“Has South America’s Most Sustainable City Lost Its Edge?
Flavia Halais. June 6, 2012
The southern Brazil metropolis of Curitiba built its reputation as an urban planning model thanks, in large part, to its innovative transportation system. But in recent years, the system has become overcrowded and expensive, pushing people into their cars.
Curitiba is now the Brazilian state capital with the highest ratio of automobiles per inhabitant, and its bike paths remain largely underused. In early June, news reports revealed that usage of its famous Bus Rapid Transit system has decreased by 14 million rides in the past four years, or 4.3 percent. This followed a series of road accidents involving speeding buses, and complaints about ever-increasing fare prices.
Car culture is growing in all of Brazil’s major cities, as the growing middle-class happily gives up inefficient public transportation. But the much-praised BRT, which inspired systems like Bogotá’s TransMilenio, wasn’t expecting to see its popularity decline. The blame, according to critics, lies with URBS, the city agency in charge of managing the system, which has failed to adapt to changes in usage patterns and evolving demographics.
The misfortune of the BRT speaks to the larger failings of the city governance in Curitiba. Once praised for its impeccable urban planning and innovative interventions – the city pretty much invented the term “urban acupuncture” – Curitiba now seems to be suffering from a certain inertia.
“In the past 15 years Curitiba has rested on its laurels,” says Clara Irázabal, an assistant professor of urban planning at Columbia University, who has written at length about the Brazilian metropolis.
The city has failed to integrate its growing suburbs into a coherent regional plan. As a result, most of the planning interventions that Curitiba is known for – public parks and green spaces, pedestrian streets, preservation of the historic district – are not accessible to hundreds of thousands of suburban (and usually lower-income) residents.
Curitiba’s planning method also concentrates on the “formal” city, leaving thousands of low-income residents with no choice but to establish illegal settlements due to lack of affordable housing, says José Ricardo Vargas de Faria, an engineer working at Ambiens, a Curitiba-based urban planning studio operating as a cooperative. “The discourse about Curitiba deliberately leaves out certain things, and contributes to build an image of a city that solved all its problems through planning,” he says.”
Via: The Atlantic Cities
Photo: Matthieu Struck/Flickr