Brazil is the largest country in South America and the fifth largest country in the world, both by geographical area and by population.1 Two of the 25 largest cities in the world are located there – Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brazil’s cities are confronted with the same complex challenges as other cities globally and this case study highlights two cities that have implemented initiatives aimed at improving their sustainability – Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba.
Rio de Janeiro
Rio de Janeiro, with a metropolitan population of 12.3 million, will be in the spotlight this year and for several years to come as host to the 2012 Rio +20 Conference, the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. In preparation for these events, particularly the latter two, investment in the city has increased with Rio now going through a period of significant change.
An underlying principle of IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative is that our world is instrumented and interconnected, meaning that all kinds of systems that make our cities operate need to be able to ‘talk’ to each other. At IBM’s recent SmarterCities Forum in Rio, the host city was identified as a best practice example of the way in which systems can be connected to provide holistic oversight and management of a city. Rather than seeking to address one part of the challenges such as Rio’s mudslide disaster, the mayor and his colleagues set out, with IBM’s expertise, to consolidate information from more than 20 city departments into the one command centre. The system enables real-time visualisation, monitoring and analysis to help city leaders make decisions in emergency situations based on real-time information.2 Whilst the new command centre helps position Rio as a leading global city for years to come, Mayor Paes is keen not to downplay the vital role played by human “creativity and innovation and rethinking the way we manage”. In an HBR Blog Network post, he wrote: “We don’t always need the utmost mobile technology or computers. We will always need to think about doing better and being smarter.”3
Ranked ‘above average’ overall in the Latin American Green City Index, Rio’s best performances come in the environmental governance, energy and CO2 and land use and buildings categories. The city is commended for its “robust record on environmental monitoring and environmental management”, as well as its “strong clean energy policy and strictly regulate[d] environmental standards for the construction of new buildings”. The area where the greatest improvement is required is the water category, where a ‘below average’ rating is achieved largely owing to the leakages in its water system.4 Notable green initiatives identified during the development of the Green City Index include:
- “Rio Sustainable” – Rio’s climate change programme (launched in 2009) which specifies emission reduction targets and initiatives that will help the city achieve these targets;
- Port redevelopment – a US$200 million project to revitalise the residential and commercial areas of the port, incorporating bike lanes and green spaces and increasing the number of residential dwellings;
- Public transport – a US$678 million project to double the capacity of the two existing metro lines as well as build a new metro line and create a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system modelled on Curitiba’s.5
Curitiba is located south-west of Sao Paulo in one of Brazil’s key agricultural states. The population has increased from 150,000 in the 1950s to 1.8 million today, giving Curitiba a population growth rate consistently above Brazil’s national average. The city has experienced all the usual challenges of a rapidly growing urban area as basic services and infrastructure have struggled to keep up with the explosive growth. However, inspired foresight, courage and collaboration have resulted in Curitiba reshaping itself to become a well-known example of sustainable urban planning.
Jamie Lerner has been instrumental in bringing about the transformation of Curitiba, firstly as a young architect and urban planner in the 1960s when he suggested to the mayor that a city development plan was needed, and then when he himself was mayor from 1971 and more recently as governor of the state. Lerner’s initial approach to the mayor led to the Institute of Urban Research and Planning being established to facilitate implementation of the Curitiba master plan that was developed through citizen participation. As mayor, Lerner continued to ensure that his vision for the city was shared by the rest of the population so that they would embrace the changes. He was also mindful of the financial constraints on the city and aimed to maximise the value he could achieve within existing budgets, and he was flexible enough to accept revisions to plans when experience revealed more effective and efficient approaches.
Curitiba’s master plan has focused on six core elements of urban sustainability and here some of the notable innovations are summarised:
- Transport – creation of an efficient and affordable transportation system by construction of arterial roads with two central lanes for use only by express buses and retention of low-cost public transport fares; introduction of bi-articulated buses with three compartments and development of tube-shaped bus stops to speed up loading and unloading of passengers;
- Land use and public services – growth corridors have been developed along the arterial roads, meaning that everyone can access public transport easily; innovations include: (1) ‘Citizenship Streets’ which are located near to major bus terminals and provide access to public utilities and services (e.g. water, police stations, sports grounds); (2) ‘Lighthouses of Knowledge’ which are brightly coloured, lighthouse shaped towers located in residential neighbourhoods to provide access to books and the internet; and (3) ‘Pedestrianised shopping streets’ (of which Lerner was one of the pioneers);
- Recycling – first introduced in schools and then extended to parents; recycling plants employ recovering alcoholics and homeless people to help them improve their lives; people in favelas encouraged to take their recycling to collection points and exchange it for basic food items that are purchased from local farmers;6
- Parks, open space and flood control – increased the number of parks and trees, especially near waterways to help reduce the likelihood of floods;
- Economic sustainability – developed an Industrial City incorporating environmentally sustainable features (e.g. local waterways protected; 15% Greenfield; integrated with public transport network; additional housing provided nearby for workers; only non-polluting industries admitted);
- Return home schemes and improvements in the countryside – using social workers to encourage potential migrants to return to the countryside; enabling seasonal agricultural workers to stay in the countryside by giving them a house on their own land; opening a school to give young farmers professional qualifications.
The quality of life now experienced by the population of Curitiba demonstrates that the city’s sustainability initiatives have been successful. Curitiba has a public transport system that is used by around 70% of commuters on weekdays; with a bus network that exemplifies a model Bus Rapid Transit system;7 a recycling rate of 70%; an average income per person that is over 60% more than the Brazilian average and over 50 m2 of parks and open space per resident when the World Health Organisation’s recommendation being 16m2 of green space per resident. In addition, Curitiba is the only city out of 17 leading Latin American cities to be recognised as ‘well above average’ in the Latin American Green City Index released by Siemens.8
- Wikipedia entry on Brazil [accessed January 2012]
- Palmisano, S J, Smarter Cities: Crucibles of Global Progress, Smarter Cities Rio forum opening remarks (as prepared), 9 November 2011 / Building a Smarter Planet: 9 in a Series - Smarter Lessons from Smarter Cities, IBM, 2011 / City Government and IBM Close Partnership to Make Rio de Janeiro a Smarter City: City to Integrate Data and Processes Across Agencies into a Single Operations Centre, news release, 27 December 2010
- Paes, E, How Rio de Janeiro Uses Tech to Solve Urban Challenges, HBR Blog Network, 27 April 2011
- Green City Indices, Siemens
- Green City Indices, Siemens
- Lubow, A, Recycle City – The Road to Curitiba, The New York Times Magazine, 20 May 2007
- Goodman, J, Laube, M & Schwenk, J, Curitiba’s Bus Systems is Model for Rapid Transit, Race, Poverty & the Environment, a project of Urban Habitat / Curitiba, Brazil – A city for people, not for cars, Cities for People website
- Green City Indices, Siemens
© Article 13 - January 2012
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