REPORTER: Olivia Rousset
You wouldn't know it at first glance, but a city in the south of Brazil has been a world leader for the past three decades. Curitiba has a population of around 3 million people. In a recent survey 99% of Curitibans said they were happy with their city.

ADRIANI (Translation): The city offers a very good quality of life. It's a peaceful place to live. ItÂ’s what I like best here in Curitiba.

OLD WOMAN (Translation): I think everything here is good. I love it. I really do.

GIRL (Translation): As far as living goes, once a Curitiban, always a Curitiban.

BOY (Translation): I wouldn't leave.

Curitiba is a city in a developing country which has created a better environment and quality of life than in much of the First World. And it all started with one man and a simple idea - prioritising people over cars. Jaime Lerner was an inspired student of architecture and town planning when he became mayor in the early '70s. When he took office he was confronted with a plan to demolish old buildings and widen the main city street to cope with increased traffic.

JAIME LERNER, URBAN PLANNER: I used to say that the cars are like our mother-in-law. We have to have good relationship with our mothers-in-law, but we cannot live they will conduct our lives.

In what was then an unpopular move, Lerner did the opposite of what had been suggested, paving the street and closing it to traffic, creating Brazil's first pedestrian mall. Rua das Flores - or Street of Flowers - has since spread to span 15 city blocks.

JAIME LERNER: A city is like a family portrait - you'll never destroy a family portrait. Even if you don't like the nose of one uncle or an aunt's belly, you don't destroy this family portrait, because this portrait is you.

Since 1971, Jaime Lerner has been city mayor and governor of the state for a total of 22 years, and is now a legend here.

MAN (Translation): I've been following you ever since your first term in office.

JAIME LERNER (Translation): Thank you very much.

CLOWN: Are you standing as a candidate?

JAIME LERNER (Translation): No. I'm out of politics.

Lerner retired from office in 2002. He's a big man with big ideas and used this city to realise his dreams, proving himself more philosopher than politician.

JAIME LERNER: I would say there are three main issues that are becoming important for the future of society - one is mobility, the second is sustainability and the third is identity. If every city could take care of these three main issues, we could have more hope in humankind.

By the 1970s the population of Curitiba had grown nearly tenfold in 50 years and was clogged with cars. Lerner knew the solution was in public transport, but how to make it work in a cash-poor city?

JAIME LERNER: If I could tell what is the secret of Curitiba, one, it's a kind of commitment with simplicity. We didn't have fear of simplicity, because a city is not so complex that the complexity sellers want us to understand.

So Lerner created main arterial traffic paths, each with three roads - one leading into the city, one out and a central road with two-way traffic, dedicated bus-only lanes to speed passengers in and out of the centre.

JAIME LERNER: We started with 25,000 passengers a day and now we are transporting more than 2 million passengers. And it's one of the few systems in the world which is not subsidised. It pays by itself.

Lerner introduced triple articulated buses to carry more passengers.

JAIME LERNER: We can transport in this simple system more passengers than in a subway. The cost - 100 times or 200 times less expensive than a subway. And we can do it, we can implement a system, in less than two years.

MAN (Translation): Your clear reasoning and efficiency is missed.

JAIME LERNER (Translation): Thank you. It's good to hear that.

Thinking about his buses one day, Lerner realised they were slowed by boarding time with people buying tickets on the bus. He came up with a design which was the final touch to his revolutionary bus system - the glass boarding tubes.

JAIME LERNER: I remember when I designed first time the boarding tube, in a serviette, in a napkin, in a plane. And when I saw it and it works, it's a dream.

Now, during peak hour, buses arrive every 60 seconds, and they're always full. Another crucial design element for Curitiba is its extensive network of parks.

HITOSHI NAKAMURA, URBAN PLANNER (Translation): To make isolated parks, that's fine. But it's more important to interconnect them.

Lerner hired Hitoshi Nakamura 35 years ago as director of gardens. Nakamura later became the state secretary for the environment.

JAIME LERNER (Translation): If we had to do a drawing showing the parks.

Together they created an enormous network of parks that now ring the city.

JAIME LERNER: I think this city, he's one of the responsibles of the changes and his energy, his enthusiasm, he touched all of us. But most of all, he proved that you can build a park in two months.

This is one of the parks Nakamura built. By turning previously unusable land into parks, he not only made the city a leisure paradise, but also increased the value of surrounding land. And like nearly everything in Curitiba, this park serves more than one purpose. In the '70s this area would regularly flood, so the plan was to enclose the river in a concrete canal.

HITOSHI NAKAMURA (Translation): This kind of work is expensive and it is done all over the world. 100m of this kind of work costs the same as building one school.

Instead, Nakamura's solution was to let the river run and flood into surrounding parkland. Barigui Park runs along the river and spans an area of 1.4 million square metres.

HITOSHI NAKAMURA (Translation): It's all natural. Nothing is man-made. And it's all biologically sound because there are always fish here.

Curitiba now has four times the UN recommended amount of green space per inhabitant. But with all that grass to mow, Nakamura had to come up with a sustainable and novel solution.

LAUDELINO, (Translation): To trim the grass in the park and keep it clean the maintenance is cheaper when done using sheep.

In 1989 Laudelino got rid of his lawnmower and became an inner city shepherd.

LAUDELINO, (Translation): I thought it'd be marvellous, a great job. And I also get along well with the sheep.

But the parks and their sheep can't do much for the major problem confronting all Brazilian cities, including Curitiba - filthy slums filled with desperately poor people.

JAIME LERNER: I wouldn't say this city is a paradise - we have all the problems that any big city has, but I think in this city, there is one thing that makes a difference - is the respect given to people. When I'm speaking about solidarity, it is not a question of rhetoric. You have to feel inside of the daily problems of each citizen.

So for the poor, Lerner came up with what he calls "an equation of co-responsibility". He told the people in the slums to clean the areas where they live and, in turn, the government would give them food for the rubbish they collect. Along with selling recyclables, this is how Andrea and her family survive.

ANDREA (Translation): For every five kilos we take, we're given a kilo of vegetables. It always helps with our nutrition. Sometimes we lack some things so we can add vegetables or fruit as well, because we get them both.

But there's not much that can be done to improve living conditions in this slum - these houses were built illegally on a wetland because the people had nowhere else to go.

ROSICLAIRE (Translation): We've been through many floods here. Nobody knows what I've been through here. Imagine living on your own in this place. Not easy.

Rosiclaire lives here with her daughter. Soon, the government will demolish all the houses here to reclaim the wetland. But the residents won't be left behind - they're being moved to a new suburb, with roads, electricity and running water.

ROSICLAIRE (Translation): It will be good there. It is a beautiful place and it's flat. There is school there, there is a market, it will be very easy.

This is San Barqui, where Rosiclaire will soon be living. She was given a low interest mortgage to pay for her house and land. These houses are tailored to each person's needs and are designed free by city architects. The residents are trained in new skills and make up a large part of the labour force. Having retired from politics, Jaime is now enjoying life a little. But he hasn't abandoned his vision - he's now a consultant, advising many cities in the First World on a sustainable future.

JAIME LERNER: I think there's a lot of cities - they have incredible potential. The people - they don't trust it's possible to do it. If they don't have a generous view about their cities, they won't have a generous view about people. So if you want to make life better for people, make the cities better for people.





Martin Butler

Related Links
- Jaime Lerner's Official Website :
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