One of Curitiba's other widely replicated practices is its innovative creation and use of open space and brownfield (polluted former industrial site) reuse. The above image (courtesy of Ben Hejkal, www.benhejkal.com) is of UniLivre - the free university of the environment - which is an environmental education center and park in a former rock quarry. The site was reforested with native vegetation, and in the footprint of the quarry operations building a tower of treehouse-like classrooms was built, with a spiraling ramp encircling the classrooms to an amazing lookout point at the top of the quarry. The construction used old telephone poles from around the City, which the public utility was replacing with concrete, as structural elements. This iconic park is just one of many creative environmental spaces in Curitiba. Parks, including others in former quarries, floodplains, and other environmentally sensitive areas, throughout the City function as amphitheaters and play spaces while ensuring that sensitive areas are protected from development, and useful and attractive to the public.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
Faced with auto traffic challenges, Jaime Lerner decided that the City could never (affordably and sustainably) continue to change to serve traffic. Instead he decided the City should be for people (see the TED Video about Lerner, in an earlier post, where he explains how the car is like a mother-in-law) and the solution to the problems of cars was to limit them to where they were appropriate rather than transform the entire City to accommodate them. In the 1970s, Curitiba turned the downtown Rua de los Flores into a pedestrian street over the course of a weekend: open to traffic friday, closed for construction over the weekend, and complete by Monday morning commute hour. To ensure cars wouldn't drive there Monday, hundreds of school kids were brought to the street to chalk and make art in the public space throughout the day, showing how seriously the City believed that it had transformed the street into a place for people. To this day, it remains a success, as a destination for tourists and locals, and a great location for any business.
One of Curitiba's most replicated innovations is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). BRT takes buses and gives them a few design advantages so that they operate like light rail, but at about 1/20th the construction cost. BRT uses dedicated center lanes to avoid traffic, has signal priority (signals turn green as buses approach to let the buses move faster than cars); at stops, passengers have already walked up a few steps and pre-paid in order to quickly board the bus so it can continue on its way. Finally, the buses look different, use different stations, and special branding, maps, and other information so people know they are different and people think of them as special and better than a normal bus, avoiding the stigma of common buses. In Curitiba, this has worked for the most part. Despite that a lot of the middle and upper class still think of BRT as a bus, and despite that Curitiba has the highest per capita rate of car ownership in Brazil (according to Ariagne dos Santos Reyes, Jaime Lerner Architects), there is still shockingly little congestion, traffic, and per capita VMT (the wonky measure of car use). The City moves smoothly, efficiently, and transportation planners around the world seek to replicate BRT.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The first question in regards to many of the things we learned about Curitiba's innovation was, "how was this possible?" and the answer, frequently, began with mention of the visionary leadership of Jaime Lerner. Lerner is an architect and urban planner who was mayor of the City in the 1970s, and later governor of the state, under the military government of the 1970s and 80s. He not only saw problems in a multi-disciplinary way, but had the power to implement creative solutions quickly. The video above details some of the general approach. Most memorable are lines like "creativity begins when you take a 0 off your budget," his insistence that you have to work fast, and his focus on simple solutions. In the more democratic and process-based planning of the United States and of Brazil today, some of these solutions simply wouldn't be possible. We cannot, for example, decide on a Friday to close a major downtown street, repave it over the weekend, and have it open as a pedestrian mall, closed to vehicles forever, on Monday morning. But many of the challenges of slim budgets and the need for creative, simple and elegant solutions are familiar today. While I don't think anyone wants a military government, we can appreciate letting the experts do their job. As a result of his leadership and significant changes, Curitiba today has an astoundingly consistent rate of public approval of quality of life in the City, and a strong sense of pride in their government and place.
(graphic courtesy of Ariadne dos Santo Daher, Jaime Lerner Architecture)
Curitiba is a model of urban-scale sustainability in a number of regards. The photo and graphic illustrate the macro-scale planning that organizes the City around a series of "structural axes" where density and activity are concentrated. High frequency and relatively high speed busses travel these axes, stopping at transportation hubs and nodes of activity where City services are dispersed throughout the City to "citizenship centers." In subsequent posts, I will explore how innovations in areas like transport, waste management, governance, parks and infrastructure (especially stormwater management) are integrated with this network.
Sao Paulo has a shocking amount of helicopter traffic. According to numerous accounts by lecturers and a documentary called Manda Bala, it has the world's largest fleet of private helicopters. Robbery and kidnapping are considered major threats to the wealthy in a city with very high income disparity and close proximity of wealthy neighborhoods to poor. In their vehicles on public streets is when people consider themselves most exposed, as they can otherwise avoid public spaces. As such, industries like car bulletproofing, private security, and helicopter transport are thriving. Private helicopter transport is fascinating, because it allows those who can afford it to simply travel in their own space - still public space, mind you - entirely undisturbed by the threatening, and general, public. Throughout the city, the architecture of large office, industrial and residential buildings, as well as numerous small heliports, reflect this unique transportation security consideration in the urban landscape.