Curitiba City, A Model In Sustainable Urban Planning

Curitiba City, A Model In Sustainable Urban Planning

Curitiba City, Brazil

Curitiba City is the capital city of Paraná state, in south-east Brazil. The city has a population of approximately 1.95 million. Around 3.7 million people live in Curitiba’s metropolitan area. With over 80 million m² of preserved green area, this is equivalent to 41m² of green space per city resident. Curitiba is the ‘greenest’ city in South America. The WHO recommends a minimum of 9m² of green space per inhabitant.


75% of human-made CO2 emissions are derived from cities. Transportation and buildings are the biggest contributors to human-made carbon dioxide emissions. The global consequences of rapid urban change include heavy traffic congestion, widespread environmental damage, and large favela/shanty settlements. How did Curitiba mitigate these problems?
A great deal of praise for the success of Curitiba resides with the popular architect Jaime Lerner. Curitiba implemented a majority of its best practice methods in the 1980s. Lerner is the three times mayor of Curitiba city (1971–1974, 1979–1983 and 1989–1992) and two terms governor of Paraná state (1995–2002). He is also one of Time magazines most influential thinkers of 2010.

“City is not the problem, city is the solution.” – Jaime Lerner
Botanical gardens, Curitiba.
Botanical gardens, Curitiba. Image: Sergio Souza | Unsplash
Botanical gardens
Jardim Botânico, Curitiba. Image: João Victor Valeriote | Unsplash.

Lessons To Learn

What interventions have Curitiba city put in place that could benefit other developed / developing nations?


Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system

In 1974, Curitiba implemented an integrated transportation network. This model and design are the blueprints for global transportation networks. Two dedicated middle lanes are reserved on major streets for the BRT system. Curitiba’s BRT serves over 2 million passengers a day. Passengers prepay before boarding the elevated tubular-shaped bus shelters. These shelters are accessible for all residents, including those that are wheelchair users. Most of Curitiba’s residents live within 400 m of a bus stop. Brazil is a major producer of soya beans and ethanol. Curitiba’s buses run on biodiesel derived from 100% soya beans. Hence, reducing the city’s CO2 emissions. A vast improvement in air quality stems from the lower numbers of private vehicles on the road and the reduction in consumption of oil-based fuel for transportation.


Green Spaces

Since 1968, Curitiba’s green ideas and policies have promoted the cultivation of parks and urban forests. Locals have planted over 1.5 million trees on highways over the decades. The city is on a plateau and the flat terrain is prone to flooding. 16 parks, 14 forests and artificial lakes protected by-laws and municipal inspections help Curitiba city to manage its flood lines. They built these parks instead of canals to reduce flooding. The parks are grazed by the city’s sheep to reduce maintenance costs. They dedicate the smaller parks to the ethnic groups that have settled in this region (including Japanese, Ukrainian and Polish).

The lack of biodiversity in these green spaces and the uncontrolled loss of natural areas in the metropolitan regions are the criticisms of Curitiba’s green plans.



The Free University of the Environment (UNILIVRE) sits deep in Zaninelli park. Pre 1983, the Zaninelli family managed an active quarry at this site. Present day, a dense forest inhabited by several species of birds and a lake filled with carp have replaced the old quarry. UNILIVRE is a non-profit higher learning institution that specialises in the environment, ecology and sustainable urban management.


Pedestrian Zones

In 1972, they transformed Rua das Flores into the first pedestrian promenade in Brazil. This street is a major retail hub in the centre of Curitiba and also home to most of the city’s major shops.  Visitors to the city can access this road on foot, by bicycle or via the BRT network.

Alameda Ecologica Burle Marx, Curitiba. Image: Gilberto Jacob | Unsplash
Free University of the Environment
Free University of the Environment (UNILIVRE). Image: Patrick Miyaoka | Unsplash.

Waste Management

Curitiba collects and disposes of 100% of the city’s municipal wastes. The city’s only landfill is governed by strict environmental standards. A separate team manages hazardous waste (including collection and treatment). Debris from construction and demolition are also collected separately.

The Green Exchange

In Curitiba city agriculture and waste management go hand in hand. For every 4kg recyclable waste collected the city reimburses its residents with 1kg of fresh fruits, eggs and vegetables or bus transit passes. Waste collection trucks exchange recyclables for food stock 3 times a week. Residents can drop off their recyclables at various locations, including 9 bus terminals. This enables all residents, especially those from low-income areas, to find some value in recycling. Furthermore, local communities receive 10% of the value of the food baskets for community works and services. In Curitiba, recyclable items include plastic, metals, paper, glass, used oils, old electronic devices and household white goods. Hard to recycle plastics like Styrofoam are rare in Curitiba.

Fast-food restaurants serve customers food on real plates and silverware, thus reducing waste attributed to the food industry.


In 1989, they added environmental education to the school curriculum. This subject includes conservation, recycling and a wide range of environmental issues. Curitiba’s children are educated about recycling at an early age, they educate their parents. Children are encouraged to bring in their recyclable waste to school. At the end of the year, they receive a toy. Sometimes recycled materials are used to make the toy. This method of reinforced learning of what they can recycle, how and where; enables Curitiba city to maintain a 70% recycling rate.

Economic Benefits

Waste management creates over 2,000 private and public jobs, via workers responsible for transporting and collecting recyclables, street sweeping and operating the landfill. An additional 10,000 people are gainfully employed in collecting waste and depositing these items at the recycling centre. Since residents travel to collection points, the city saves money on door-to-door collections.  

“If you want creativity, cut a zero off your budget if you want sustainability cut off two.” – Jaime Lerner


A great deal of the economic support provided to enable the transformation of Curitiba city was possible because of Curitiba Industrial City (CIC). CIC is an integrated district 10km from Curitiba’s centre. Providing 50 thousand direct jobs and 150 thousand indirect jobs from 794 companies. The urban network bus system transports employees to and from this district. CIC is home to industries that only provide functions and services that do not cause damage to the environment.


Power generation

84% of Curitiba’s energy needs are fulfilled by hydropower.

In 2018, Curitiba started a project to tap into potential clean energy generation from its artificial lakes and waterfalls in Barigui park. Using the Archimedes’ screw principle, Hydroelectric Energy Generator (CGH) in Barigui park, might generate 30Kw of electricity. This project could produce clean energy, reduce the city’s GHG emissions, and enhance flood management.

Parque Barigüi, Curitiba. Image: Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz) | (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Curitiba city is an excellent model for developing nations that need to mitigate flooding or land erosion issues, waste management, air quality, and transportation matters on a tight budget. Additionally, this city has thrived while also being culturally sensitive (parks). Various industrious companies have grown the economy of this region (CIC). Furthermore, clear and consistent respect for the environment is upheld (UNILIVRE).

The Sustainable Song

Lerner is well known for his catchy songs. The video below shows his Tedtalk from 2008. The sustainable song by Jaime Lerner is worth a listen (14:18).

♫ It’s possible! It’s possible!
You can do it! You can do it!

Use less your car!
Make this decision!
Avoid carbon emission!

It’s possible! It’s possible!
You can do it! You can do it!

Live closer to work!
Work closer to home!
Save energy in your home!

It’s possible! It’s possible!
You can do it! You can do it!

Separate your garbage!
Organic, schmorganic!
Save more! Waste less!

It’s possible!
You can do it!
Please do it now! ♫

Feature Image:

Curitiba City Parana State Brazil
Curitiba City, Brazil. Image: rodrigomullercwb | Pixabay


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