Brazil’s Green City
by Anil Mundra
The city of Curitiba, in southern Brazil, is famous among urban planners for its innovation and rational development, with a reputation for being highly livable and very sustainable. It was one of the first cities to market itself as “green” in a 1980s advertising campaign.
And it is. Curitiba is blessed with some 400 square kilometers of public park or forest space. That’s more than 50 square meters per inhabitant. According to some measures, it emits 25 percent less carbon per capita than most Brazilian cities, even though more people own cars here. The discrepancy arises from Curitiba’s famous public transportation system, which carried some 70 percent of commuter traffic in the last decade.
Curitiba has also spearheaded programs that encourage residents to keep their streets
clean and recycle, by offering them food in exchange for their waste. Still, the city landfill is expected to overflow this year and it is no longer the Brazilian city with the most green space. So, despite the success of aggressive urban planning measures undertaken forty years ago, Curitiba must continue to update its initiatives and adapt to the times.
Many Brazilians were attracted to Curitiba’s reputation as a functional, humane city and so its population has grown from 350,000 in the 1960s, when aggressive planning began, to 1.7 million today, with more than 3 million in the greater metropolitan area. Shades of killing the goose that layed golden eggs. The New York Times reported last year that Curitiba recycling rates are down and, as the city sprawls, its famous bus system has had trouble keeping pace. If you ask someone how to go by bus, the answer is very often: “Take a taxicab.”
Worse, the development of Curitiba has led to dramatic deforestation: ninety-nine percent in the state of Parana, of which Curitiba is the largest city. This and other challenges demand continual vigilance by a city known for its innovation — and also a shift from past authoritarian planning styles to a more democratic approach that involves civil society and mobilizes private property interests.
Curitiba, like the world, is going through change. As new realities outstrip old methods, self-satisfaction over past achievements may be the worst threat.