Curitiba's Ex-Mayor Prescribes "Urban Acupuncture"

Curitiba, Brazil

Jaime Lerner, the three-time former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, a city best known for its innovative approaches to urban planning, is calling for what he terms “urban acupuncture” to bring revitalization and sustainability to the world’s metropolitan areas. Speaking at the Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2007 briefing in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Lerner said that tackling urban problems at appropriate “pressure points” can cause positive ripple effects throughout entire communities.

Lerner noted that even the poorest cities can boost their standards of living by using techniques like bus rapid transit (BRT), designing multiuse buildings, and encouraging residents to live closer to their workplaces. Although many cities spend decades building underground rail systems or other costly long-term projects, “Every city can improve its quality of life in 3 to 4 years,” Lerner asserted.

Lerner is best known for his efforts to introduce BRT to the world, after launching the first successful rapid bus system in Curitiba in the 1970s. He now heads his own architecture and urban planning firm. “We have to use everything we have” to make transportation, a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, more pleasant and sustainable, he told participants at Wednesday’s briefing. The key to future mobility, Lerner believes, is not necessarily to get rid of cars, but to ensure that the many forms of transport currently available—bus, rail, cars, walking, and biking—are not competing for the same space.

Lerner says it is vital that communities seek to adopt urban designs that do not separate the places residents live from where they work, play, and shop. Instead, all these elements should be present in the same area, so people are not as dependent on cars to live their daily lives. Lerner also encourages greater efforts to turn chronic urban problems into innovative solutions. Curitiba, for example, converted an old landfill into the Open University for the Environment, a school that provides environmental education to citizens and policymakers at little-to-no cost. “In the city, there is no frog that can’t be turned into a prince,” Lerner says.

This story was produced by Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund. View the complete archive of Eye on Earth stories, or contact Staff Writer Alana Herro at aherro [AT] worldwatch [DOT] org with your questions, comments, and story ideas.