Home to just under 1.9 million people, the southern city of Curitiba in Brazil is a beacon of sustainability that cities all over the world can take notes from. It has faced and overcome challenges that many cities now are dealing with, and it has emerged as a city that works with the environment, has a strong social core, and is focused on developing a green economy (and has been sucessful in doing so!).
In the 1970s, Curitiba was like most other Brazilian cities: developing at a fast rate whilst dealing with a population explosion. Many Brazilian politicians wanted the country’s cities to follow the Brasilia example; a modern metropolis to fit the growing demand for development. That’s where an architectural student (who would later be mayor of Curitiba) came in, turning Curitiba in a direction of sustainability.
The Greenest City in the World
Curitiba has 52 suqare metres of green space per person making it one of the greenest cities in the world. Not only that, the huge number of green spaces act as a natural stormwater management system and is very successful. Many other Brazilian cities choose to channel river systems with concrete walls and barriers, but Curitiba idealises the more natural form of management that preserves the natural course of the Iguacu river.
Curitiba is famous for pioneering the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT). Beginning in 1974, it was the first of its kind and is the basis for BRT systems in over 300 countries. In the 70s, the city played with the costly idea of an underground system but decided on the BRT system that satisfies between 70-80% of daily trips from the local population.
And it’s incredibly efficient! Buses can arrive up to every 90 seconds and because of their format on the roads are unaffected by car traffic. It is also designed to give people who live outside of the city an easier way in and reduce people’s commutes by around half an hour.
On top of the pioneering BRT system in Curitiba, there are over 90 miles of bike lanes throughout the city making it a safe environment for cyclists. Much of the city is also pedestrianised; a move that was first heavily criticised, but eventually widely accepted once business owners were aware of the benefits pedestrianising parts of the city centre.
Turning Rubbish into Cash
There are a number of cities, states, and countries around the world that are implementing waste-for-cash programmes (or similar projects) in an attempt to reduce the amount of waste created by the city’s population. Around 90% of people in Curitiba take part in their own version that trade four pounds of waste for tokens that can be traded for a pound of produce. By simply caring about where their waste goes, people living in Curitiba can save themselves money on their next food shop.
70% of Curitiba’s waste is recycled. That figure massively dwarfs any city around the world in what is recycled and it’s something that is so critical in our cities with growing environmental and social pressures. Other cities need to look at what Curitiba is doing and find ways to reduce the amount of waste that comes from our cities.
The picture painted above is a very pretty one of Curitiba. It sounds like an environmentalists dream city, and whilst it’s pretty great, there are still a number of challenges. As Brazil has developed and many of its population can afford cars and other private transport, people living Curitiba have moved away from the BRT and towards car-use. Having said that, it still remains well below the national average.
There are still favelas on the city’s outskirts and there is a unsettling growth towards private vehicle use, but what Curitiba achieved at a time when the rest of Brazil was putting economic development above all else is remarkable and can be an example for many cities in the developing world, as well as those already developed.
Cities are expected to receive the majority of the billions that are projected to be added to the global population over the next few decades and they can no longer solely push economic development. Sustainability must be pushed within our cities if we are able to deal with climate change and deal with the projected population increases.