How Curitiba Did the Impossible: Sustainable City and Community Planning, "simple, fast, cheap."
"Simple, fast, cheap." Sustainable Community Planning With a Difference!
Jamie Lerner has been mayor of Curitiba, in alternating terms, for more than 20 years. He sums up his mission, and the city's mission this way: "There is no endeavour more noble than the attempt to achieve a collective dream. When a city accepts as a mandate its quality of life; when it respects the people who live in it; when it respects the environment; when it prepares for future generations, the people share the responsibility for that mandate, and this shared cause is the only way to achieve that collective dream." — Jaime Lerner
Curitiba Does the Impossible!
Curitiba is a city in the interior of Brazil whose population tripled to one and a half million over the last 25 years. In spite of such rapid growth, it has become known around the world for a unique, effective and sustainable community planning approach based on the basic principles of “simple, cheap and fast.”
Author Bill McKibben spent a month in Curitiba examining its award-winning successes and documented his findings in an exciting book, Hope, Human and Wild. He concluded that, “Curitiba is among the world’s great cities,” not, he says, for its beaches or bridges, not for its culture or glamour, but for its “livability.”
Although Curitiba is a relatively poor city (per capita income is $2500 US) it has produced a series of amazing results in transportation, parks and flood control based on its unique approach of meeting people's, not planners, needs. How the architects of Curitiba’s success handled the challenge of public transport in this rapidly growing city is exceptional. It demonstrates the power of vision-driven creativity to transcend confict-driven problem-solving, and enable cash-strapped municipalities to do what is usually thought to be impossible.
“Transport in the case of Curitiba,” says McKibben, “means buses … the system of express lanes that speed to and from the downtown. In 1974 the system carried 25,000 passengers per day; by 1993 the number was 1.5 million."
Curitiba's buses move faster than buses in other cities, says MiKibben, not because their motors are more powerful, but because they are better designed. While sitting at a bus stop one day Curitiba's Mayor Jamie Lerner noticed that the buses were stopped for longer periods than they moved, because of how long it took passengers to climb the stairs and pay the fare. So he sketched a plan for a glass "tube station," a bus shelter raised a couple of steps off the ground, with an attendant to collect fares.
When a bus pulls in, its doors open like a subway's. People walk right on (or in the case of wheelchairs, roll right on). The buses are extra-long and hinged in two spots so they are able to snake around corners. Each can accommodate 300 passengers.
"Five doors open and close at each stop," say McKibben, "and on busy routes at rush hour one of these behemoths arrives every minute or so; twenty thousand passengers an hour can move in one direction. There is a word for this kind of service: subway.”
Curitiba’s planners, who take an creating focused architiectural approach rather than a conventional engineering approach, are masters of doing more with less.
“Amazingly,” McKibben adds, “the city doesn't need to subsidize its bus service. The fleet is purchased and owned by private companies; the government assigns routes, sets fares, and pays each contractor by kilometer traveled … and the whole system turns a profit."
But that's not all! The Curitiba transportation systems carries four times the number of passengers each day as Rio de Janiero's subway system, at a cost of only one-half of one percent as much per kilometer. One-half of one percent! Listen up city, state, and provincial planners. Mayor Lerner, an architect by profession, has created a city design process based on basic architectural principles which involve the people to be served in the creation of designs for new services. He has no use for those who focus only on problems and their solutions.
“Transport is so important, you can't leave it to the experts,” Mayor Lerner told McKibben. “They will solve the problem of transportation, but they won't link it to the problem of the city. When you realize how many cities were killed by traffic engineers, well, we should beat them with slippers, we really should. In many cities a lot of people are specialists in proving it's impossible to do things. "I try to work with professionals who think it is possible”
Lerner’s method, he says, “is the method of architectural schools everywhere: "We use the charette, always the charette””
A charette is a community based planning exercise in which local citizens are given a challenge and work together to design innovative ways to bring their visions into being.
City employees take a hands on role in city planning. One such employee participating in the transportation planning process saved the city tens of millions of dollars.
“On a regular bus,” says McKibben, “it doesn’t make much difference where you stop—the passengers will just walk a few steps to board. But with the tube stations, the bus has to be in just the right place, or the openings on the tube won't align with the bus doors."
Volvo (who built the articulating buses) offered to design and install an elaborate and expensive optical computer system to line up the doors with the openings in the tube. But before going ahead with it, the employee,a long-time bus driver who sat on the planning committee, suggested, “Let's try a stripe painted on the pavement…I'll see if it works.” It did. And saved the city millions of dollars. Curitiba is a classic example of community planning driven by vision, grounded in reality, and focused on actions that lead, quickly and effectively, to real and lasting end results.
As well as their world famous transportation system, the planners have designed flood control systems built around man-made lakes surrounded by parkland rather than channeled concrete, They have designed garbage collection systems run by slum dwellers and numerous other projects and programs that are the envy of cities and towns around the world—all done “simple, cheap and fast.”
When asked how they do it, Mayor Lerner says, “We’re working on things that make us happy. You don’t have to have all the answers before you start—you can’t be such smart guys. To start is important.”
Led by architects and other creative minds, Curitiba has followed its "simple, fast, cheap" principles and created a kind of grass-roots sustainable community planning that is the envy of many cities around the world.
Bruce Elkin is author of Simplicity and Success: Creating the Life You Long For , THRIVE! and The ABCs of Emotional Mastery.
For more of his writing please visit his HubPages Profile.