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World Resources 1996-97
(A joint publication by The World Resource Institute, The United
 Nations Environment Programme, The United Nations Development
 Programme, and the World Bank)
(Data edited by Dr. Róbinson Rojas)

5. Urban Priorities for Action

Box 5.4 Integrated Transportation and Land Use Planning
            Channel Curitiba's Growth

Curitiba, Brazil, has received international acclaim as a city that works--a good example of sustainability and exemplary urban planning. In 1950, however, all trends indicated that Curitiba was likely to become yet another city overwhelmed by rapid population growth and urban environmental problems. From 1950 to 1990, Curitiba mushroomed from a town of 300,000 to a metropolis of about 2.3 million (1). Migrants, pushed from the land as the result of agricultural mechanization, flocked to the city and settled in squatter housing at the urban periphery. Rivers and streams were converted into artificial canals without consideration for natural drainage channels, contributing to frequent flooding in the city center (2).

How did Curitiba manage to turn itself into a positive example for cities in both developed and developing countries? In part, the city's success can be attributed to strong leadership. Realizing that a static master plan would not be adequate to deal with the dynamic nature of urban problems, city officials focused on developing simple, flexible, and affordable solutions that could be realized at the local level and adapted to changing conditions. In addition, the government promoted a strong sense of public participation. Officials were encouraged to look at problems, talk to the people, discuss the main issues, and only then reach for the pen. This process provides insights that are seldom self-evident at the drawing table (3). One of the key actors in Curitiba's success over the past 25 years has been Jaime Lerner, who served as mayor three times, from 1970 to 1974, from 1979 to 1983, and from 1989 to 1992.

The most important unifying feature of Curitiba's success is its emphasis on integrating transportation and land use planning. The key concept was to channel the city's physical expansion away from the central city and along five linear corridors or axes. (See Figure 1.) Each axis is built around a central or "structural" road that has exclusive lanes for express buses, for local traffic, and for high-speed car traffic flowing in and out of the city. Zoning laws encourage high-density commercial development along these transport corridors, while land away from the corridors is zoned at low densities. The central city, where traffic congestion and noise have been greatly reduced, has been returned to pedestrians.

As a result of these efforts, the bus system is used by more than 1.3 million passengers each day. Twenty-eight percent of direct-route bus users previously traveled in their cars (4). Despite having the second highest per capita car ownership rate in Brazil, Curitiba's gasoline use per capita is 30 percent below that of eight comparable Brazilian cities, and air pollution levels are among the lowest in Brazil (5).

The city also uses zoning and economic incentives to preserve cultural districts and to protect natural areas. Strong land use legislation and incentives have increased the ratio of available green area per inhabitant from 0.5 square meters in 1970 to 50 square meters in 1992 (6). Beginning in the late 1960s, the city set aside strips of land and prohibited them from development. In 1975, the remaining river basins were protected by stringent legislation and turned into urban parks (7). By protecting natural drainage channels, the city avoided the need for substantial new investments in flood control, and costly flooding has become a thing of the past.

Curitiba has also managed to avoid problems common to other developing cities, such as land that remains vacant while ownership disputes are settled, lengthy waits for development permits, and inefficient property tax collection. The city maintains a detailed land inventory that allows city hall to deliver information quickly to citizens about the building potential of any plot in the city. The system is constantly updated as the city expands (8).

Curitiba has found other low-cost solutions to urban problems. In 1989, faced with growing mounds of garbage, the city was ready for a large-scale recycling plant. But such a plant was beyond city resources. Instead, the city launched an innovative "Garbage That Is Not Garbage" program. The program relied on households to separate garbage for the city, significantly cutting municipal costs. A campaign was also developed to educate children about the importance of recycling, turning them into "secret agents inside each home" ; now more than 70 percent of households participate in the recycling program. In all, two thirds of the city's trash is recycled, more than 100 metric tons daily (9).

In slums where streets are too narrow for garbage trucks to enter, the city found a way to get the garbage to come to the trucks. The "Garbage Purchase" program allows residents to trade filled garbage bags for bus tokens, parcels of surplus food, and school notebooks. The food and vouchers cost no more than hiring trash collectors to go into the slums, and provide the added benefit of improving nutrition as well as public transit ridership among the poor. An estimated 35,000 families have benefited from this program (10).

In all its projects, the city emphasizes low-cost programs that help people to help themselves. Instead of huge city outlays for row upon row of housing projects, the city provides architects and loans, encouraging people to build their own homes. Old public buses are converted into mobile schools for low-income families and are able to go to a different neighborhood each day of the week (11).

The lesson to be learned from Curitiba is that creativity can substitute for financial resources. Any city, rich or poor, can draw on the skills of its residents to tackle urban environmental problems. What may not be transferable is the will to change, political commitment, and leadership that Curitiba has enjoyed over the past 25 years.

--Jonas Rabinovitch

Jonas Rabinovitch is a Senior Urban Development Advisor for the United Nations Development Programme in New York.

References and Notes

1. Jonas Rabinovitch and Josef Leitmann, "Environmental Innovation and Management in Curitiba, Brazil," Urban Management Program Working Paper Series No. 1 (The World Bank, Washington, D.C., June 1993), Table 1-1, p. 2.

2. Ibid., pp. 2, 37-38.

3. Op. cit. 1, pp. 8-16.

4. Jonas Rabinovitch, "Curitiba: Towards Sustainable Urban Development," Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 4, No. 2 (October 1992), p. 66.

5. Ibid., pp. 65-66.

6. Jonas Rabinovitch and John Hoehn, "A Sustainable Urban Transportation System: the 'Surface Metro' in Curitiba, Brazil," The Environmental and Natural Resources Policy and Training (EPAT) Project Working Paper No. 19 (EPAT/The Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities, Inc., University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, May 1995), p. 37.

7. Op. cit. 1, p. 38.

8. Op. cit. 1, p. 28.

9. Op. cit. 4, pp. 67-68.

10. Op. cit. 1, pp. 34-36.

11. Op. cit. 1, p. 47.

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