Wednesday, March 28, 2007

What We Should Really Learn From Curitiba

The Candyland blog reminded me why Curitiba has been able to do what people go down there to see. What they see is shiny red buses as a low cost option to real rapid transit. That's also what they bring back to the United States after the trip shows them how great the buses are. But there is a bigger lesson they aren't learning from Curitiba. Starting in 1964 with a military coup, they radically planned for growth management of their city. This included intensive land use planning and a similar idea to our smart growth movement for curbing sprawl. Jamie Lerner, the mastermind behind Curitiba's revitalization was essentially the Brazilian Jane Jacobs and the ideas behind Curitiba would make road warriors and libertarians sulk.

(translated from Portuguese) the managing idea of the project was the creation of a composed infrastructure for a zone of great concentration of activities and of raised habitational density. The concentration of the urban activities had as purpose to revitalize(sic) “the street”, considering it with a primordial function of the life of the community. The proposals for the Structural Axles of Curitiba keep some similarities with this project.
This project in France of Jaime Lerner would show up in Curitiba as the corridors project. In keeping with the allowance of densification in downtown, there needed to be a new place to grow. It would be decided that this would occur on corridors and tie the transport together with the land use.
The same attitude demonstrated in these projects of architecture, with emphasis in the distribution of spaces and its relations with the structure and infrastructure of the buildings, if transposed for urbanism, in the interrelation between zoning and system of collective transport....The main quarrel of the Preliminary Plan was which proposal of growth would have to be adjusted for the future of Curitiba. The idea of city delimited for a green cinturĂ£o, seemed impracticable ahead of the possibility of a indeterminate growth. The orientation of development from linear axles, in contraposition to the concentrical city of the Agache Plan, seemed most adequate
Given the ability of cities to extend indefinitely, the corridor system would address this issue allowing corridors to grow up while not sprawling. In 1971 Jaime Lerner became mayor of the city. Trained as an architect and with the help of a dictatorship, he was able to impose his vision on the people for better or worse. After over 40 years of planning, Curitiba is what it is, it's what would happen if an architect and smart growther took over a city. But folks should not come back from that city just thinking, "what a cheap bus, lets do it here". They should be repeating the three premises of the Curitiba plan: use of the ground, collective transport and circulation. And in the United States, you might as well build rail, because that is what developers write checks for and building a busway to Curitiba standards costs the same as rail.

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