Curitiba – Brazil


Curitiba, Brazil

Greenest City in the World?

Jamie Lerner stands as something of a hero among his fellow Curitibanos.  The chief architect of the Curitiba Master Plan, he was appointed mayor during Brazil’s military dictatorship in 1971. When the nation returned to democracy, he was elected to another term. During his 12 years in office, Lerner devised many of Curitiba’s innovative, inexpensive solutions to city problems. For instance, in the early days of the public transit system, to increase its funding and encourage ridership, he made a special city lottery, valuing bus fare as lottery tickets. To combat Curitiba’s growing litter problem, he created more incentives for recycling, including exchanging bottles, cans and other recyclables for food. Lerner believed in implementing plans swiftly — in just 72 hours, he converted the city’s downtown into Brazil’s first pedestrian mall.

Curitiba does not lie at the seaside but a true ‘green sea’ is at the population’s disposal: altogether, there are 30 municipal parks and woods as well as dozens of squares, playgrounds, gardens and areas decorated with ornamental shrubbery.

Back in the early 70s, a strategic decision was made regarding the empty urban spaces: instead of dividing these areas up into land developments, the City Hall decided to use such areas as an environmental “market reserve”. From 1972 on, parks and woods have been set up on these empty stretches of land. This strategic move aimed at better environmental conservation, sanitation and recreational purposes, and the prevention of floods. At that time there was only one park in the entire city, the old Passeio Público located downtown, built in 1886.

In 1989 Curitiba introduced, on a wide-scale basis, before any other town in the country, the separation of domestic waste into different types of garbage through the ‘Lixo que não é Lixo’ program. Later on, new variations of the program were created such as the Câmbio Verde (Green Exchange program) – through which recyclable garbage could be exchanged for fresh produce that was in season – and the Compra do Lixo program (through which recyclable garbage is bought) in more remote locations.


A French planner, Alfred Agache, developed the first plan to direct urban growth in Curitiba in 1943. The government did not implement the plan.  Its main legacy was to introduce the concept of urban planning to Curitiba’s citizens and government.  This awareness edged closer to action in 1964 when the city administration commissioned a Preliminary Urban Plan.  To encourage an influx of new ideas, the city held a competition for the best plan among local and national professionals.  The result was the Curitiba Master Plan.  In 1965, the city created the Curitiba Research and Urban Planning Institute to implement the plan and to continue the planning process.

From 1965 to 1970, the city administration gave the master plan a low priority.  It did, however, provide the Institute with resources to detail procedures for implementing the plan.  In 1971, a new administration began to put the plan into practice (Curitiba Research and Urban Planning Institute 1965).

Political will and political skill were important factors in initiating the practical steps to implement the plan.  Officials had to adapt each of the plan’s elements and sometimes set them aside as the two-dimensional planning concepts met a three-dimensional reality.  This interaction between concept and reality led to a practical, repetitive planning process.

Today, Curitiba’s practical planning process is firmly established.  When ideas are proposed, they are tested conceptually and then in application.  These tests generate feedback that leads to further improvements and applications. The ongoing process allows Curitiba to fashion solutions that fit real problems.  Rather than being stymied by feedback, it refreshes and redirects the process along a progressive path. After two decades of successes, the Urban Planning Institute is now well established as the local incubator for an urban planning tradition that emphasizes interplay between planning, analysis, participatory planning and implementation.

Planning Principles

The implementation of the Curitiba Master Plan addressed transportation, land use controls, and a hierarchical structure of the road network.  Planners viewed them as complementary tools for guiding city growth.  The plan combines these tools to direct growth out of the central city and into arterial growth corridors.  Arterial and feeder roadways as well as land use  controls on settlement densities defined these corridors.

The purpose of the five structural growth corridors was to redirect growth out of the central city and into the corridors. This displacement of growth more evenly distributes settlement densities in the city center and in the growth corridors.  This avoids a sharp peak in central city densities and the concomitant traffic congestion and noise.  The more even density distribution

reduces congestion enough to facilitate uncongested travel while maintaining passenger numbers at high enough levels to allow public transportation to be financially self-sustaining.

Convenient transportation and more balanced densities also:

  • encourage economic development by reducing the costs of  mobility, trade, and exchange within the city;
  • reduce the indirect costs of other infrastructure improvements such as water, sewage, electricity, and communication; and
  • assist in preserving historic buildings and areas within the city center.


The gradual development of Curitiba’s integrated transportation system is the most visible result of the city’s planning processes.  While this paper focuses on transportation, it is important to remember that planners in Curitiba do not isolate transportation as an entity apart from other aspects of urban life.  They do not view streets only as paved surfaces but as elements in a larger network and hierarchy of roads.  A building is not an isolated box but a traffic/public transport-generating element in a larger pattern of settlement.

Curitiba analyzes travel as a movement and exchange between activities.  Traditional city planning approaches tend to be static and oriented toward physical features.  Traditional transportation planning tends to be excessively data-demanding, equation-based, and technocratic.  Curitiba’s planning focuses more on the relationship between space and movement.  It emphasizes the dynamic features of urban activities.  It considers how much should be invested where.

The city uses transportation to heighten the socio-economic payoff from its planning activities.  One example is the city’s role in low income housing.  Rather than build isolated, large scale, and uniform housing projects, the city took advantage of effective transportation.  Curitiba acquired land near some of the planned structural corridors before developing them.  As the transportation routes were put into place, the city subsidized low income housing close to these transportation routes and close to the Curitiba Industrial City.  It also located other small scale, low income, housing developments throughout the city. These are near the transportation corridors and thus are ‘near’ in time and cost to employment and other activities.  These small scale developments blend into the surrounding residential areas.

They integrate rather than isolate low income households into the economy and culture of the larger city.  As a result of this strategy, the city has built housing for 17,000 families.

The road hierarchy system is another element of Curitiba’s planning system.  Each road has a function in relation to its location and importance.  Curitiba uses four basic categories to define roads by location and function.  There are arterial structural roads that are at the core of five growth corridors. Priority linkages run between and connect the city center to the  city’s outskirts.  Collector streets are common urban streets typically lined with commercial activity and allowing all forms of traffic.  Connector streets link the structural roads to the industrial city.

Land use controls target two basic parameters: the land use type and the density of development.  The four basic land use categories are residential, commercial, industrial, and services. Allowable densities vary in relation to available transportation. Along most structural routes, buildings can have a total floor area of up to six times the plot size.  On lower capacity roads  that are well served by public transportation, the city permits floor space up to four times plot size.  The permitted ratio of floor space to plot size decreases with the distance a land site is from public transportation.

The land use density controls encourage a shift of development activity from the central city to and around the structural axes. This locates high density residential and commercial in the same areas and matches density to the availability of public transport.  This eases traffic and human congestion in the central city.  Planners converted wide central avenues in the central city into open air pedestrian malls and walkways.  These malls and walkways reinforce the city center as a pleasant locale that preserves historic elements and where pedestrians have priority.

Evolution of the Transportation System – Curitiba


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