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.
• The ability of a system to endure over time
• Inter-‐generational • Intra-‐generational
• 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, www.bbc.co.uk (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.
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Curitiba has become an international model for sustainable development and social regeneration. Its success has been despite a diminutive bu...