Frontline World

BRAZIL - Curitiba's Urban Experiment, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
master plan history
master plan: history
master plan: future
The Development of Brazil's City of the Future

The Early Years to the 19th Century
Founded in 1693 by Portuguese explorers, the small village of Nossa Senhora da Luz e Bom Jesus dos Pinhais was an early waypoint for prospectors. By 1721, cattle herders had replaced unsuccessful gold seekers in this agriculturally rich region, and they renamed their new home "Curitiba." It was Curitiba's early leaders who first established building regulations, such as limiting the number of trees that could be cut and requiring homes to have tile, not wood, roofs.

In 1854, Curitiba became the official capital of Paraná, one of Brazil's southernmost states, known for the world-famous Iguaçu Falls just a few hundred miles away, on Paraná's border with Argentina. By the end of the century, when a tide of European immigrants arrived in southern Brazil, Curitiba's population had surpassed 50,000.

Curitiba's First Urban Plan: 1940s
By the 1940s, Curitiba was experiencing rapid growth. Word of the region's thriving agriculture industry attracted new settlers from such nations as Japan, Syria and Lebanon. Now at three times its turn-of-the-century population, Curitiba was confronted with increasing demands for improved services, housing and transportation. The city hired French planner and architect Alfred Agache to help ease the growing pains. Agache expanded Curitiba's sewer system and rerouted its traffic patterns. Sweeping arclike patterns now radiated out from the city center to better manage the flow of cars and buses that were clogging city streets.
Unchecked Growth: 1960s
Curitiba's population swelled to more than 430,000 people in 1960. French architect Alfred Agache's plan from the 1940s hadn't considered future waves of newcomers. Some Curitibanos feared that sprawl, fewer green spaces and lost character would follow the increasing numbers of people.

In 1964, Mayor Ivo Arzua issued a call for proposals to prepare Curitiba for new growth. A team of young, idealistic architects and planners from the Federal University of Paraná, led by Jamie Lerner, answered. Their proposal laid out plans to minimize urban sprawl, reduce downtown traffic, preserve Curitiba's historic district, and provide easily accessible and affordable public transit. Improving upon Agache's plan, Lerner's team also proposed adding main linear transit arteries to Curitiba to provide direct, high-speed routes in and out of the city. Their proposal was adopted and eventually came to be known as the Curitiba Master Plan.
Implementing the Master Plan: 1970s
After his plan for Curitiba was adopted in 1968, leading architect Jamie Lerner created the city's first urban planning department to help organize and direct further redevelopment efforts. Among the department's innovations in the 1970s was Rua Quinze do Novembro, the heart of commercial Curitiba andBrazil's first pedestrian-only street. The city also adopted a trinary road design, called the Sistema Trinário, to minimize traffic in the city, whose population had now surpassed 600,000. The new system sandwiched a central two-lane street restricted to buses and local car traffic between wide, fast-moving one-way streets.

And to attract business, Curitiba began developing an industrial zone on the city's outskirts, which they called Industrial City.
The Green Era: 1980s
The 1980s was a decade marked by widespread economic recession, rising urban poverty and increasing deforestation rates in Brazil. Yet, now with more than 900,000 people, Curitiba rolled out a number of ecofriendly and social programs during the 1980s.
• "Green areas" protected from future development were established in Curitiba, and a number of parks were dedicated to the city's different ethnic and immigrant groups.
• Curitiba's transit system was expanded, and a color-coded system for the various bus lines was created.
• Regional administrations were established to decentralize government.
• A citywide recycling program was initiated in which Curitibanos separated organic waste and trash, plastic, glass, and metal. The city sold the salvage to cover the costs of operation.
International Recognition: 1990s
Curitiba had grown to more than 1.4 million people when it hosted, in 1992, the World Cities Forum, an advance event leading up to the United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development, Earth Summit. The event brought international attention to Curitiba for the city's bold urban planning. Throughout the 1990s, Curitiba continued to add to its stock of green spaces and cultural sites, with the building of a new botanical garden and an opera house located on the site of an abandoned quarry. Curitiba also succeeded in attracting new industry to its Industrial City, with automobile companies Renault, Audi/VW and Chrysler moving in. New red multicabin buses, carrying up to 270 people each, were integrated into its transit system, and high-speed bus stops, called tubes, were created.
The Millennium
The 21st century has ushered in more improvements for Curitiba's 1.8 million people. With tourism becoming increasingly important to the local economy, Curitiba added a sightseeing bus line to its transit system. New job-training and small-business incubators run by the city help lower-income Curitibanos learn technical skills and launch new businesses. The city also recently began building a technology park to attract new-economy businesses. And it is at the fore of Brazilian cities' investing in alternative fuel technologies.
next arrowHear citizen's concerns for Curitiba's future.