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Sustainable Cities Case Studies

CURITIBA - a sustainable city?

Curitiba is the capital of Parana State and is found on the South East of Brazil around 1,000km from Rio de Janeiro. It has been transformed from an agricultural city to a manufacturing one through SUSTAINABLE PLANNING.

Curitiba map

Curitiba has suffered from all the typical problems brought by rapid urban growth:

  1. Mass unemployment;
  2. Transport congestion;
  3. Lack of basic services and
  4. Uncontrolled growth of squatter settlements.

This is a good case study as the city was located in an poorer country when it started its pathway to sustainability and shows what can be done on a budget.

In 2010 the Global Sustainable City Award was given to Curitiba. It has a population of almost 2 million people.

Population growth in Curitiba


Curitiba has developed a high quality of life for its inhabitants by prioritising people over cars. Jaime Learner became mayor in the 1971 (until retiring in 2002) and when elected into office he faced a plan to widen the city streets to cope with an increasing number of traffic. Learner did the opposite, he paved the street and closed it to traffic – Boulevard de Flores has since spread to span 50 blocks and is a mall in the street. Learner also believes in participation of people in the life and development of the city, and that economic activity should not be separate from society.

Learner says that there are 3 main issues facing society in the future – “Mobility, sustainability, and identity”.

He feels that if all of these 3 things were addressed cities could be great places to live. By the 1970s the population of Curitiba had grown tenfold in just 50 years and was clogged with cars. Learner knew the solution was in public transport, but his city was CASH POOR. He decided to go with SIMPLE methods and used a bus system to revolutionise transport in the city.

He designed a system which features;

  1. 5 main arterial traffic roads into and out of the city. These routes had a central bus lane that was totally dedicated to 2 directional public transport; not the car. This was to speed the journey for commuters on the bus. This boosts the number of passengers per bus from 1,000 per day to 2,000. The arterial roads were also used as growth corridors of the urban and economic growth of the city.
  2. Triple articulated buses (bendy buses); this further boosted the number of passengers per bus to an incredible 4,000 per day and Learner claims that it can move more people than a subway yet is 100 to 200 times cheaper.
  3. The buses are coloured according to their function; · Red busses were express buses with fewer stops, · Orange busses bring people from outlying districts to the express routes, · Green buses bring suburban people to the express routes, · And grey buses take suburban dwellers direct to the city centre but make many more stops. There is only one fare and people can change busses on the same ticket. There are interchanges across the city so people can change directions and buses
  4. Rapid implementation within 2 years.
  5. Learner also improved this system by designing an elevated glass boarding tube, where people could shelter and buy their tickets, speeding up the journey. The bus doors are wider and open directly into the tube, maximising access for all types of users including the disabled. Faster loading and unloading on the bus means less idling and cuts the bus travel times.
  6. The bus companies are paid per km driven not per passenger, this means the bus companies still want to run services on less popular routes, not argue over the more popular routes.

Curitiba buses

Results: During peak hours buses arrive every 60 seconds and are always full. Curitiba has one of the lowest rates of pollution as a result. An initial 25,000 passengers and that grew to over 2 million passengers. It is totally funded by the people who use it and has no government subsidy.

Parks and open space

There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape which is unlike any other in a developing city. The parks were designed to be INTERCONNECTED and not isolated to maximise use. They were designed by Hitoshi Nakamura. The parks ring the city and some of the parks were built in 2 months. The parks increase the value of surrounding land, and many of the parks are dual purpose. One of the parks is used for flood control from the Iguazu River in the 1970s. Instead of putting a concrete channel around a river in Barigui Park to stop it flooding, they designed the park to absorb the flood water naturally instead, and created lakes to absorb flood water. This saved money from expensive hard engineering projects and the money could be used in social projects such as schools instead. The park covers 1.4 million m2. The parks also stop squatters from creating shanty towns in the flood prone zones. The owners of skyscrapers alongside the parks were allowed to add extra stories to their buildings, if they added green space around the base of the building or paid extra tax that went to fund lower income housing. Curitiba has 4 times the green space recommended – they even use sheep to “cut” some of the grass in the park!

Housing and social projects

Curitiba still has slums filled with poor people. The city has a social charter designed to help them. The slum dwellers have to cope with regular floods. The slums will be cleared but to solve this Curitiba has used Site and Service schemes, where the government offers low interest loans on the land and free house design for the people. The residents are trained to build the houses and make up a large part of the labour force. The houses have electricity, sewerage and running water. “If you want to make life better for people make the cities better for people.” Urban growth is also restricted to corridors of growth - along key transport routes. Tall buildings are allowed only along bus routes. COHAB, the public housing programme, is providing 50,000 homes for the urban poor. 2




The city has recycled waste since the late 1980s, well ahead of its time globally in terms of waste disposal. It has an organised waste disposal system the rival of any first world city. The garbage is separated into 2 categories – organic and non-organic, which are collected by 2 separate trucks. Learner also introduced an “Equation of co-responsibility” involving the “green exchange” – this was Learner’s idea to help the urban poor. People in the slums collected rubbish, and the council paid for the weight collected using fruit and vegetables. The council gains here because the people collect the rubbish in narrower roads where the council’s collection trucks can’t get to. This also saves on expensive road widening. The recyclable non-organic waste goes to a plant made of recycled materials! They are separated into plastics, paper, and metals and all are recycled. Curitiba recycles 2/3s of its waste. The scheme generates jobs, reduces landfill and is cheaper than landfill as it generates money. There is even a library of recycled books to be used by school children. There are also "Lighthouses of Knowledge" in the city. These are free educational and internet centres.


The economy of Curitiba is principally manufacturing. Volvo has a big factory there and in 1992 they developed the triple articulated busses. Volvo was attracted to the city by its educated work-force, Curitiba has one of the oldest universities in Brazil. Brazil has developed rapidly since 1970 to become a NIC.

Curitiba took advantage of these changes at this time and developed an Industrial City (Ciudade Industrial de Curitiba or C.I.C.) 10 km WSW of the city. The goal of the C.I.C was to upgrade the city’s economic profile and provide jobs for its citizens.

It had the following features;

1. In keeping with other developments in Curitiba SUSTAINABILITY was at its heart. The site was picked so that the dominant SE trade winds would blow any pollution away from the Curitiba city, and nearby water sources would be fully protected.

2. Integration of Industrial facilities with public transport and other services.

3. The industry was developed with parks around it limiting the impact on this green land (15% of the area is still greenfield).

4. 20,000 housing units have been built in the area, so workers could cycle to work. Industry represents 34.13% and the commerce and service sectors 65.84%.

The CIC is home to many transnational industries, such as Nissan, Renault, Volkswagen, Philip Morris, Audi, Volvo, HSBC, Siemens, ExxonMobil, Electrolux and Kraft Foods, as well as many well-known national industries, such as Sadia, O Boticário and Positivo Informática. 1 By 2000, over 550 factories were operating in the industrial city, providing some 50 000 direct jobs and 150 000 indirect jobs. As well as the industrial city, there are nearly 6000 other industrial enterprises in Curitiba, right across the full range of industrial activity. This high level of diversification is again very beneficial in sustaining the quality of life of Curitiba’s citizens.




1 - Wikipedia, 2020, Curitiba, accessed at

2 - Cohab, 2020, accessed at

Posted by Rob Gamesby April 2020



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