problems under single solutions not only reduced costs, but also expanded the social and environmental benefits of each solved problem. On one side, social justice and equality were benefited by the creation of a low cost transit system for all citizens by reducing the primacy of private automobiles as the means to access prosperity. This same de-emphasis of cars assisted environmental improvement by improving air quality. On the other side of the solution was the recovery and recycling of waste with obvious environmental benefits of reducing the presence of toxics and plastics in the environment. Moreover, cleanup of those environmentally harmful products, a process that would have been extremely costly for the city government, became a means of reversing vicious poverty cycles by providing an accessible                                                                                                               51  Leitman,  “Urban  Planning  in  Curitiba,”  49.   52    Frausto,  "Planning  Theories  and  Concepts,  Implementation  Strategies,"  43.    


source of economic improvement. Additionally, as new buses were purchased for the improved system, old buses that were still in working condition were set up with teachers and nurses and supplies and sent into the favelas as mobile classrooms and health centers.53 This program, feeding off the waste of the new public transit system, improved access to these resources in historically deprived districts, contributing once again to the reversal of social inequality, and salvaged otherwise useless materials, an extremely sound environmental practice. Such practices are repeated throughout city planning programs; old railroad beds become bike paths, telegraph poles are used for building new public structures, and a quarry has been turned into a concert venue.54 The reuse of materials and equipment that would otherwise be wasted saves money on disposal and buying materials for the projects and creates infrastructure that benefits the city’s residents. What truly differentiates Curitiba from other centrally organized city planning programs is that, by involving its citizens in the process, the policy not only saved money, but extended ownership of the city from government bureaucrats to all Curitibanos, particularly those who had previously felt most ignored and the least amount of ownership in the economic system. Social involvement, a component of numerous other policies, is central to social equity and justice and environmental sustainability. Curitiba parks are possibly the best example of a city program that fostered cultural involvement, social equity, and environmental sustainability. Curitiba parks provide the greatest amount of green space per capita of any city in the world, contribute to efficient water filtration and flood control for much of the city, and venues for cultural expression. Furthermore, Curitiba’s parks demonstrate that achieving such cultural, social, and environmental benefits                                                                                                               53  Pearce,  "Brazil's  Sustainable  City,"  52.   54  Ibid.    


need not be financially costly. Initially, they were an economically minded response to the issue of flooding.55 That the river parks serve as natural preserves for wildlife, provide a healthier living environment for Curitiba’s citizens, and sink atmospheric carbon are all welcomed additions. In addition, the implementation process involved numerous cultural groups, thereby improving social representation and equality of those groups. In the attempt to save money on park design, Curitiba planners invited citizens to design cultural parks around the city producing numerous parks including Japanese gardens, the Ukrainian park, and the German Wood among others. Besides social involvement and corresponding ownership of the city improvement process, the park design program fosters a kind of incorporated cultural dialogue that implicitly sets many, though perhaps not all, of the represented cultural groups on an equal playing field, a significant step towards reducing the marginalization that leads to a socially unsustainable society. Similarly, the expansion of public places, including parks and pedestrian only streets, increases the public activity of Curitiba’s populace, a trend noted by Jaime Lerner in the years following Curitiba’s rebuilding.56 Greater public activity around the city not only reduces crime rates by “putting more eyes on the street,” as Jane Jacobs observed,57 but furthers the sense of community ownership as residents use the streets as forums for public interaction instead rather than as just conduits between work and home. Even the maintenance of the city parks embody culturally, socially, and environmentally sustainable practices. Most prominently, the city employs shepherds to use sheep to cut the grass in the parks provide solutions to a wide array of issues. Initially, the use of sheep flocks to cut

                                                                                                              55  Brugmann,  "Designing  the  Ecosystem,”  217,  and  Kroll,  "Creative  Curitiba,"  95.   56  Lerner,  "Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City,"  2005.   57  Jane  Jacobs,  The  Death  and  Life  of  Great  American  Cities,  ed.  50th  Anniversary  Edition   (New  York:  Modern  Library,  2011),  38.    


park grass was an economic choice as it was cheaper than using mowers.58 Employing shepherds to cut the grass has had many other benefits beyond reduced costs. Using sheep gives the parks yet another purpose. In addition to providing pleasant green space, controlling flooding in the city, and filtering water runoff, the parks now also bring local agriculture into the city providing work for agricultural workers who otherwise would not have work in the city and representing another cultural component of the city and its surroundings. City residents also benefit from local access to products that come from sheep. Also, the use of sheep rather than machines to cut the grass reduces the noise level in the city further increasing the naturally pleasant atmosphere of the city, a foreign concept to the majority of large cities. Finally, sheep droppings fertilize the grass naturally, reducing dependence on synthetic fertilizers to feed the grass. This not only reduces costs by eliminating another maintenance product, but also benefits the local ecosystem by reducing the amount of pollution runoff into the rivers that would otherwise come from fertilizers and pesticides. Like the structure and solutions involved in the public transit system, Curitiba’s parks involve culturally appropriate and representative aspects that produce socially and environmentally beneficial ends. It is the incorporation of this form of embedded, holistic sustainability in numerous other policies that has earned Curitiba its title as the “green capital of the world.” Another example of such holistically sustainable policy design practices is city zoning policy. Building design emphasizes smaller scale and spacious sidewalks that are easily available to pedestrians. Bicycle paths are ubiquitous and city design emphasizes mixed-use areas, creating essentially self-sufficient districts within the city, reducing the need for residents to travel long

                                                                                                              58  Pearce,  “Brazil’s  Sustainable  City,”  52.    


distances within the city for various needs.59 So-called social “hubs,” essentially autonomous communities within the larger city, is an innovative design technique that reduces the need for travel (reducing strain on the public transit system and reducing emissions), and creates more cohesive community as neighbors are given more opportunity to interact socially and for business. This has become a central feature of many European cities in the past decade, most notably Madrid, Barcelona and various German cities, including Freiburg. Such city design plans foster the local street activity that is critical to a safer and more economically vibrant community, encourage more public discourse and reduce consumption and waste, all necessary components of a sustainable society.



uch literature has been written about the successful policies that have been enacted in Curitiba and which have propelled it into an internationally renowned position. Much of this success has been credited to the creative thinking and awareness of Jaime

Lerner, credit that is much deserved and impossible to refute. Nonetheless it is important to note that policies are not created in a vacuum and Curitiba’s sustainable planning policies are no different. Recognizing the national level, socio-economic, and city level foundations and backgrounds to these policies is crucial to understanding the key lessons to be learned from Curitiba and how they can be successfully implemented in cities around the world. Most importantly though, understanding these background forces recognition of how Curitiba is politically different from many Western counterparts. Synthesizing both the key lessons and the fundamental differences is the first step towards moving the global urban trend towards a more sustainable model.                                                                                                               59  Ibid.,  48.    


Key Lessons  From  Curitiba    


he effect of all of these policies has not been only a top-down change in the city, but the creation of a mass social ethos of sustainable thinking that has embedded sustainability in

the roots of Curitiba society. Public involvement in the creative process, such as through the designing of public parks or public art, was critical to the development of a city-wide ethos of sustainability.60 Cultural expression that resulted from public interaction contributed to the reversal of negative cycles such as poverty and crime, and made environmentally sound practices, such as public transit use, reduction in consumption and recycling ubiquitous. The mobilization of social capital, the involvement and support of the citizenry, as a component of sustainability has been key to Curitiba’s success. To draw once again on the policies of European cities for contrast; Madrid has instituted a metro system that is the third larges in Europe totaling over 227 km, developed numerous green spaces in and around the city, and has set out a plan for localized community “hubs” that reduce the need to commute long distances within the city on a regular basis.61 Despite the numerous investments in sustainable planning, many of Madrid’s efforts face a dearth of public support. As an example of Madrid’s less successful policies, ridership of the public metro system has seen negligible increases in ridership, all of which have been offset by declines in ridership in previous years.62 A possible contributor to Curitiba’s success where Madrid was less successful is public involvement. Due to Curitiba’s less financially and economically advantageous position compared to many western European cities, the policies of Curitiba necessarily relied upon creative thinking that involved cutting cost by involving public contributions. In contrast, Madrid, during more                                                                                                               60  Lerner,  "Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City,"  2005.     61  Ayuntamiento  de  Madrid,  ""Diagnóstico  de  Sostenibilidad  de  la  Ciudad  de  Madrid","   2010.   62  José  Manuel  Vassallo,  "Public  Transport  Funding  Policy  in  Madrid:  Is  There  Room  for   Improvement?,"  Transport  Reviews  29,  no.  2  (2009):  264.    


prosperous economic times, relied on heavy amounts of government funding to develop its green infrastructure. For instance, Madrid built a beautiful and expensive underground metro system. The success of Curitiba with sustainable planning on a budget prompted Jaime Lerner to remark that the best way to promote creativity in city planning is by, “cutting a zero from your city budget, better yet, cut two.”63 Though possibly unintentional, such planning also helped to mobilize more social capital and has bred an ethos of sustainability that goes beyond the city policies. Many of the programs that involved high amounts of public involvement, favela clean up programs, city park designs, and public art, were motivated by a desire to make improvements while reducing the up-front costs. Envisioning the success of Curitiba from the perspective of the earlier definition of sustainability, it is helpful to imagine the rings of influence of the three components. While each consecutively larger circle impacts those within it, each interior ring also impacts those above it, but beneficial change comes most successfully from the interior rings. Madrid’s public transit system lacks the success of Curitiba because it was an infrastructure that sought to deal with social and environmental issues without dealing with the level of cultural relationship with the system. In contrast, the Curitiba transit system was built to fit the needs of the populations it served and was promoted by linking the cultural and social activities of the communities with its operation, i.e. cleaning up trash with needs for transportation. Rather than creating the solution and hoping for public involvement, Curitiba policies began with public involvement and built the solutions around it thereby permitting social and environmental change to be motivated by culturally appropriate inclusion. To use another example, many public parks go unused in cities around the world. This is a great fear of planners, that infrastructure will be built, but go unused.                                                                                                               63  Lerner,  "Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City,"  2005.    


In Curitiba, the parks are well used because they were the result of the communities that now use them. This discussion of grass roots, culturally appropriate change is not new. However, the purpose here is to show that effective urban policy engages social capital to reach a solution whereas ineffective urban policy creates a solution and expects society to respond beneficially to the plan. Assuming an ideal plan based on how cities and societies should operate rather than how they do operate was the central problem with 19th and 20th century urban planning theories such as Ebenezer Howard’s “garden city” plan and Le Corbusier’s “radiant city” design. Jane Jacob’s poignantly notes that such planners had grand ideas about “ideal” cities, but that they failed to take into account the actual structure and operation of cities.64 Daniel Klein, in arguing for a libertarian approach to markets, supports Jacob’s critique of classical urban planners by pointing out that urban planners, no matter how well informed, cannot control every action or situation in urban environments.65 This criticism of overly controlling public planning is entirely correct. Nonetheless, despite Klein’s position to the contrary, central coordination by urban planning and policy plays an important role in encouraging healthy operations within society. The policies of Curitiba, and similar cities that have emulated it, operate by responding to public demand rather than arrogantly trying to dictate it. Parks in Curitiba are used because they were designed and situated by the people who use them. The program to build the parks, however, was coordinated by the city planning board, an entity large enough to bring the necessary resources together, a process that Klein refers to as “mutual coordination.”66 In like vein, the Curitiba                                                                                                               64  Jane  Jacobs,  The  Death  and  Life  of  Great  American  Cities,  ed.  50th  Anniversary  Edition   (New  York:  Modern  Library,  2011),  23  and  29.     65  Daniel  Klein,  Knowledge  and  Coordination:  A  Liberal  Interpretation  (New  York:  Oxford   University  Press,  2012),  5.     66  Ibid.,  37.    


transit system maintains an 89 percent approval rating because it is cheap, effective, and flexible enough to respond to the needs of its users. Yet the effectiveness of the transit system was made possible by central coordination. In response to these policies, the habits and ethos of Curitiba residents began to change; public activity in pedestrian only streets and parks went up, mass transit ridership skyrocketed, wealth increased while use of private automobiles plummeted, in short, residents responded to the ethos created by Curitiba planning policy. The key lesson for cities seeking to emulate Curitiba does not come down to a cookie cutter model to paste on to their conditions. Rather, the lessons from Curitiba are that sustainable city planning requires 1) addressing cultural, social and environmental needs, 2) motivating public engagement and 3) enlisting creative thinking to produce solutions that tackle multiple problems at once rather than single problem solutions.

Obstacles to  International  Implementation    


any cities  in  Europe  have  started  trying  to  implement  policies  that,  in  many  cases,   were  first  implemented  in  Curitiba.  From  recycling  programs,  mass  transit  

systems, and  urban  social  “hubs”  that  create  local  communities,  Curitiba’s  policies  appear   across  various  progressive  cities  in  the  world,  but  often  without  the  sustainable  ethos  that   has  made  Curitiba’s  transformation  so  successful.  What  are  the  social  factors  that  separate   more  affluent  northern  cities  from  the  benefits  Curitiba  style  reforms?      

The most  critical  inhibitor  to  the  development  of  sustainable  cities  in  economically  

developed western  nations  such  as  in  Western  Europe  and  the  United  States  is,   paradoxically,  not  a  lack  of  money,  but  an  excess  of  money.  The  relative  prevalence  of   money  has  manifested  in  several  ways;  first  as  a  political  dependence  on  large  sums  of  


money for  public  projects,  and  secondly  in  a  populace  that  increasingly  equates  financial   prosperity  with  happiness.      

Firstly, western  nations  tend  to  approach  environmental  and  social  issues  such  as  

transportation or  handling  erosion  and  flooding,  with  large,  financially  costly  projects.   Madrid’s  metro  system,  mentioned  previously,  is  a  key  example  of  this  tendency.   Additionally,  the  tradition  of  U.S.  cities  to  spend  large  sums  on  highway  systems  to  deal   with  ever  increasing  public  transit  and  transportation  infrastructure  mimics  the  European   trend.  Seattle,  Washington,  for  instance,  despite  one  of  the  highest  costing  public  transit   systems  in  the  nation,  including  a  raised  monorail,  remains  one  of  the  most  traffic   congested  cities  in  the  United  States.  While  less  money  may  be  contrary  to  traditional   public  policy  goals,  as  noted  by  Jaime  Lerner,  lower  working  budgets  generate  the  kind  of   creative,  multiple  problem  solving  solutions  that  have  made  Curitiba’s  policies  so   successful.  Additionally,  lower  working  budgets  encourage  the  mobilization  of  social   capital  in  place  of  financial  capital,  thereby  developing  a  truly  sustainable  city  wide   character.  Wealth  also  has  negative  impacts  on  the  individual  level.      

Secondly, many  western  nations  pride  themselves  on  high  per-­‐capita  incomes.  To  

illustrate, Seattle,  as  part  of  King  County,  is  included  as  one  of  the  50  wealthiest  regions  in   the  United  States.  Large  sums  of  money  held  by  individuals  make  encouraging  sustainable   habits  in  the  urban  culture  more  difficult.  In  part  this  is  because  many,  though  not  all,   residents  are  willing  and  able  to  pay  more  for  unsustainable  habits,  such  as  reliance  on   personal  automobiles.  Additionally,  ownership  and  consumption  of  numerous  resources  is   equated  heavily  with  prosperity.  The  car  is  a  good  example,  but  there  are  others.  The   advancement  of  the  United  States  over  generations  is  often  measured  by  noting  how  many  


more people  have  access  to  electronics  such  as  televisions  and  microwave  ovens.  While   these  appliances  are  helpful,  their  presence  begs  the  question  of  whether  social  wellbeing   should  be  measured  by  material  prosperity  or  does  a  focus  on  material  prosperity  create   losses  in  more  important  categories  of  social  wellbeing?  Why  is  it  that  countries  with  lower   per  capita  GDPs  tend  to  score  higher  in  happiness  indexes?  These  are  critical  questions  for   all  of  society  to  ponder.  In  the  meantime,  however,  overcoming  the  greater  presence  of   individual  wealth,  and  the  unsustainable  habits  that  it  makes  possible,  requires  appealing   to  different  incentives  than  those  employed  in  Curitiba.  For  instance,  rather  than  the  many   positive  incentives  used  in  Curitiba,  such  as  bus  tickets  for  trash,  changing  habits  in   wealthier  cities  such  as  Seattle  requires  first  implementing  negative  incentives,  such  as   more  expensive  and  less  available  parking  in  city  centers,  a  tactic  employed  in  Portland,   Oregon,  or  taxes  on  the  volume  of  waste  thrown  in  landfills  rather  than  recycled,  such  as  in   Germany’s  Grüne  Punkt  waste  program.      

While wealth  is  an  asset  in  many  ways  and  necessary  to  many  urban  development  

projects, overreliance  on  money  can  stifle  more  effective  planning.  Budget  levels  should  not   be  placed  on  a  pedestal  as  the  solution  to  all  ills.  In  discussing  fixes  to  large  scale  problems,   such  as  hunger,  poverty,  and  education,  economists  often  estimate  total  sums  of  capital   needed  to  resolve  the  question.  This  assumption  that  problems  as  mere  deficits  of  spending   stifles,  exemplifies  a  arrogance  that  denies  the  true  complexity  of  the  problem  and   encourages  a  mindset  that  seeks  to  deal  with  the  negative  results  rather  than  tackling  the   problem.  The  obstacle  for  developed  western  cities  will  be  to  learn  how  to  reduce   dependence  on  simply  dedicating  large  sums  of  money  to  solving  problems  and  increase   the  utilization  of  social  capital  and  creative  multi-­‐dimensional  solutions.    


Summation The importance of Curitiba as a model for other cities internationally stems from the ability of the city to not only create infrastructure that met its cultural, social, and environmental needs, but in its ability to shape the cultural ethos of it residents to meet those needs. As Howard Zinn notes, “the old formulas for socialism have been discredited by the experience of “socialism” in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”67 As a result, governments are hesitant to suggest that they have a role in shaping any cultural ethos whatsoever. However, every government shapes the character of the governed, just as the governed shape the character of the government (In a properly functioning democracy that is.). Currently city planning policies around the world, particularly those in the U.S., cultivate cultures of violence, racism, environmental degradation, waste, cultural destruction, and poverty. The lesson from Curitiba is that the issue of holistic sustainability – comprised of cultural, social and environmental components – relies on shaping the cultural ethos within each city, not simply combating the effects of a destructive society.

                                                                                                              67  Zinn,  Passionate  Declarations,  173.    


Bibliography Albert,  Michel.  Capitalism  vs.  Capitalism:  How  America's  Obsession  With  Individual     Achievement  and  Short-­Term  Profit  Has  Led  it  to  the  Brink  of  Collapse.  New  York,  NY:     Four  Walls  Eight  Windows  Publishing,  1993.   Ayuntamiento  de  Madrid.  "Diagnóstico  de  Sostenibilidad  de  la  Ciudad  de  Madrid."  2010.   Berry,  Wendell.  "Money  Versus  Goods."  In  What  Matters?  Economics  for  a  Renewed     Commonwealth,  by  Wendell  Berry,  3-­‐30.  Berkeley,  CA:  Counterpoint,  2010.   Brugmann,  Jeff.  ""Designing  the  Ecosystem:  A  New  City  Rises  on  the  Serra  do  Mar  Plateau."     In  Welcome  to  the  New  Urban  Revolution:  How  Cities  Are  Changing  the  World,  by  Jeff     Brugmann,  214-­‐228.  New  York,  NY:  Bloomsbury  Press,  2009.   Carter,  Majora.  "Greening  the  Ghetto."  TED  Talks,  June  2006.   Citizen's  Committee  for  Children.  2012  Infographic:  Keeping  Track  of  New  York  City's     Children.  Statistical  Summary,  New  York:  Citizen's  Committee  for  Children,  2012.   Citizens'  Committee  for  Children  of  New  York  Inc.  Concentrated  Poverty  in  New  York  City:     An  Analysis  of  the  Changing  Geographic  Patterns  of  Poverty.  City  Data,  New  York:  CCC     Inc.  ,  2012.   Colls,  Tom.  The  Death  of  Language?  October  19,  2009.  (accessed  January  15,     2013).   Evelly,  Jeanmarie.  "Bronx  Unemployment  Rate  Hits  Highest  in  Decades."  Norwood  News,     April  19,  2012.   Frausto,  Marta  E.  "Planning  Theories  and  Concepts,  Implementation  Strategies,  and     Integrated  Transportation  Network  Elements  in  Curitiba."  Transportation  Quarterly     (Eno  Transportation  Foundation)  53,  no.  1  (1999):  41-­‐55.   González,  Fernando  Flórez.  "Curitiba:  ¿Una  Ciudad  Modelo  Para  las  Ciudades     Latinoamericanas?"  Entreartes:  Revista  de  Arte,  Cultura  y  Sociedad  de  la  Facultad  de     Artes  Integradas  de  la  Universidad  de  Valle  7  (August  2008):  143-­‐151.   Hensley,  William  Iggiagruk.  Fifty  Miles  From  Tomorrow:  A  Memoir  of  Alaska  and  the  Real     People.  New  York:  Sarah  Crichton  Books,  2009.   Irazábal,  Clara.  City  Making  and  Urban  Governance  in  the  Americas:  Curitiba  and  Portland.     Burlington,  VT:  Ashgate  Publishing  Company,  2005.   Jacobs,  Jane.  The  Death  and  Life  of  Great  American  Cities.  Edited  by  50th  Anniversary     Edition.  New  York:  Modern  Library,  2011.   Klein,  Daniel.  Knowledge  and  Coordination:  A  Liberal  Interpretation.  New  York:  Oxford     University  Press,  2012.  


Klink, Jeroen,  and  Rosana  Denaldi.  "Metropolitan  Fragmentation  and  Neo-­‐Localism  in  the     Periphery:  Revisiting  the  Case  of  Curitiba."  Urban  Studies  49,  no.  3  (February  2012):     543-­‐561.   Kroll,  Lucien.  "Creative  Curitiba."  The  Architectural  Review  205,  no.  1227  (May  1999):  92-­‐   97.   Laszlo,  Chris,  and  Nadya  Zhexembayeva.  Embedded  Sustainability:  The  Next  Big  Competitive     Advantage.  Stanford,  CA:  Stanford  University  Press,  2011.   Lerner,  Jaime.  "Jaime  Lerner  Sings  of  the  City."  TED:  Ideas  Worth  Spreading.  Monterey,  CA,     2005.   Macedo,  Joseli.  "City  Profile:  Curitiba."  Cities  21,  no.  6  (December  2004):  537-­‐549.   Makinson,  Sandra.  "EU  Environmental  Policy."  Compiled  by  Aiden  Irish.  Freiburg,  2011.   Mary,  Nancy  L.  Social  Work  in  a  Sustainable  World.  Chicago,  IL:  Lyceum  Books,  Inc.  ,  2008.   Meadows,  Donella.  "The  City  of  First  Priorities."  Whole  Earth  Review  85  (June  1995):  58-­‐59.   Moore,  Steven  A.  Alternative  Routes  to  the  Sustainable  City:  Austin,  Curitiba,  and  Frankfurt.     New  York,  NY:  Lexington  Books,  2007.   National  Assessment  of  Educational  Progress.  Achievement  Gaps:  How  Hispanic  and  White     Students  ni  Public  Schools  Perform  in  Mathematics  and  Reading  on  the  National     Assessment  of  Educational  Progress.  Executive  Summary,  Washington  D.C.:  Institute     of  Education  Sciences,  2009.   Organic  Consumers  Association.  Chemical  Fertilizers  Destroying  the  Environment  &  Killing     Ocean  Life.  2009.  (accessed     September  15,  2012).   Pearce,  Fred.  "Brazil's  Sustainable  City."  New  Scientist  134,  no.  1825  (June  1992):  52-­‐53.   Rabinovitch,  Jonas,  and  Josef  Leitman.  "Urban  Planning  in  Curitiba:  A  Brazilian  City     Challenges  Conventional  Wisdom  and  Relies  on  Low  Technology  to  Improve  the     Quality  of  Urban  Life."  Scientific  American,  March  1996:  46-­‐53.   Rogge,  M.E.,  and  Terri  Combs-­‐Orme.  "Protecting  Children  from  Chemical  Exposure:  Social     Work  and  U.S.  Social  Welfare  Policy."  Social  Work  48  (2003):  439-­‐450.   Satz,  Debra.  Why  Some  Things  Should  Not  Be  For  Sale:  The  Moral  Limits  of  Markets.  New     York,  NY:  Oxford  University  Press,  2010.   United  Nations  .  Human  Settlements  on  the  Coast.  2012.     (accessed  September  15,  2012).  


United Nations  Department  of  Economic  and  Social  Arrairs.  World  Urbanization  Prospects:     The  2011  Revision.  Highlights,  Population  Division,  United  Nations,  New  York:     United  Nations,  2012,  iii-­‐33.   Urban  League  of  Portland.  The  State  of  Black  Oregon.  Census  Analysis  ,  Portland:  Urban     League  of  Portland,  2009.   Vassallo,  José  Manuel.  "Public  Transport  Funding  Policy  in  Madrid:  Is  There  Room  for     Improvement?"  Transport  Reviews  29,  no.  2  (2009):  261-­‐278.   Zelov,  Chris.  "Jaimer  Lerner:  Toward  a  Rechargeable  City."  Whole  Earth  Review  85  (1995):     60.   Zinn,  Howard.  Passionate  Declarations:  Essays  on  War  and  Justice.  New  York,  NY:  Harper     Perennial,  2003.    

An Ethos of Sustainability: Curitiba's Model For Multi-Dimensional City Planning Policy  

Curitiba has become an international model for sustainable development and social regeneration. Its success has been despite a diminutive bu...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you