by Hans Pul
In this post I will argue that good urban planning can be of great value for places and their branding efforts. Cities with good urban planning get noticed. This is important, especially for relatively unknown non-capital cities in Latin America, Africa or Asia. Such cities often have millions of inhabitants and have much to offer to people and investors, but are barely known outside their region. One such a city is Curitiba, located in the south of Brazil.
In this blog entry I will talk about Curitiba and how its public transport system, (forest-) parks, and urban planning have established the city as “Latin America’s Green City”.
Like many other Latin American cities, Curitiba experienced a spectacular population growth in the last decades, growing from 361,000 inhabitants in 1960 to 1,797,000 in 2007, which is a plus of 400% within 50 years. Due to clever urban planning, the city has remained many green areas within the city despite this massive growth. Urban planning focused on the radial linear expansion from the city centre, which leaves place for urban green in between. Also, this type of urban planning results in urban density along central axes, which suits very well with public transport.
The integrated transportation system of Curitiba (Rede Integrada de Transporte) takes the form of a bus rapid transit (BRT). This metro-like bus system consists of an extensive network of dedicated bus lanes, which are physically separated from other modes of transportation (see picture). Although such a network of dedicated bus lanes requires extensive infrastructural measures, it is still a lot cheaper than the construction of a tram network or even a subway system. This makes the model very suitable for cities in emerging countries. The network pioneered as early as 1974 and has been expanded ever since. The city has become a role model city in terms of mass transit, especially among city planners in Latin America. Its reputation as an innovative city of mass transit is similar to the way Copenhagen is known as an innovative cycling city. As an indication of how prominently the city is linked to it sustainability policy: when one searches for “Curitiba” at Google, 4 out of 10 suggested search terms are related to it (Curitiba bus system, Curitiba Brazil sustainability, Curitiba sustainable city, and Curitiba BRT).
In an interesting recent study of the World Bank called Eco2 Cities: Ecological Cities as Economic Cities, Curitiba is mentioned as a city in the developing world that most successfully combines economic growth with ecological sustainability. A short introduction into Eco2 cities from other continents (including Stockholm and Singapore) can be found in this article.
In line with these findings, the Latin American Green City Index, also appreciates Curitiba’s sustainability policy. The report assesses the environmental performance of Latin America’s major cities. It takes into account aspects of energy and CO2, land use and buildings, transport, waste, water, sanitation, and air quality. To assess these aspects, 31 indicators (both quantitative and qualitative) are used. As can be seen from the above table, Curitiba is the only city that scores well above average, in comparison with other Latin American cities. Curitiba scores especially well in the categories waste and air quality. The goal of the study is to stimulate the exchange of knowledge through best practices. In that sense, the report is similar to the Swiss Energiestadt label, as I put forward in a recent post. Comparative “Green City” studies from other continents are also available.
The success and sustainability of the Curitiba urban planning model also gets noticed in major world media. CNN, for example, featured an interesting short documentary about the city in its Future Cities series. Several aspects of sustainable urban planning efforts of the last decades are mentioned in the video, including the innovative tax break system in return for sustainable measures on private properties. Obviously, the “Curitiba: The Green City” caption on CNN’s website is a major boost for the reputation of the city. The fact that a big media concern exposes the sustainability aspect of the city (which is the result of decades of urban planning efforts) to a worldwide public is probably way more powerful than a city marketing campaign alone would be. In addition, the video may bring about that people know the city in the first place. After all, being known is a requirement for being liked, and for being visited.