Classes from Sustainable Curitiba: Transit-oriented Metropolis Planning

Urban landscape of Curitiba-1

What would occur if we put architects in cost as an alternative of politicians?  

That is the query that the Brazilian metropolis of Curitiba requested itself within the Sixties and 70s. The reply would radically reshape the town and catapult Curitiba into the limelight because the “ecological capital of the world.” 

Branded as one of many world’s first and most influential inexperienced cities, Curitiba grew to become a mannequin of sustainability in a time when that phrase was simply starting to enter individuals’s vocabulary. The echo of its contributions to public transit, city planning, and environmental restoration might be heard in cities all around the world to at the present time.  

The rise and decline of Curitiba is a paradoxical story of concentric rings and radiating strains, accordion buses and verdant parkways, highly effective visionaries and harsh realities. 

Like all cities that survive into the long run, it’s a story of development.  

What makes Curitiba’s story distinctive is what it determined to do about that development. 

The historical past of Curitiba 

The capital of the state of Paraná in southern Brazil, Curitiba (pronounced “kur-uh-cheeba) is the nation’s seventh largest metropolis. The title comes from the phrases curiy (“pine”) and tiba (“abundance”) in guarani, the language spoken by the indigenous peoples of the area.  

Town was based in 1693 by Portuguese and Spanish colonists who got here to the realm in quest of gold. Settlers from all around the world started trickling in, however mass-urbanization would stay a distant glimmer on the horizon for a few years to return, with the primary census in 1872 placing the inhabitants at round 13,0000 souls.   

Issues started to vary, nevertheless, when a railroad constructed within the 1850s related Curitiba to São Paulo within the north and the Port of Paranaguá within the east, reworking this as soon as sleepy hamlet of cattle farmers into a well-liked regional buying and selling publish. The primary main rising pains got here in the midst of the twentieth Century, as Curitiba started transitioning away from agriculture in direction of an industrialized city economic system. Throughout the span of fifty years, the variety of residents ballooned from about 50,000 to 360,000 by the Sixties, placing the town on monitor for meteoric development within the a long time to observe (Macedo 2013).  

By the 2000s, the inhabitants would surpass 1 million. At present, Curitiba is residence to about 1.9 million individuals–3.8 million in the event you embody the 26 municipalities in its ever-expanding metropolitan space. 
As automobiles and other people continued to pile into its slender streets, Curitiba’s leaders started to marvel: How had been they going to maintain the town from collapsing below the load of its personal fast development? 

How Curitiba grew to become a sustainable metropolis: a story of two plans 

The reply got here within the type of two grasp plans, each of which performed a task in elevating this inconspicuous Brazilian metropolis as one of many earliest and most influential fashions of sustainable city planning. 

The Agache Plan 

Curitiba’s first grasp plan was authored in 1943 by French urbanist Donat-Alfred Agache, who had additionally deliberate Rio de Janeiro a bit greater than a decade earlier.  

The Agache Plan laid out a radial design to accommodate the expansion of the town in all instructions: Like ripples in a pond, Curitiba’s streets would movement outward from its heart in a sweeping sample of concentric rings, linking the town’s coronary heart to its periphery and opening up area for brand new housing and transportation corridors. 


The Agache Plan (Gazette de Povo)

The Agache Plan was by no means absolutely realized as the town didn’t have sufficient funds, however its design continued to information city improvement properly into the Sixties, resulting in the creation of separated residential and industrial zones, widened boulevards, and improved stormwater techniques. 

The Agache Plan envisioned a metropolis dominated by automobiles. It was in opposition to this imaginative and prescient that Curitaba’s second grasp plan was born. 

The Wilheim Plan 

The Agache Plan had been an excellent begin, however Curitiba was nonetheless bursting on the seams. As the town’s inhabitants grew, site visitors congestion, crime, and housing shortages climbed proper together with it. Feeling the strain, mayor Ivo Arzua Pereira had an concept: In 1964, he invited six firms to submit entries for a brand new grasp plan to handle the town’s mounting development downside. 

The successful submission was authored by architect Jorge Wilheim and a workforce of city planners from the Federal College of Paraná. This new plan wove inexperienced areas all through the town, protected historic websites, and picked up the place Agache left off: layering amidst the rings a set of axial roadways that fanned out from downtown like spokes on a bicycle, directing development outward alongside their linear paths.

Wilheim-planA  A sketch of the Wilheim Plan (Macedo 2013)

With this new grasp plan got here a marked departure in philosophy about land use and transportation. Agache’s imaginative and prescient had created segregated residential and industrial zones. Wilheim, then again, referred to as for the intermingling of properties and companies in high-density and mixed-use configurations. The Wilheim, or Curitiba Grasp Plan, additionally set the stage for the town’s crowning achievement: a radical shift away from automobiles and in direction of public transportation (Macedo 2013).

Designing Curitiba: Jaime Lerner and the IPPUC

The story of Curitiba’s daring city planning can’t be instructed with out acknowledging the affect of its most well-known mayor: Jaime Lerner.

Wilheim had drafted a successful grasp plan that held up mass-transit and land integration as options to Curitiba’s development disaster. It fell to Lerner, a fellow architect and concrete planner, to translate that imaginative and prescient right into a actuality.

First appointed in 1971 on the age of 33, Lerner served three phrases as Curitiba’s mayor (1971–1975; 1979–1984; and 1989–1992) and twice because the governor of Paraná earlier than his demise at 83 within the spring of 2021. By the tip of his life, he can be acknowledged as an city planner of legendary and worldwide renown


Jaime Lerner, the architect-mayor of Curitiba (Instituto Jaime Lerner)

Earlier than occupying the mayor’s workplace, he served because the director of the Institute of Analysis and City Planning of Curitiba ( its Portuguese acronym is IPPUC), a taskforce created to execute the town’s new grasp plan. With Lerner on the helm, this scrappy workforce of architects, city planners, and engineers, ushered in a bunch of revolutionary citywide reforms (Larbi 2022).

Their largest goal was the automotive.

Lerner despised automobiles, deriding them as soon as because the “cigarette[s] of the long run.” He noticed it as his mission to take again Curitiba’s streets for human beings, and the younger architect-mayor was prepared to do all the things in his energy to perform it.

In an notorious episode throughout his first time period as mayor in 1972, Lerner ordered a “lightning transformation” of six blocks of one of many metropolis’s busiest streets right into a pedestrian mall. Dismissing the protests of space store house owners involved that the transfer would damage their companies, he commanded metropolis employees to finish the retrofit over the weekend, earlier than anybody may file a courtroom injunction to cease it. 

When motorists threatened to drive via the model new plaza the next week, Lerner is alleged to have assembled a gathering of a whole lot of academics and youngsters to color the road of their path. The motorists turned away and to the shock of many, foot site visitors to space companies really elevated. The Rua das Flores pedestrian mall has been an icon of Curitiba ever since and has expanded from six blocks to fifteen (Macedo 2013).


The Rua das Flores in Curitiba, Brazil

“It was to say, ‘That is being accomplished for youngsters and their mother and father — don’t even consider placing automobiles there,’” Lerner stated in a 2007 interview with the New York Instances. 

“We had been making an attempt to say, ‘This metropolis shouldn’t be for automobiles.’”

Lerner would go on to supervise many different profitable “city acupunctures,” as he referred to as them, respiratory new life into key factors of the town with artistic panache. Searching for to lift consciousness concerning the setting, his administration additionally launched a forward-thinking recycling program; constructed a Free Environmental College; and wove a whole lot of sq. meters of inexperienced area, forests, lakes, and public parks into the material of the town.

These and different actions served to spice up the town’s profile as “the ecological capital of the world” (Macedo 2013). 

The reform that Lerner is most well-known for, nevertheless, is Curitiba’s modern public transit system: the Rede Integrada de Transporte.

Curitiba’s Bus Speedy Transit (BRT) system  

In most cities, public transit is an afterthought that follows already ingrained avenue patterns. In Curitiba, it’s the opposite means round. The bodily format of the town because it exists in the present day grew from the routes of its ground-breaking bus fast transit system. 

A bus fast transit system (BRT) is a type of public transportation that options quick, environment friendly, snug, and low-cost buses, usually saved in devoted lanes. Launched within the Nineteen Seventies, the Rede Integrada de Transporte in Curitiba was the very first one ever constructed (Lindau 2010). 


A map of the Rede de Integrada de Transporte’s routes (Wikimedia Commons)

The IPPUC had initially thought of a subway system, nevertheless it ended up being too costly. In accordance with one estimate, a subway would value roughly $60 to $70 million per kilometer of monitor to construct. A bus system, then again, would value a lot much less at about $200,000 per kilometer (Rabinovich 1996). Buses, Lerner insisted, had been the best way to go.

The Rede Integrada de Transporte was the Wilheim Plan come to life: The structural axes of the up to date avenue format divided the town into 5 transit corridors, with public buses because the dominant type of site visitors. In a serious departure from most metropolis streets, every axis was constructed as a trinary street system, with two devoted bus lanes operating down the middle and better velocity lanes alongside the sides for automobiles and different autos. The routes sculpted the town’s skyline, with combined use high-density blocks hugging the axial arteries, whereas decrease density blocks clustered alongside the fringes. 

This distinctive configuration positioned Curitiba as one of many forerunners of transit-oriented improvement, a New Urbanist strategy to sustainable metropolis planning that emphasizes compact, mixed-use city environments constructed round strong public transit techniques (Lindau 2010).


An illustration of how Curitiba’s trinary street system directs the movement of bus site visitors and shapes the format of the town. (Pierer 2019) 

The trinary street system was ingenious for an additional motive: separating the various kinds of site visitors diminished congestion and made for sooner, extra dependable buses. Excessive effectivity mixed with a low fare made the Rede Integrada de Transporte more and more enticing to metropolis residents. Why drive to work when you possibly can skip the site visitors jams and get a sooner, cheaper journey on the bus? 

The technique paid off. About 54,000 passengers took the bus every single day upon the system’s launch within the Nineteen Seventies. By 2007, the Rede Integrada de Transporte’s fleet had grown to about 2,200, and was totalling greater than 2 million passenger journeys per day (Lindau 2010). At its peak, based on the Guardian, roughly 85 % of Curitiba’s inhabitants rode the town’s buses as their unique type of long-range transportation.

Lerner and his workforce on the IPPUC had been successful the battle towards the automotive.


Collectively, they continued to finetune the Rede Integrada de Transporte all through the Eighties and ‘90s. Futuristic tube stations offered shelter and a faster, extra environment friendly technique for passengers to board and exit buses. Progressive waste administration packages incentivized residents to recycle in alternate for contemporary produce and free bus tickets. Different enhancements included the introduction of bi-articulated accordion-style  buses that might match 250 passengers as an alternative of the usual 120 and ran on biodiesel gasoline, which emitted 70 % much less carbon dioxide than conventional buses (Lindau). 

Lerner’s prioritization of the setting, public-transit, high-density, and mixed-use improvement revolutionized the town seemingly in a single day. Lastly, after a long time of planning, Curitiba had succeeded at channeling its development and secured its future as a mannequin of daring, low-cost, and sustainable city planning.

Criticism of Curitiba 

Regardless of its storied ascent, Curitiba’s standing as a inexperienced metropolis has grown considerably tarnished lately.

At present, Curitiba’s carbon footprint is double that of its bigger neighbor, São Paulo, and ridership on the Rede Integrada de Transporte has declined by practically 14 million passengers (Larbi 2022). Mockingly, it additionally now has extra automobiles per resident than some other metropolis in Brazil (Lindau 2010).

 The rationale why is identical because it ever was: development. Wilheim primarily based his imaginative and prescient on a metropolis of 500,000. At present, the inhabitants has swelled to just about 2 million, with an extra 3 million or so within the outlying metropolitan area. As one critic has identified, the Rede Integrada de Transporte terminates on the metropolis limits, leaving scant transportation choices for employees who reside farther from the center of Curitiba. Curitiba’s grasp plan might have accomplished an excellent job of managing development inside its city core, nevertheless it fully failed to handle suburban sprawl in its ever-expanding periphery. 

Town’s a lot lauded reforms additionally got here at a value that always goes unmentioned: Mass city restructuring led to the demolition of favelas and the pressured relocation of whole neighborhoods (Larbi), contributing to the town’s present scarcity of reasonably priced housing (Duarte 2012). For these and different causes, some detractors have questioned if Curitiba was ever really a sustainable metropolis to start with, chalking up its status to intelligent “greenwashed” branding by Lerner and others (Macedo 2013).

Lastly, it’s inconceivable to disregard the political realities that formed Curitiba’s radical transformation. Within the Nineteen Seventies, Brazil was below the repressive regime of a navy dictatorship that tortured and executed political dissidents. It was this dictatorship that appointed Lerner as mayor in 1971 (Macedo 2013).

Granted, Lerner’s administration finally proved a well-liked one, sufficient in order that he went on to be democratically elected in his third and last time period as mayor following the dissolution of the navy authorities. Nonetheless, Lerner and his collaborators on the IPPUC maintained nearly full management of Curitiba’s political and concrete future for the higher a part of 50 years, shutting out participation from anybody who didn’t agree with their imaginative and prescient. And as evidenced by his clandestine conversion of the Rua das Flores, Lerner was vulnerable to undemocratic strategies of his personal, usually taking decisive motion with out ready for anybody else’s approval.

Takeaways: Leaving Curitiba

Curitiba’s inexperienced picture is extra shot via with grey than what first meets the attention. 

And but the facility of its instance can’t be denied.


Curitiba set the bar for what it means to be a inexperienced metropolis a long time earlier than the idea of sustainability was absolutely understood and embraced within the mainstream. It pioneered an modern strategy to public transit that minimize carbon emissions, thinned site visitors, channeled development, and offered reasonably priced rides to hundreds of thousands of metropolis residents. The runaway success of the Rede Integrada de Transporte has impressed an estimated 160 cities world wide to create bus fast transit techniques of their very own; together with the TransMilenio BRT in Bogotá, Columbia, which has drawn the envious gaze of many cities within the US. 

Whereas not past reproach, Curitiba’s leaders boldly pursued an imaginative and holistic imaginative and prescient that privileged individuals over automobiles and the setting over unchecked improvement. Ever the optimist, Lerner believed within the energy of cities to unravel society’s issues, if solely we’d design them with thought and care. Earlier than he took the reins, Curitiba had one public park. At present it has dozens and boasts greater than 64 sq. meters of inexperienced area per resident, all of which serves to make the town extra livable, walkable, and resilient within the face of flooding and the opposite caprices of local weather change (Gustafsson 2016).

Curitiba isn’t the sustainable metropolis it as soon as was, nevertheless it continues to evolve. The municipal authorities has invested $247 million to open up new transit corridors for the Rede Integrada de Transporte, which has built-in electrical buses into its fleet. Management has additionally begun to discover the creation of a light-rail subway to complement its workhorse BRT system.   

Ultimately, no metropolis is ideal. Even one run by architects. 

Nonetheless, the town of considerable pines nonetheless has many classes to show for many who can hear its music.


  • Duarte, F., & Ultramari, C. (2012). Making public transport and housing match: accomplishments and failures of Curitiba’s BRT. Journal of City Planning and Growth, 138(2).
  • Gustafsson , H.-R., & Kelly, E. A. (2016). Ch.5 Creating the Sustainable Metropolis: Curitiba, Brazil, as a Case Research. In HOW CITIES WILL SAVE THE WORLD: city innovation within the face of inhabitants flows, local weather change … and financial inequality (pp. 81–94). essay, ROUTLEDGE.
  • Larbi, M., Kellett, J., & Palazzo, E. (2022, June). City sustainability transitions within the World South: A case research of Curitiba and Accra. In City Discussion board (Vol. 33, No. 2, pp. 223-244). Springer Netherlands.
  • Lindau, L. A., Hidalgo, D., & Facchini, D. (2010). Curitiba, the cradle of bus fast transit. Constructed Atmosphere, 36(3), 274-282.
  • Macedo, J. (2013). Planning a sustainable metropolis: The making of Curitiba, Brazil. Journal of Planning Historical past, 12(4), 334-353.
  • Pierer, C., & Creutzig, F. (2019). Star-shaped cities alleviate trade-off between local weather change mitigation and adaptation. Environmental Analysis Letters, 14(8), 085011.
  • Rabinovich, J., & Leitmann, J. (2019). “City Planning in Curitiba” from Scientific American (1996). In Sustainable City Growth Reader (pp. 429-439). Routledge.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button