A Convenient Truth - Urban Solutions from Curitiba Brazil transcript

Curitiba is a city of nearly two million inhabitants in southern Brazil. It is the capital of the state of Parana and is located inland 900 meters above sea level. It's cost effective innovations changed the way cities worldwide deal with urban growth problems. Since the early 1970s Curitiba's architects and engineers worked hard to develop Curitiba as a world class model in the areas of transportation, recycling, parks, and affordable housing. Any state in the world could adapt ideas from Curitiba and transform their living environment in a better place.                  The major changes Curitiba began in 1971 when Jaime Lerner was appointed mayor of Curitiba. He formed a team of architects and engineers who not only finalized Curitiba's master plan, but took it from paper to reality. Their first goal was to define that cities should be developed for people not cars. They created the first pedestrian only street in Brazil by closing Curitiba's busiest street to cars.                                                            In most big cities in the world city planners and politicians deal with the traffic problem by creating more space for the automobile through widening streets or constructing expensive overpasses and elevated freeways.                Their next step was to reorganize city growth by preventing more buildings from being constructed in the crowded downtown. They created a system where new buildings could only be constructed in places where the city could provide mass public transportation. They created five routes radiating from the center. This allowed the city to grow away from the confined downtown. This linear design increases traffic flow by putting major services such as jobs and schools where buses can now replace cars as the main form of transportation.                           These five major axes of public transportation are characterized by the effective trinary road design. Cities can use a system of three different parallel streets to ease traffic flow for both cars and buses. The center street is broken up in three different sections. The center section consists of two way lanes exclusive for the large bi-articulator buses with bus stops situated every 500 meters. Citizens go from one location to the next quickly regardless of traffic conditions.     These lanes are also used for emergency vehicles, such as police cars and ambulances, separating them from regular traffic. On either side of the exclusive lanes are the sections designated for drivers who need access to local businesses or buildings. Parallel on either side are the two roads that compliment the trinary road system. They are called rapidas. These are three to six lane, one way avenues that allow cars to travel through the city in a very short amount of time.                The trinary road system covers over 70 kilometers inside Curitiba. Bus riders can find work close to bus stops, and drivers have an organized system to either travel locally along the center street or all the way across the city through the rapidas.                The tube station design handles passengers very efficiently. Riders can enter and exit the vehicle without worrying about steps. Plus, passengers pay the fare at the tube station before boarding, eliminating the fare collection inside of the bus. These tube stations are also wheelchair accessible with elevators at one end allowing handicapped passengers to quickly load and unload the buses.     Curitiba has many different types of bus routes, each color coded based on their function inside of the city. The red vehicles are either articulated or bi-articulated and they travel along the exclusive bus lanes on the trinary road system that connects the most populated areas of Curitiba with downtown. These buses stop along the tube stations where bus riders prepay their tickets and embark on the same level of the bus. Each bi-articulated bus can carry up to 270 passengers, and they come by on average every 50 seconds during peak hours.     The grey buses are formerly known as the direct line. These buses travel, on average, two to three kilometers between every stop. The grey buses also stop at tube stations and travel on the fast lane of most streets, all contributing to making the direct line the fastest bus route in Curitiba. And that's why it's called speedy. The orange buses connect towns the terminals of integration. These terminals are closed areas where citizens can switch buses without paying another fare. For example, a citizen can leave their town in an orange bus that goes towards the bus terminal. There, he or she could get another bus for free that would go to their intended destination, whether it's in a red, bi-articulated bus or in the grey speedy.     Integrating bus fares makes bus rides cheaper and people can avoid the crowded downtown area by going from terminal to terminal instead of using downtown as a connecting point like in cities in the world.                Over 60% of Curitibanos take the bus to work, including lawyers, doctors, and professors. And it's not due to the lack of cars. Curitiba has the second highest car ownership ratio in Brazil, which is one car for every three inhabitants.                                      The public transportation system in Curitiba works because of a partnership between the city government and private companies. URBS is the city's branch for administering public transportation. They outsource the operation to private companies that are each in charge of a different part of the city. All the money collected each day goes to URBS which then pays the private companies based on how many kilometers their buses travel during that day. This allows for a self sufficient system that ends up costing the government nothing while still being quite profitable for the private companies.                           The idea of recycling in Curitiba originated from the problems associated with the city's rapid growth. The rise in population from 150,000 inhabitants in the 1940s to over one million at the end of the 1980s contributed to the emergence of favelas, which are the accumulations of poor homes called [? bahacos ?], usually made out of cardboard, plywood, brick, and sometimes even cloth and plastic tarp.     They are often built close together on undeveloped land along river banks and hills, making standard garbage collection impossible, causing people to dispose of their waste into the river or deposit it in the open fields, damaging the environment and leading to diseases. To solve this social and environmental hazard civil engineer Nicolau Kluppel suggested to mayor Jamie Lerner that the city could send a truck to a determined accessible location near the favelas where the city would buy trash including organic waste from these people using bus tokens as payment.     In this way the city could manage this sanitation problem without adding extra cost to the city or private transportation companies as they are paid by the kilometer not by passenger. Lerner thought it was a great idea, and soon the positive effects of the trash buying campaign were noticeable.                Kluppel soon learned that these people were not selling the trash as they found it. They were taking out objects to sell separately to companies. Then Kluppel realized that if the entire population in Curitiba could separate recyclables from organic trash at home, they could increase the landfill lifetime by at least 20% to 30%. This idea was harshly criticized.                Kluppel had the brilliant idea of targeting the children's fresh minds and enthusiasm to engage the adults in the trash that is not trash campaign. The program was widely marketed through TV commercials in schools.                Three months after the start of the trash that is not trash campaign, 70% of Curitiban families were separating the garbage. This amazing success led to another problem Kluppel had to solve-- what to do with all the trash that is not trash they were collecting. Although the people separated organic waste from recyclables, Curitiba had to separate by type in order to sell the materials to the private recycling companies. The next step was to create a separation station.                Through donations and reuse of old machinery Kluppel built a conveyor belt and a small wood building on government owned land where the city maintained a recovery center for the homeless. Kluppel himself worked hands on in the construction of the station.                The station of separation and valorization of waste was opened on October 13, 1989 where the trash that is not trash was separated into groups, compressed, weighed, and sold to private companies to be recycled.     In 1990 Curitiba received the highest United Nation award for the environment for being the first city in the world to start a recycling system that motivated citizens to separate the trash at home as well as providing curbside collection for both trash and recyclables separately.     The partnership between the government and private companies made Curitiba's recycling program self sufficient. Sales of recyclable materials offset the entire cost of the station's operation and also funded many social programs for the workers and the underprivileged population. For example, a partnership between the station and a brick company allowed the station to exchange the wood found in the trash for bricks. The bricks are now donated to the underprivileged population to build their homes.     Today, half of the people working at this separation station are under special care, such as drug rehabilitation, while 40% are illiterate. These workers receive education through different projects so they can compete in the job market after they leave the station. The Ahoba project teaches computer science by using recycled computers.            The station also has a classroom where visitors learn about recycling and the trash that is not trash. Every object in the classroom has either been taken from the garbage or built from recyclable materials, including the television, the decorations around the walls, and even the benches. The visitors can also visit the recycled library and the Museum of trash where all the interesting things recovered from the garbage are found.     According to station manager Alfredo Carlos Holzmann, Curitiba discovered creative ways of reusing certain materials. Styrofoam is used as stuffing for couches and other objects. Plastic bags are transformed to replace wood as plastic railroad ties. Tubes from toothpaste are recycled into roofs used at the public library and other places.     People can also call a truck to pick up yard waste or large objects impossible to dispose of in the regular trash at no additional cost to the population. Charging disposal fees only harms the environment by discouraging individuals who cannot afford to pay for the disposal service.     The old tires collected in Curitiba are sold to a private company named BS Colway. There, the tires are either rebuilt or cut into small pieces and sold to a Brazilian refinery to make fuel gases and oils. Reusing old tires has reduced the amount of natural resources extracted from the environment as well as eliminating the most common breeding ground of the dengue fever mosquito, decreasing cases of this deadly disease by in 99.7% in the area.     Inspired by the social programs in Curitiba BS Colway expanded their benefits for their workers. Employees work only six hours a day but receive full time pay, allowing the company to have more employees working four shifts a day, increasing productivity by 37% compared to the industry's average as well as fighting the unemployment problem common in Brazil.                The company also gives bonuses that can add up to 50% of employees' salary if they do extra activities, such as working out or reading the newspaper, encouraging them to maintain good health and to keep up with current events. Curitiba's recycling system became an informal economy that benefits private companies, the people, and the city government. Some companies started buying separated trash directly from people, creating an informal worker called [? cajineiros ?], who are usually people without an education or an opportunity to compete in the job market.     These people have become an integral part of the recycling system in Curitiba. Today they gather over 80% of all recyclables collected in the city and have an average income of 600 [? reals ?] a month, which is about twice the Brazilian minimum wage.                The [? cajineiros ?] greatly help the government because they reduce the amount of garbage trucks the city needs to purchase and maintain.     Curitiba also made innovations in low income housing developments. Since 1965, project housing became common in Brazil through a program called [? coabi ?], which means Brazilian habitation company. Residents engaged in a long term program where they would pay a low fee every month until they paid for their house at which point they become full owners. The problem with these developments is that they are usually built on the outskirts of a city far from the rest of the population, jobs, and services.     They are also standardize houses without any diversification. Architect Rafael Dely became the president of Curitiba's [? coabi ?] in 1980 with the intention of breaking these standard designs.                Dely also created a project named [? autogestaun ?] where residents are allowed to remodel their house in whichever manner they thought best. This made them feel better about paying for the house every month as they're paying for something they personally designed and enjoy.                In 1996, when Cassio Taniguchi became mayor of Curitiba, he continued the work Dely started. As a solution he created three projects-- Linhao do Emprego, Linhao de Oficio, and Liceus de Oficio. These projects aim to make these removed areas independent from the heart of the city by providing all the necessary infrastructure to accommodate those people in every aspect.                                                            To further aid the population to start their own businesses the city constructed the Barracao Industrial. These are warehouses where citizens conduct their small business after they complete the training in the area that best taps their skills. They receive free training and assistance to open their own business.                                      Curitiba used to be one of the scene is in Brazil that suffered the most from floods. In the mid 20th century, the city faced rapid growth from the rural migrants who occupied these flood plains. Every year, floods would invade their houses, spread diseases, and destroy everything they owned. Often, cities in the world try to solve flood problems by building expensive levees and canals. Curitiba lacked the means to apply the same strategy to its many rivers. So civil engineer Nicolau Kluppel had the idea of transforming these areas into beautiful parks.     The San Lorenzo park is one of the oldest parks in Curitiba. After the catastrophic flood in 1970 caused by the failure of the San Lorenzo River dam Jaime Lerner's team transformed the problematic floodplain into a beautiful park. There, as well as in other parks in Curitiba, sheep are used to trim the grass, diminishing upkeep costs.                Barigui Park is one of Curitiba's biggest recreational areas. The lake replaced over 800 houses that were suffering from floods almost every year. Lerner's team achieved this goal by paying every household fair compensation to leave the problem area and buy a better house in a safer part of the city.     The government also called upon [? coabi ?] to help provide affordable housing. After relocating these people, the government built a system to control the amount of water that would continue downstream by excavating the river banks, thus creating a lake. During heavy rains further excavated areas surrounding the lake would fill up and contain the excess water. Once the rain stops the system would slowly release the excess water to also prevent floods further downstream.     The cost of building a park, including relocation money, proved to be five times cheaper than building a concrete canal and also provided many benefits for the citizens and the city.                           A canal or levee also has negative impacts on the environment. It changes the natural flow of the river by preventing the water from following its original curved path. This linear construction speeds up the flow of the water and results in even more floods further downstream.                A different strategy was used in Tingui Park. The river continues to flow down its original path, but if rain intensifies, then the excess water is diverted into surrounding excavation areas left over from potteries, protecting the nearby houses from floods. The region today known as Tangua Park was an abandoned quarry used by a private company as a landfill for barrels of industrial waste.     The government, preoccupied with the environment, gave an area in an industrial city to the land owners in exchange for the landfill. Then they cleaned the area, restored the old stone wall, diverted part of the Barigui River, and created a waterfall, a lake, a tunnel, a restaurant, and eventually a beautiful garden, replacing the environmental hazard with a pleasant recreational area.     There are over 30 parks inside Curitiba most of which were constructed to contain floods. As a result of this intelligent urban design Curitiba now has over 80 million square meters of green area. In the 1960s the green area ratio in Curitiba was half a square meter per inhabitant. At the end of the 1990s, this ratio had increased to 55 square meters per inhabitant, which is over three times greater than the number prescribed by the World Health Organization of 16 square meters per inhabitant.     So how could these innovations be used in other parts of the world. Kluppel tells us how the catastrophe in New Orleans due to the 2005 hurricanes could have been diminished.                In other words, instead of allowing the less fortunate people to occupy the low, problematic regions, cities could transform those areas into beautiful parks, and then give incentives for the population so they can afford houses in safer areas, providing a benefit for everyone.