By Christine Wipfli, Contributing Reporter
CURITIBA – As the only Brazilian to make this year’s list of the top 25 most influential thinkers in TIME Magazine, Jaime Lerner is a renowned architect and urban planner whose theories and ideas have been implemented all around the world. Indeed it was his policies that helped turn the Brazilian city of Curitiba into one of the world’s greenest.
Lerner was born and raised in Curitiba, and as the city’s three-time former Mayor his passion and dedication to social reformation has made a significant impact on millions, and set a great and important precedent for other cities to follow.
Lerner was appointed mayor of Curitiba, the capital city of Paraná, in 1971–75, 1979–84 and 1989–92, but already in his first term he was keenly implementing social, ecological, and urban reforms.
Facing a number of obstacles from the outset including the city’s geographical challenge of being surrounded by floodplains, Lerner converted much of this useless terrain into parks which gave the city a top ranking in per-capita park area in the world. When Lerner ran into the dilemma of not having sufficient money to afford the tractors and petroleum to mow these parks, he came up with the innovative idea of “municipal sheep”, who keep the parks’ vegetation under control and whose wool funds children’s programs.
Another obstacle was the city’s waste problem; Curitiba had several neighborhoods impossible to service by municipal waste removal due to narrow roads. Rather than forsake these people, Lerner created a program that traded bags of groceries and transit passes for bags of trash, cleaning up these areas substantially.
When he wanted cleaner waterways he began another program that paid fishermen by the pound for any garbage they retrieved. This satisfied the fishermen because when it wasn’t fishing season they were still able to supplement their income, and the city saved millions in costs with these two “win-win” initiatives in place.
However, his focus was not solely on the development of the architecture and environment of the city, he was equally concerned with the well-being of the citizens. Lerner implemented several innovative social and educational programs. Children who were not going to school had the opportunity to apprentice as city employees, and although his theories and practices were not without their controversies, Curitiba has no problems with gangs, such as more populous cities like Rio de Janeiro.
One of Lerner’s most significant contributions to the city was creating an extremely quick and efficient transportation system. When given the option of starting a costly mass subway development, Lerner opted to create the “Speedybus” line, using Swedish-made, articulated buses (fitting close to 300 people).
The city then built transit stops, more closely resembling train stations, which are completely equipped to handle large numbers of passenger traffic including handicap accessibility. The system is run and operated by private firms, yet the city still controls the routes and fares. His integrated bus system transports 2.4 million Curitibans every day.
The ideas and theories of Jaime Lerner should make Brazil proud and should inspire all of us to think about how we can improve the quality of life in our big cities for us and for future generations.