Curitiba (meaning “Pine Nut Land”) is the capital of the state of Paraná. Its metropolitan area comprises 26 municipalities with a total population of over 3.2 million people.
The city sits on a plateau at 932 meters (3,058 ft) above sea level. Because we were complaining about the weather a lot, it was explained to us many times that this altitude causes the winds to drive the clouds above the plateau. In order to explain why anybody would start a city in this area, you have to understand that in the 1700s Curitiba possessed a favorable location between cattle-breeding country and marketplaces, leading to a successful cattle trade and the city’s first major expansion. In the 1850s waves of European immigrants (Germans, Italians, Poles and Ukrainians) arrived in Curitiba, contributing to the economic and cultural development of the city.
The biggest city expansion occurred after the 1950s, with an innovative urban planning that changed the population size from some hundreds of thousands to more than a million people. A rapid economy growth occurred in parallel to a substantial inward flow of Brazilians from other cities. Approximately half of the population of Curitiba was not born there. Nowadays, Curitiba is a cultural, political, and economic center in Brazil and in Latin America.
Over forty years ago, each of the city’s inhabitants had less than 1 m² of green area, but is was boosted to 52 m² and the city is still actively improving its natural environment. With a network of almost 30 parks and urban forested areas, Curitiba came third on the list of the 15 Green Cities in the World in the American magazine Grist in 2007.
In 1974 Curitiba opened the world’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) system. In fifteen years the BRT had caused a reduction of about 27 million auto trips per year, saving about 27 million liters of fuel annually. This means that (compared to eight other Brazilian cities of its size) Curitiba uses about 30 percent less fuel per capita, resulting in one of the lowest rates of ambient air pollution in the country. We found that it is indeed relatively easy to move around in the city, and can be quite cheap, since you pay one amount per trip.
The city has succeeded in introducing a Green Exchange employment program meaning low income families can exchange their rubbish bags for bus tickets and food. Children can exchange reusable waste with school articles, chocolate, toys and tickets to entertainment events. In combination with other initiatives, 70% of Curitiba’s waste is recycled by the city’s inhabitants themselves. We saw a few men in the streets, sometimes accompanied by their son, with enormous amounts of empty soda-cans. In 2010 Curitiba was awarded the Globe Sustainable City Award, given to cities and municipalities which excel in sustainable urban development around the world.