The Curitiba model: Towards a sustainable, liveable community and city

MBPP councillor Dr Lim Mah Hui made this address at the full council meeting of the Penang Island City Council on 30 May 2016:

Today I wish to share with you a short video on Curitiba, a medium sized city of 2m in eastern Brazil that transformed itself into one of the most liveable in the world. In 2010, it was given the Global Sustainable City Award.

It was the effort of a mayor, Jamie Lerner, an architect by profession, who had a vision and the political will to implement that vision that was and still is against the conventional belief that building more highways and bringing in more cars into the city was the path to “development”.

He was ahead of his time. But he had the political will to implement it against great odds and today, he and Curitiba are recognised internationally as vanguards of sustainable development.

The video highlights a few main points.

He implemented radical plans for urban land use that featured pedestrianisation of streets, strict controls on urban sprawl and an affordable and efficient public transport system.

He prioritised public transport over private cars and transformed car lanes into dedicated bus lanes.

When he took office, buses were carrying 20,000 passengers per day; today, they carry more than 2m per day and the bus system is one of the few in the world that is financially self-sustaining. There is only one price, no matter how far you travel, and you pay at the bus stop. It has been a model for other cities trying to achieve more sustainable movement of people and is used by 85 per cent of people living in the city.

Second, he created parks and green spaces and today the city has four times more green space (52 square metres) per person than the recommended one despite its population tripling in the last 20 years.

Much of the green space was achieved by using federal funds for flood control to build small dams across rivers, creating lakes and parks for the city population. There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape unlike any other in a developing city

He thought outside the box and believed in simplicity and living within his means. He used sheep to graze in the parks instead of using lawn mowers.

He put people before all else. He maintained solidarity with the people, not as rhetoric, and cutting ribbons here and there. As he said, one has to feel inside the daily problems of the people.

Authority must not regard the public and civil society as enemies and meet them only in Appeals Board. Much better to engage with people, listen to their concerns and encourage genuine participation before rather than after the fact.

That is why I have asked for regular public forums to be organised between the public and the council. It was adopted as a KPI at our retreats but has not yet been implemented. I hope this can be taken up this year.

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