When it comes to sustainability, few cities in the world can compare to Curitiba – the capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná. Dubbed the “Champion City of Sustainability” by the United Nations, Curitiba has transformed itself from a bustling metropolis to a well-planned city that prioritizes the environment and the well-being of its inhabitants. This article will provide a detailed overview of what makes Curitiba so sustainable and why it is a model for cities worldwide.
Curitiba was founded in 1693 and started off as a small settlement. However, it rapidly grew in the 19th century with the arrival of European immigrants, leading it to become the capital of Paraná in 1853. As the population boomed, Curitiba struggled with issues typical of urbanization - traffic congestion, pollution and slums. In the 1960s, the city’s population exploded, leading city officials to take drastic measures to combat the environmental and social issues that came with such a fast-growing populace.
One of the key factors behind Curitiba’s sustainability is its world-renowned public transportation system - RIT (Rede Integrada de Transporte). RIT is considered one of the most efficient and affordable public transport systems in the world, providing citizens with 24-hour service and over 300 bus lines. RIT’s success is due to the SIT, an integrated transport system that prioritizes the organization and efficiency of buses by profiling each line based on its level of service. With this system, buses are tailored to meet the needs of the local community, resulting in faster, cheaper, and more frequent services, which ultimately help to reduce traffic congestion, air pollution, and fossil-fuel consumption.
Curitiba is a champion of waste reduction and recycling efforts, managing to significantly reduce daily trash output per person from 1.6 kg in the 1970s to just 135 grams today. This has been achieved through a variety of innovative programs, including a door-to-door recycling program that encourages residents to recycle as much as possible while simultaneously reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. The program involves assigning a particular day for a recycling truck to visit each neighborhood, meaning recycling is encouraged at the grassroots level.
Despite its rapid urbanization, Curitiba also boasts a number of green spaces that not only serve as recreational centers but also play a vital role in the city’s sustainability. A perfect example is the Barigui Park, which spans over 1.4 million m² and serves as a popular destination for picnics, sports, and outdoor activities. However, the park serves a more significant purpose, as the Barigui River runs through it, and it acts as a natural filter for the waterways that run through the city center. Moreover, the park and a number of other green areas planted inside and outside the city have helped to mitigate the effects of air pollution, creating a healthier environment for citizens.
The Rua das Flores or “Flower Street” is a pedestrian-only street located at the heart of Curitiba. It has served as a symbol of the city's regeneration and urban planning for more than 50 years. The street is named after the flowers planted by locals to replace the former seedy avenue. The Rua das Flores is now renowned as a shopping destination and vibrant public space that serves as a venue for cultural events, such as fairs, concerts, and dances. The pedestrian street is also an example of how Curitiba aims to increase its walkability and foster a sense of community.
Curitiba’s success in sustainability is due to its government's commitment to the environment, social issues, and long-term planning. In 1992, the city government signed the “Curitiba Commitment,” which was an agreement to prioritize sustainability in all aspects of city life, including transportation, waste management, cleaning, and public spaces. The city government also collaborates with various local associations and foundations to promote civic engagement, education and research in sustainability.
Curitiba is truly a model city for sustainability. Through its integrated transport system, door-to-door recycling program, green spaces, pedestrian-only street, and the commitment to sustainability, the city has transformed itself from a highly urbanized metropolis into a sustainable, livable city. As we face the increasing challenges of global urbanization, the example of Curitiba shows that sustainable urbanization is not only possible but essential. With an eye towards environmental and social needs, Curitiba provides a blueprint for other cities that want to promote a sustainable future for its inhabitants.