The Wholeness of Curitiba
By EV World
Allan Jacobs is a respected U.C. Berkeley professor and author who has spent his professional life observing streets, neighborhoods and cities, noting what works and what doesn't; distilling that knowledge into he seminal work, Great Streets.
In this talk, which he entitles "Forces That Will Impact Future North American Cities, Cynicism and Hope" and available in MP3 audio using either of the links above, Jacobs describes those forces starting with the deeply imbedded belief that the individual is entitled to maximum personal mobility.
While he sees strides being made technologically in one and two-person vehicles, as well as alternative fuels, "the private automobile is likely to stay with us for a long time." He observes that while these vehicles will get smaller over time -- in response to need to improve fuel efficiency -- our trucks continue to get larger, also in response to the same pressures: haul more load per gallon or liters of fuel consumed. As a result, our highway and road infrastructure is being built to accommodate these growing behemoths with wider lanes and wider streets.
Because of these conflicting trends and their impact on urban planning, the "jury is still out" on what form sustainable mobility will take in our cities from bike and pedestrian walkways to public transit. He notes that for every small transit vehicle he sees, he also sees two large ones; citing the new streetcars of Rome, Italy as an example.
"I'd put my money on bigness," he stated.
Another force he refers to as "Jacobs Law of Economic Development" is nothing more than "plain, old fashioned greed" that dictates if a profit can be made by changing a law, the law will be changed, or a ways around it will be found. Case in point, the 1970's era ordinance in San Francisco that no buildings in the city shall cast a shadow on a public park. Yet, a newly erected building does precisely that on Union Square, despite being constructed well south of the park.
Because this economic force is so deeply entrenched in United States culture and because city planning is such a weak counterpoint, he sees that U.S. cities will continue to be largely private car dependent, far more so than cities in Europe, South America or Canada.
But for all his cynicism, Jacobs believes that "tendency is not destiny." There are examples of cities that have made the right choices in terms of sustainability and "Curitiba is just such a place," which he sees as a model, not just of transportation innovation and land use policy, but its holistic wholeness.
"Its caring for the environment, education, jobs, social services, culture, parks at every scale, caring for the homeless, farmers' markets, and very importantly, it's about fun: about having fun while making a better city."
In the remainder of his presentation, starting around 14:45, he describes his experiences with Curitiba starting in 1975, where unlike other Brazilian cities that were building freeways through their parks, Curitiba was building new parks. And while most urban planners are aware of its remarkable bus rapid transit system (BRT) that carries 18,000 passengers an hour in one direction, the city has also pioneered historic building preservation and renovation, as well as repurposing, turning an old, abandoned clue factory into a creativity center. Within 48 hours, the city pedestian-ized, many of its downtown streets, permanently closing them to motor vehicle traffic.
It was Curitiba that invented BRT, getting Volvo, which has a facility in the city, to develop double, articulated buses capable of carrying 300 passengers, along with the creation of "pre-paid boarding tubes" (pictured above) which allow for speedy loading and unloading at the covered bus stops.
Because of the city's transit-based planning in the 1970s when the population was around 600,000, the city developed along its "structurals" -- express BRT routes -- with high density urban development, growing to today's population of between two and three million population. The BRT today handles what is equivalent to subway density as 1/400th the cost.
The doing-more-with-less philosophy that inspired Curibita's BRT also led to the creation of the city's free university built from used telephone poles. In addition, the city has been recognized as having one of the best day-care centers for working mothers in the world. Jacobs cites a long list of social services and educational centers that make the city a model for social progress and community development.
Summing up, he emphasizes that the city is more than its ground-breaking BRT system, and that they work with what they have and within their means.
"They are not afraid of failure, especially if you do something inexpensively. They invite creativity and newest and they have tried to fit it all together.... and they do it themselves! They do it themselves; there is wholeness."
Be sure to listen to the entire presentation or feel free to download it to your computer for transfer to and playback on your favorite MP3 player. EV World thanks Urban Age for permitting us to attend and record the conference.