CURITIBA: Bus City
No place can satisfy everyone. One place is too rich and precious, another place too poor and creepy. Some places are disney; others contain fundamentalist Christians and folks from a small gene pool.
Here's one you've just got to like. For some years it has played the role of poster child for the planner's craft. A hemisphere removed, news filters up to us from this legendary shangri-la by way of the media --even Time Magazine has done a story.
This one does it all, maybe.
The following article is cobbled together from several reports available on the Internet. In the planning profession, Curitiba is held up as a shining example to emulate.
"It's the most innovative city in the world," declared Wally N'Dow of Gambia, chairman of the Habitat II summit.
"Reports from Curitiba seem too good to be true," wrote Liana Vallicelli, a Halifax planner, "A number of the planning community… have had the opportunity to visit the city... I spent a few days there…and was totally convinced. It was an attractive, modern, prosperous, comfortable and safe city, that seemed to have been plucked out of the heart of Europe."
Curitiba is "a model city of the future," according to the director of New York City's Department of Environmental Protection. It received the International Energy Conservation annual award… for promoting energy efficiency through planning, and the United Nations gave Curitiba two environmental program awards for innovative recycling and other environmental programs.
Curitiba, a city of 1.6 million in southern Brazil, has become a world-recognized model of urban planning and environmental practices. Until recently, few people outside of Brazil had even heard of Curitiba (pronounced "koo-ree-CHEE-bah"), but today the city attracts delegations of politicians, planners, environmentalists, and journalists seeking to discover how, in a Third World region where cities are suffering from overpopulation and poverty, Curitiba is known as a "city that works.
The driving city vision was to be the “Ecological Capital of Brazil”. This vision included a huge park acquisition program, protection of heritage buildings, prioritization of pedestrians over cars, the provision of cycleways linking the parks, and most especially a massive expansion of the public transport system.
The result is a green city of parks, in which city residents can move around swiftly, whether by car or on the extremely efficient bus system. It is a "rechargeable" city that recycles, and it encourages even its poorest residents to participate in cultural and economic activities.
Since young maverick architects and engineers took over City Hall in the 1970s, Curitiba has tried new ways to tackle such urban ills as illiteracy, homelessness, transportation, government service shortcomings, unemployment, pollution and poverty.
Curitiba is still a Third World city, with at least 10% of its 1.6 million people living in slums of corrugated tin-and-wood shanties. And its innovations--from "trade villages" to schoolbooks written by the mayor--were made gradually. But the city now stands as a model for urban planners, and mayors from around the world have visited Curitiba to learn from its experiments.
Jaime Lerner was Curitiba's innovative mayor. During his 12 year tenure, he applied his skills as a city planner, implementing a radical urban policy. Lerner and his staff learned from the failures of Brasilia; they fashioned a city plan which anticipated present-day problems such as motorization and pollution.
The mayor decided on a new master plan to de-congest the downtown and save the old houses there. The first pedestrian street in Brazil was created in 1972 - overnight, to avoid any opposition by merchants. Children's mural-drawing sessions have been a feature of Saturday morning on the mall ever since.
Planners decided that the Transport Network was to determine Urban Form.
The transit system organizes the urban area. Growth is directed along linear corridors that serve to control the spread of the city. There is no infrastructure outside them. They have
the highest density, with a transit route and a bus terminal, and higher speed streets to either side.
The bus system has a single fare. There is a feeder bus, a dedicated line bus, an express bus and a circle bus.
Improvement of the bus system is a top priority. Examples are the new "tube" disembarkation stations at the bus entrance level and the new system of ticketing before entering the bus.
There is a 50-second headway at peak times, and 2 to 3 minutes at other times at the central station.
The buses are privately-owned by ten companies, and managed by a quasi-public company. With this public-private collaboration, safety, accessibility, and efficiency are combined with low maintenance and operating costs. The bus companies receive no subsidies; instead all mass transit money collected goes to a fund and companies are paid on a distance-traveled basis.
Curitiba's bus system accounts for 70 percent of total weekday trips in the city. Curitiba's buses carry 50 times more passengers than they did 20 years ago.
Curitibans spend about 10 percent of their yearly income on transport. Despite the second highest per capita car ownership rate in Brazil (one car for every three people), Curitiba's gasoline use per capita is below that of comparable Brazilian cities. Other results include negligible emissions levels, little congestion, and an extremely pleasant living environment.
A new "bi-articulated" bus, introduced in December, 1992, is a form of rapid bus operating on the outside high-capacity lanes. Bi-articulated buses - the largest in the world - are actually three buses attached by two articulations, and are capable of carrying 270 passengers.
The bi-articulated bus, developed and adapted in Curitiba, utilizes five modular tube stations for boarding.
Curitiba introduced these buses as an intermediate alternative to a light rail train, which Curitiba plans to introduce sometime in the future to run along the structural arteries, utilizing the existing exclusive rights of way for the express buses.
The Master Plan established the guiding principle that mobility and land use can not be disassociated with each other if the city's future design is to succeed.
Therefore zoning and land-use requires mixed-use high-density development along the structural arteries in order to create the necessary population to support profitable public transport use. Thus, residential development focuses along the arteries.
The four basic land use categories are residential, commercial, industrial, and services. Allowable densities vary in relation to available transportation. Along most structural routes, buildings can have a total floor area of up to six times the plot size. On lower capacity roads that are well served by public transportation, the city permits floor space up to four times plot size. The permitted ratio of floor space to plot size decreases with the distance a land site is from public transportation.
The land use density controls encourage a shift of development activity from the central city to and around the structural axes. This locates high density residential and commercial in the same areas and matches density to the availability of public transport. This eases traffic and
human congestion in the central city.
Further residential development occurs in four designated zones, in which all development must occur within close proximity of bus routes. An industrial park (called the "Industrial City") was built in 1973 in the western part of the city and plays an important part in the local economy.
Public facilities have been built along arterial roads where buses run, one prime example of which is Citizen Centers. There are a total of eight in the inner city, of the type depicted in the photograph above.
Each center has a range of public services including police, municipal branch offices, job centers, social security offices and libraries, and also a roofed multi-purpose sports ground, sports room and conference rooms; all of these can be utilized either free of charge or for next to nothing.
Major hospitals and nursing facilities are also located along roads where buses run.
The statistic of 25,000 public transport trips per day in 1974 has increased to 2.1 million today – 75% of all trips. And this despite Curitiba having a car for every 3 persons - the highest car ownership per capita in Brazil
Due to ongoing increases in the city's population, Curitiba's bus system is expected to reach maximum capacity in the near future. As a way of offsetting this problem, there are plans to divert a highway running north-south through Curitiba to the suburbs, and convert the original highway route into a new monorail-based transport system. The plan is to be co-financed by the national government (60%), Curitiba government (20%) and private sector (20%).
Planners converted wide central avenues in the central city into pedestrian malls and walkways. These malls and walkways reinforce the city center as a pleasant locale where pedestrians have priority. Parking is prohibited in large parts of the inner city, and whole streets and huge central areas are now dedicated pedestrian precincts.
Today, parks and city squares cover 18% of the city area, there are 170 kms of cycleways linking them, a transferable development right incentive is ensuring heritage building preservation so the city “does not lose its memory.”
The experiences of Curitiba have been the focus of attention from both within and outside Brazil, and have brought about a number of imitative local governments. Systems developed in Curitiba, such as pedestrian precincts and dedicated bus lanes, have been successfully reapplied elsewhere.
In everything planned in Curitiba, the quality of life is emphasized. Curitiba officials emphasize the importance of balance in the overall project and state that "the Curitiba city plan may not necessarily work elsewhere unless individual sectors are fully inter-linked."
Recent opinion polls show that a large majority of Curitiba's citizens say there is no place they would rather live. Working within the limits of a Third World city budget, Curitiba's administrators have succeeded in making the city a highly livable place with a series of simple, low-cost innovations that are applicable to both Third and First World cities.
There are ideas here that can be applied elsewhere, and have been. Never having visited, my opinion is necessarily speculative, but you can have a hunch about a place from reports and pictures --just as we can have a hunch about say, Saddam Hussein's present spiritual condition. What I see is a purposeful place in which the "problems" of life have been systematically tackled. I would probably prefer to live in New Orleans, a city of comparable size but less improved.
I am certain, however, that it beats Pyongyang: