As the eyes of the world have turned to Curitiba, Brazil with the opening of the World Cup last week, there is another story that lies in the background of the country’s eighth largest metropolis. City planners consider Curitiba’s sustainability regime as one of the earliest and most successful experiments in sustainable urban development. Though it may be overshadowed by the fanfare of the World Cup, Curitiba’s approach to alternative transit, greenspace preservation, housing and waste management have become models for cities across the globe.
Curitiba’s green initiatives originated in the 1960s with its mayor, Jaime Lerner, who famously said, “This city is not for cars,” well before smart growth principles were adopted in the more affluent countries of North America and Europe. With 52 square meters of public greenspace per person—more than any other city in the world—Curitiba is literally the greenest city on Earth. Parts of the park system are mowed by sheep, while other parklands double as ecological stormwater management zones. Municipal programs designed to shelter the city’s poor from the injustices of society abound, including a program that exchanges trash and recyclables for fresh produce and bus tokens to help people get to places of employment.
A feature that Curitiba is perhaps best known for, and one that the soccer fans of the world are undoubtedly taking advantage of during the world cup, is the city’s bus rapid transit system, or BRT for short. Over 70 percent of daily trips in the city are made via the brightly colored, caterpillar-like buses, which have helped to reduce Curitiba’s carbon emissions to 25 percent of the Brazilian average.
This BRT system, which has now been adopted by hundreds of other cities, utilizes dedicated lanes restricted to buses and emergency vehicles that keep traffic moving. It is a cost-effective alternative to light rail systems, which are typically affordable to city governments in only the wealthiest countries.
Hopefully, the millions of eyes now on Curitiba will get a glimpse past the soccer stadium and into what originally brought the city to the world stage: sustainability.
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