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A FLOW OF INTERCONNECTED, EVOLVING SOLUTIONS

All of Curitiba's mayors subsequently have followed Lerner's policies, leading to a flow of interconnected, interactive, evolving solutions, mostly devised and implemented by partnerships amongst private firms, non-governmental institutions, municipal agencies, utilities, community groups, neighbourhood associations and individual citizens. Curitiba's best-known innovations are in "growing along the trail of memory and of transport". As Lerner puts it "memory is the identity of the city, and transport is the future".

Lerner relied on urbanists and architects, all of whom approached transportation and land use, hydrology and poverty, flows of nutrients and of wastes, health and education, jobs and income, culture and politics, as intertwined parts of a single integrated design problem. Curitiba's system for using buses, for example, was switched from manual routing and scheduling to homegrown software, later commercialized. The bus system, moreover, is entirely self-financing.

Each lane of express buses carries 20,000 passengers per hour, as much as a subway, but costs 100 times less. Although the city has the highest rate of automobile ownership in Brazil, it now has no traffic problem thanks to a benign neglect of cars. Curitiba now enjoys the country's cleanest urban air. Designing land-use, moreover, in conjunction with transport policies, has reduced congestion and smog, saved energy, revitalized neighbourhoods and solidified civic spirit.

Undergoing consistent evolution since 1974, the Transportation Network has incorporated express buses, feeder buses, "Ligeirinhos" (rapid buses), articulated buses, inter-hospital lines, a tourist line, boarding terminals, tube stations. Becoming today's Integrated Transportation Network, it now stretches out beyond the city's territorial limits to include the Curitiba Metropolitan Area.

However, from 2007 to 2012 the attractiveness of a well-developed city with a good quality of life brought thousands and thousands of people from all over the country, bringing new problems to the mayors. The transportation system is facing a new challenge and the traffic flow has thereby increased one again. Yet Curitiba continues to be one of the most healthy capital cities to live in, in Brazil, as a model and ever-innovative centre. Problems have become part of solutions, and crises have resulted in creativity.

ACKNOWLEDGING NATURE'S INTRINSIC GIFT

The problem of flooding had become acute when Lerner first took office in the 1970s. His designers decided to switch from fighting flooding to exploiting the water as a gift of the habitat. They used small ditches and dams to form new lakes, each the core of a new park. Unused streamside buildings were turned into sports and leisure facilities.

Community groups sprang up to protect the parks, using them for environmental education and integrate this into school programmes. Sixteen parks, cherished as public assets, formed the first line of defence for this vital water resource.

All of this provided permanent protection for vegetation, moreover, in the low-density one-third of the city, and tax relief for woods and gardens. Over 1,100 private woodlands are now registered, and the tax-relieved private green space exceeds four square miles. All these features allowed rainwater to soak in where it falls, which has massively greened the city. Curitiba also planted hundreds of thousands of trees everywhere: "We provide the shade, you provide the water". The trees are the city's lungs, cleaning the air and blocking the noise. The city protects nearly seven square miles of parks, nine forests, a Botanical Garden, five Environmental Gardens, two Environmentally Protected Areas. Curitiba's C'-ROM catalogues the 242 species of known birds. Today there are more than 26 parks and woods, which in addition to squares, gardens and pocket gardens provide 36 square meters of green public area per inhabitant.

RESOURCE PRODUCTIVITY: A BALANCED ECONOMIC APPROACH

Curitiba's economy was traditionally that of an agricultural market and food processor. Mayor Lerner realized early on that to serve and employ its burgeoning population, the city would need to balance its commercial and service businesses with new and light medium-sized companies. Before land speculators could move in, the city therefore bought, in 1975, 16 square miles of land for its Industrial City. To ensure affordable housing near the jobs, it pre-installed low income dwellings, schools, cultural facilities, streets, bus links and protected open space. Curitiba is in that sense an industrial "real city", with a proper infrastructure, where housing, leisure, social equipment and transportation are fully integrated within and around it, connected by transportation axes. International firms are well represented, partly because of the high quality of life. The city has recruited 500 non-polluting industries. Whereas in 1980 its per capita income was only 10 per cent above the Brazilian average, by 1996 it had surged to 65 per cent above the norm.

The city's evolution, moreover, has required new inventions throughout the years. Petty services and the recovery of ancient trades were combined with housing facilities at the "Vilas de Oficio" (Trade Villages) in 1994. Training and professional opportunities for young people and adults were provided at Trade Lines and Schools. City monitoring showed an increase in the number of unemployed and underemployed people in 1997. The answer came in the form of the "Linhao de Emprego" (Jobs Route) and the Metropolitan Emporium (4).

PROFESSIONAL PROBLEM SOLVING: EVERYTHING IS RECYCLED

In Curitiba, moreover, everything is recycled. A gunpowder magazine became a theatre. A mansion was converted into a planning headquarters, an army headquarters into a cultural foundation, a foundry into a popular shopping mall, and the oldest house into a publications centre. The old railway station became a railway museum, and a glue plant a Creativity Centre where children make handicrafts. A quarry became a famous amphitheatre, a garbage dump was converted into a Botanical Garden that is home to 220,000 species, and another derelict quarry was transformed into the Free University of the Environment.

These innovations owe much to the city's municipal departments. They're often led by women and heavily populated by architects, as professional problem solvers, rather than by more traditionally oriented bureaucrats. Because health, moreover, depends critically on sanitation and nutrition, Curitiba found a creative way to fund both by turning garbage into value. Two thirds of the separately bagged recyclables are recovered and sold. Sorting stations, built from second-hand parts, hire the homeless, the disabled and recovering alcoholics.

CONCLUSION: BIO/MIMICRY – DESIGN WORKING WITH NATURE

Ultimately, teasing apart the strands of the intricate web of Curitiban innovation, according to American environmentalist Paul Hawken, reveals the basic principle of natural capitalism at work in a particularly inspiring way. Resources are used frugally. New technologies are adopted. Broken loops are closed. Toxicity is designed out, health in. Design works with nature, not against it. The scale of solutions matches the nature of the problems. A continuous flow of service and value rewards everyone involved in improving efficiency.

As education rejoins nature and culture to life and work, myriad forms of action, learning and attitude reinforce the healing of the natural world, and with it, the society and the politics. For Curitiba has discovered a way to build on a soul force, embodied in its urban community, to evolve its culture and spirituality, through building lighthouses of knowledge, as its natural and societal agenda, and to establish vibrant enterprises, specifically, and an urban economy, generally. Such, altogether, constitutes its "Western" integral polity.

We now turn, finally, from South and East, North and West, to our would-be centre, in the Middle East.

 
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