Frontline World

BRAZIL - Curitiba's Urban Experiment, December 2003
a FRONTLINE/World Fellows project
master plan: history
master plan: future
architect taniguchi architect lerner
  Jamie Lerner
cassio taniguchi
Interview With Cassio Taniguchi

Curitiba's current mayor, Cassio Taniguchi, was a civic engineer prior to taking city office. He helped implement the Curitiba Master Plan upon joining Lerner's team in 1971. Taniguchi's central focus has always been a healthy economy. In the 1970s, he spearheaded the creation of an industrial center, now the heart of Curitiba's manufacturing zone. As mayor, he has attracted new automotive companies to Curitiba, and today, the city's auto industry is one of the largest in Brazil, second in size to São Paulo's.

Taniguchi's latest project, Linhão de Emprezo, teaches unemployed Curitibanos technical skills, then provides them with leased storefronts and tax reductions to establish small businesses.

I joined Taniguchi in his city hall office to ask about his background, his leadership style, and what's in store for the city in the coming century.

Do you feel your background in urban planning has given you a unique perspective on your job now, as mayor of a city with all these programs?

Yes, it's very important because Curitiba has some kind of culture or tradition that became a reference in urban planning, not only in Brazil but even in other countries. I think the advantage to be a technician, let's say,...and the knowledge of the technical aspects of urban development was very important for me as a mayor. But certainly, the mayor also has the political will, so I had many ideas that we fortunately could implant, for instance, the decentralization of the administration -- not simply a deconcentration. [That is for] activities to be in the regional offices of the municipality, to solve the problems there and not bring them back to the main office. And now with technology, you can access...most of the services of the municipality through the Internet, so you can solve [your problem] in your own home.

I think these conditions can be set up much more for the citizens, so we are creating really a democratic access to all services. It's true that most of the services of the municipality are directed to the poor people, but this is one of the characteristics of our society in Brazil. So most of the programs are directed to low-income families.

How do you go about convincing the public before implementing a radical program -- like changing the street network to allow buses, for instance, which is a pretty big deal -- that this is a good idea, that in the long run, it's going to be helpful?

Well, people complained a lot when Mr. Lerner closed the main street for use exclusively by pedestrians, but soon they realized that this was very important for their own business. Certainly, when you try to propose something that's completely different, society, the people tend to be against these new things or new proposals. This is very natural. If you want to change something else, you must discuss with all the population. This is very important.

Now I think that every place in the city that we have some problems with, we use the community to stimulate the collaboration of these communities to solve their own problems. To set up conditions for these people to participate in the process. For instance, in new axis of transportation [traffic corridor], we made at least, almost 20 meetings with the community to inform, to collect suggestions, to be criticized. It was very important to set up the conditions for them to participate in the process. They gave good suggestions, also. You must give a proposal, that's very important. But it's not a closed proposal, it's an open proposal so they can make suggestions.

What would you say is the main focus right now in planning for Curitiba's future?

I think these poor income areas must have priority. But also we cannot forget the macro-aspects of the urban development, so we must think of the future of the transportation network. You must invest constantly in public transport, so you must propose solutions for mass transit systems not only for now but in the future. That's the reason why you are now beginning implementation of a new axis of transportation and also the upgrade of the bi-articulated bus system and the structural axis. This is very important because people want to see what is the next perspective, what is the future. So you must go to the future also. To create new parks, to preserve the environment, everything that's concerning the conception of the urban plan in Curitiba.

next arrowNEXT: Jamie Lerner, architect and three-term mayor of Curitiba, has a mission: to export the Curitiba model to cities around the world.