Curitiba Transport Management Case Study

World Development book case study: sustainable urban development in Curitiba

In 2010 the Global Sustainable City Award was given to Curitiba. The award was introduced to recognise those cities that excel in sustainable urban development. It is much easier for cities in the developed world to invest in the planning and implementation of measures needed for sustainable urban development and it is a surprise to many people that the award went to a city in Brazil where, in spite of rapid industrial growth in recent years, income levels are still relatively low. A quick look at the reasons for this reveals Curitiba as a surprising place with an interesting history and culture.

Curitiba is in eastern Brazil and became the capital of the province of Parana in 1853. It attracted local migrants as well as immigrants from Germany, Ukraine and Poland and other European countries. During the 20th century its population increased rapidly and it became one of the wealthiest cities in Brazil. In 2010 the population of Curitiba was 1.8 million and the total population of its metropolitan area was 3.2 million.

Curitiba was a pioneer in attempts to provide solutions to improving urban life and the first city plan with boulevards stretching out from a central area, public amenities and industrial districts was produced in the 1950s. The plan was too costly to implement in full but formed the basis for future developments.

The plan for city development that led to its present status as one of the most sustainable cities in the world was a result of the election of a 33-year-old architect and planner, Jamie Lerner, as mayor of Curitiba in the late 1960s. He implemented radical plans for urban land use which featured pedestrianization, strict controls on urban sprawl and an affordable and efficient public transport system. The bus system has been a key feature of Curitiba’s development. The buses are long, split into three sections and stop at designated elevated tubes, complete with disabled access. There is only one price, no matter how far you travel, and you pay at the bus stop. It has been a model for other cities trying to achieve more sustainable movement of people and is used by 85% of people living in the city.

Another feature of the city is the large amount of green space per head of population (52 square metres) which is remarkable in a city that has seen its population triple in the last 20 years. Much of the green space was achieved by using federal funds for flood control to build small dams across rivers, creating lakes and parks for the city population. There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape which is unlike any other in a developing city.

Curitiba does have slum dwellings and housing shortages but has developed innovative ways of dealing with these urban problems. Farmland within the city limits was purchased in the 1990s and 50,000 homes, which will house 200,000 people, are being built. The houses are being built by the new landowners, sometimes with the aid of mortgages from the city.

'Sixty per cent of the lower-income people are involved in the construction industry anyhow,' says one executive from COHAB (Curitiba's public housing programme). 'They know how to build.' And here is the moving part: with your plot of land comes not only a deed and a pair of trees (one fruit bearing and one ornamental), but also an hour downtown with an architect. 'The person explains what's important to them - a big window out front, or room in the kitchen. They tell how many kids they have, and so on. And then we help draw up a plan,' says one architect, who has more than 3,000 of 'his' homes scattered around the city.

'Most people can only afford to build one room at a time, so we also show them the logical order to go in,' another designer explains.

From Curitiba: A Global Model For Development by Bill McKibben (2005

The new developments are immediately linked to the pubic transport system to integrate the new home-owners. The shanty towns (favelas) on the outskirts of the city are kept clean by encouraging people to bring their rubbish to collection points where they are given sacks of food or bus tickets in return for their waste by the city authorities.

Nearer the city centre, the city authorities encourage the recycling of buildings rather than demolition and reconstruction, helping the city to retain its architectural heritage. Children can recycle waste in exchange for school supplies, toys and tickets for shows. It is estimated that recycling materials in the city saves the equivalent of 1,200 trees a day and the money raised from the recycling schemes goes into social programmes such as the employment of homeless people in the recycling separation plants. An Open University, created by the city, lets residents take courses in many subjects such as mechanics, hair styling and environmental protection for a small fee.

Providing employment is an important measure of urban sustainability. Although Curitiba is the eighth-largest city in Brazil, it has the fourth-largest GDP and is a focus for domestic and inward investment attracted by quality of the city infrastructure and the high quality of life enjoyed by the city population. From the 1970s onwards, it resisted the expansion of heavy industry and in 2010 66% of its GDP was produced by the commerce and services sector. It is, however, the second-largest manufacturer of cars in Brazil and home to many transnational corporations such as Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, Siemens and Electrolux.

The concentration on encouraging non-polluting and hi-tech industry has been successful in achieving an economic growth rate which is much higher than the national average. The city’s 30-year economic growth rate in Curitiba is 7.1% (compared with a national average of 4.2%), and per-capita income is 66% higher than the Brazilian average. The high wealth levels have helped Curitiba fund municipal health, education and daycare networks, neighbourhood libraries shared by schools and citizens.

In the 1990s, the city started a project called FarÓis do Saber (‘Lighthouses of Knowledge’). These ‘lighthouses’ have been set up in each quarter of the city and contain a library, and computers for public use. Job training, social welfare and educational programmes are co-ordinated by the city and Curitiba has the lowest illiteracy rate and highest educational attainment levels of any of the Brazilian cities. In another attempt to improve social integration and reduce the need for unnecessary travel, Citizen Streets exist in each district where there is a long line of two-storey buildings, surrounded by a huge yellow tube, which can satisfy the majority of people’s needs: identity cards, employment and housing applications can be processed, and there are subsidized shops, welfare assistance, music classes and sports centres.

Many cities in the developing world have to cope with much higher levels of population growth and do not have the history of urban development that Curitiba enjoys. However we should not ignore the many people-centred innovations that have been implemented over the last 40 years which have helped to make the city an example that many would like to follow.

Below is a possible checklist for sustainable urban development suggested by Mostafa Rasooli, Nurwati Badarulzaman and Mastura Jafaar in The Role of CDSs (Community Development Strategies) in Sustainable Development in Developing Countries. The report was written in 2010 and a link to the full report is given below.

Environmentally sustainable urbanization

A. Energy Efficiency Measures
1. Alternative energy offered to consumers
2. Energy conservation effort (other than green building requirements)
3. Environmental site design regulations
4. Green building programme
5. Renewable energy use by city government
B. Pollution Prevention and Reduction Measures
6. Kerbside recycling programme
7. Environmental education programmes for the community
8. Green procurement
9. Water-quality protection
C. Open Space and Natural Resource Protection Measures
10. Environmentally sensitive area protection
11. Open space preservation programme
D. Transportation Planning Measures
12. Operation of inner-city public transit (buses and/or trains)
13. Transportation demand management
E. Tracking Progress on Protecting the Environment
14. Ecological footprint analysis

Economically sustainable urbanization

A. Smart Growth Measures
1. Agricultural protection zoning
2. Brownfield reclamation
3. Cluster or targeted economic development
4. Eco-industrial park development
5. Infill development
6. Purchase of Development Rights and/or Transfer of Development Rights
7. Tax incentives for environmentally friendly development
8. Urban growth boundary and/or urban service boundary
B. Measures Promoting Local Employment/Industries
9. Business retention programmes
10. Empowerment/enterprise zones
11. Local business incubator programmes

Social sustainable urbanization

  1. Affordable housing provisions
  2. Daycare services for service sector and low-income employees
  3. Homeless prevention and intervention programmes
  4. Inclusionary and incentive zoning
  5. Jobs-housing balance
  6. Living wage ordinance
  7. Mass transit access with local income subsidies
  8. Neighbourhood planning
  9. Sustainable food systems or food security programmes
  10. Women/minority-oriented business Community Development Corporations (CDCs) and investment programmes
  11. Youth opportunity and anti-gang programmes

Governance and institutional sustainable urbanization

  1. Dispute resolution
  2. Public participation
  3. Regional co-ordination

Case study: managing rapid urban growth in a sustainable way in Curitiba, Brazil

“If you want to make life better for people make the cities better for people.” Jaime Learner

The Rio Earth Summit of 1992 said that there was the need to move away from the unsustainable development of recent decades, which took little account of the finite nature of resources or the damage being done to our environment. Sustainable development was seen as essential.

Curitiba is the capital of Parana State and is found on the South East of Brazil around 1,000km from Rio de Janeiro.  In a recent survey 99% of Curitiba’s residents said they were happy with their city.  It has been transformed from an agricultural city to a manufacturing one through SUSTAINABLE PLANNING. 

Curitiba has suffered from all the typical problems brought by rapid urban growth:

·        Mass unemployment;

·        Transport congestion;

·        Lack of basic services and

·        Uncontrolled growth of squatter settlements.

This is a good case study as the city was located in an LEDC when it started its pathway to sustainability and shows what can be done on a budget.

In 2010 the Global Sustainable City Award was given to Curitiba.  It has a population of almost 2 million people.


Curitiba has developed a high quality of life for its inhabitants by prioritising people over cars.  Jaime Learner became mayor in the 1971 (until retiring in 2002) and when elected into office he faced a plan to widen the city streets to cope with an increasing number of traffic.  Learner did the opposite, he paved the street and closed it to traffic – Boulevard de Flores has since spread to span 50 blocks and is a mall in the street. Learner also believes in participation of people in the life and development of the city, and that economic activity should not be separate from society.

Learner says that there are 3 main issues facing society in the future – “Mobility, sustainability, and identity”.  He feels that if all of these 3 things were addressed cities could be great places to live.  By the 1970s the population of Curitiba had grown tenfold in just 50 years and was clogged with cars.  Learner knew the solution was in public transport, but his city was CASH POOR.

He decided to go with SIMPLE methods and used a bus system to revolutionise transport in the city.  He designed a system which features;

1.      5 main arterial traffic roadsinto and out of the city. These routes had a central bus lanethat was totally dedicated to 2 directional public transport; not the car. This was to speed the journey for commuters on the bus.  This boosts the number of passengers per bus from 1,000 per day to 2,000. The arterial roads were also used as growth corridors of the urban and economic growth of the city.

2.      Triple articulated buses (bendy buses!); this further boosted the number of passengers per bus to an incredible 4,000 per day and Learner claims that it can move more people than a subway yet is 100 to 200 times cheaper.

3.      The buses are colouredaccording to their function;

·        Red busses were express buses with fewer stops,

·        Orange busses bring people from outlying districts to the express routes,

·        Green buses bring suburban people to the express routes,

·        And grey buses take suburban dwellers direct to the city centre but make many more stops.  There is only one fare and people can change busses on the same ticket. There are interchanges across the city so people can change directions and busses

4.      Rapid implementation within 2 years.

5.      Learner also improved this system by designing an elevated glass boarding tube, where people could shelter and buy their tickets, speeding up the journey.  The bus doors are wider and open directly into the tube, maximising access for all types of users including the disabled. Faster loading and unloading on the bus means less idling and cuts the bus travel times.

6.      The bus companies are paid per km driven not per passenger, this means the bus companies still want to run services on less popular routes, not argue over the more popular routes.


During peak hours busses arrive every 60 seconds and are always full.  Curitiba has one of the lowest rates of pollution as a result. An initial 25,000 passengers and that grew to over 2 million passengers. It is totally funded by the people who use it and has no government subsidy. 

Parks and open space

There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape which is unlike any other in a developing city. The parks were designed to be INTERCONNECTED and not isolated to maximise use.  They were designed by Hitoshi Nakamura.  The parks ring the city and some of the parks were built in 2 months. 

The parks increase the value of surrounding land, and many of the parks are dual purpose. 

One of the parks is used for flood control from the Iguazu River in the 1970s. Instead of putting a concrete channel around a river in Barigui Park to stop it flooding, they designed the park to absorb the flood waternaturally instead, and created lakes to absorb flood water.  This saved money from expensive hard engineering projects and the money could be used in social projects such as schools instead. The park covers 1.4 million m2

The parks also stop squattersfrom creating shanty towns in the flood prone zones.  The owners of skyscrapers alongside the parks were allowed to add extra stories to their buildings, if they added green space around the base of the building or paid extra tax that went to fund lower income housing.

Curitiba has 4 times the green space recommended – they even use sheep to “cut” some of the grass in the park!

Housing and social projects

Curitiba still has slums filled with poor people.  The city has a social charterdesigned to help them.

The slum dwellers have to cope with regular floods. The slums will be cleared but to solve this Curitiba has used Site and Service schemes, where the government offers low interest loans on the land and free house design for the people.  The residents are trained to build the houses and make up a large part of the labour force. The houses have electricity, sewerage and running water.

“If you want to make life better for people make the cities better for people.”

Urban growth is also restricted to corridors of growth - along key transport routes. Tall buildings are allowed only along bus routes.

COHAB, the public housing programme, is providing 50,000 homes for the urban poor.


The city has recycled waste since the late 1980s, well ahead of its time globally in terms of waste disposal.  It has an organised waste disposal system the rival of any first world city. The garbage is separated into 2 categories – organic and non-organic,which are collected by 2 separate trucks.

Learner also introduced an “Equation of co-responsibility” involving the “green exchange”– this was Learner’s idea to help the urban poor.  People in the slums collected rubbish, and the council paid for the weight collected using fruit and vegetables.  The council gains here because the people collect the rubbish in narrower roads where the council’s collection trucks can’t get to.  This also saves on expensive road widening.

The recyclable non-organic waste goes to a plant made of recycled materials!  They are separated into plastics, paper, and metals and all are recycled.  Curitiba recycles 2/3s of its waste.  The scheme generates jobs, reduces landfill and is cheaper than landfill as it generates money.  There is even a library of recycled books to be used by school children.

There are also "Lighthouses of Knowledge" in the city. These are free educational and internet centres.


The economy of Curitiba is principally manufacturing.  Volvo has a big factory there and in 1992 they developed the triple articulated busses. Volvo was attracted to the city by its educated work-force, Curitiba has one of the oldest universities in Brazil.

Brazil has developed rapidly since 1970 to become a NIC. Curitiba took advantage of these changes at this time and developed an Industrial City (Ciudade Industrial de Curitiba or C.I.C.) 10 km WSW of the city

The goal of the C.I.C was to upgrade the city’s economic profile and provide jobs for its citizens. It had the following features;

1.      In keeping with other developments in Curitiba SUSTAINABILITY was at its heart. The site was picked so that the dominant SE trade winds would blow any pollution away from the Curitiba city, and nearby water sources would be fully protected.

2.      Integration of Industrial facilities with public transport and other services.

3.      The industry was developed with parks around it limiting the impact on this green land (15% of the area is still Greenfield).

4.      20,000 housing units have been built in the area, so workers could cycle to work.

Industry represents 34.13% and the commerce and service sectors 65.84%. The CIC is home to many transnational industries, such as Nissan, Renault, Volkswagen, Philip Morris, Audi, Volvo, HSBC, Siemens, ExxonMobil, Electrolux and Kraft Foods, as well as many well-known national industries, such as Sadia, O Boticário and Positivo Informática. By 2000, over 550 factories were operating in the industrial city, providing some 50 000 direct jobs and 150 000 indirect jobs.

As well as the industrial city, there are nearly 6000 other industrial enterprises in Curitiba, right across the full range of industrial activity. This high level of diversification is again very beneficial in sustaining the quality of life of Curitiba’s citizens.


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