Urban acupuncture and Curitibas creativity

Brazil's Curitiba, a city of 1.7 million, has tripled in population over the last 35 years. It is a byword for urban creativity and eco-

urbanity. Curitiba, with Freiburg in Germany, is a forerunner in its concern for ecological urban development. Curitiba's public transport and park system and creative ways of turning weaknesses into strengths are its trademarks. Emblematic is its Open University of the Environment, the first of its kind in the world, set up in 1992 and located in a reclaimed quarry. It carries out projects relating to a sustainable economy, conservation of the ecosystem and environmental education. Deep in a native forest covering 37,000m2, its researchers are influencing the growth of the city, whose economy is based on trade, services and processing industries.

In the mid-1960s a group of activist architecture and design students began making the case to improve the city's quality of life; this prompted a revolution in Curitiba's development. City officials recognized the possibilities, which led to a master plan. A key element was that mobility and land use could not be disassociated from each other. Therefore counteracting random sprawl through directing development along transport corridors was central. Jaime Lerner was one of the students and was later appointed mayor three times between 1971 and 1992, when he twice became elected governor of Parana, the region within which Curitiba falls. Lerner was responsible for creating and setting up an urban think tank, the Institute of Urban Planning and Research of Curitiba (IPPUC) in 1965, one of the plan's recommendations. Like in Barcelona and Bilbao, this was a forward-looking thinking brain for the city.

Nearly 40 years later Lerner wrote Urban Acupuncture to describe his approach to the revitalization of cities, which depends on the relative agility of local policy-makers and counter-intuitive thinking.47 Urban acupuncture involves identifying pinpointed interventions that by being accomplished quickly can be catalytic by releasing energy and creating a positive ripple effect. Lerner notes:

Keep in mind that the city is a scenario for encounters. Gregarious by definition, the city is the centre around which relationship codes are created. The great ideological conflict in today's world is globalization versus solidarity. It is necessary to 'globalize solidarity,' in Mario Soares' words.

The city is also the last solidarity retreat. The city is not the problem, it is the solution4

The aim of city-making and acupuncture is to create this solidarity. Usually this is achieved by acts of what Lerner calls 'urban kindness', which act like acupuncture. Examples can be either small and seemingly trivial or large. They can be the acts of individuals, the municipality or a business. For instance, after finishing his daily work, a Curitiba dentist used to go to his office's window and play the trumpet for anyone walking past. It can be the planting by the city of the first tranche of what later became a million trees in less than two decades. In the beginning it was a true gesture of urban kindness. To ensure that all the seedlings planted in the streets would be watered regularly, Curitiba asked people to help. The local authorities rolled out a campaign: 'The City provides the shade and you the fresh water.' And they water them. It can be Lerner's innovative recycling programme, where the city exchanged recycled materials collected by citizens, especially the poor, for food and bus tickets. Street children were given free food, but in order to get it they had to take a class to learn something. Similarly he got industry, shops and institutions to 'adopt' a few orphaned or abandoned street children, providing them with a daily meal and small wage for doing simple maintenance gardening or office tasks. Much of this might sound chaotic, and some insiders critize it, but the process builds social capital.

The fast acupuncture approaches had a purpose: 'preventing the inertia of complexity sellers, of pettiness and of politics from stifling critical opportunities and public projects'.49 The first pedestrian street in Brazil was created in 1972 over a weekend to avoid any opposition by merchants. Once it was successful they clamoured for more. Children involved in mural-drawing sessions have been a feature of Saturday mornings on the mall ever since. In 2002 the Oscar Niemeyer Museum was finished in five months. The complexities are easy to imagine, but there was an opportunity to recycle an old building designed by Oscar Niemeyer, a bold project from the 1960s, that had been used to house state government agencies. 'Refurbishing a bureaucratic space to be used as a space dedicated to creativity, identity, art, design, architecture, and cities was important. But once again, it had to be done fast.'50

Smart incentives act as acupuncture, fostering effective business-government partnerships. In this way positive action is reinforced by civic practice. For example, developers and builders receive a tax break when their projects include green areas. The historic preservation of a commercial district near the downtown

Urban acupuncture and social capital

In Calgary, if you ride a bike without a bell you get fined CAD57. It costs CAD100 to administer the fine and if you are caught it leaves a sour taste in your mouth. You are cross and hate the municipality (and probably the next person you meet). The city's director of bylaws thought there must a better way. He decided to buy 100 bells and 10 screwdrivers for his patrollers at a cost of CAD500. Now when someone is found without a bell, the patroller cautions them and tells them how lucky they are since they have a bell and a screwdriver and will give them a present. The net effect is they ride with a glow and are probably pleasant to the next person they meet. That kindness reverberates. It is how social capital is created and, counter-intuitively, the more you use it the more it grows.

was achieved by transferring development rights. The abandonment of heritage buildings had been a problem as developers wanted their deterioration and eventual demolition. Under the regulations, you can build in the rear or in another part of the city if you restore the old building in front. Tax discounts were also given for restoration. Owners are therefore compensated and historic structures are preserved. In designated areas of the city, businesses can 'buy' up to two extra floors beyond the normal, legal limit and can pay in cash or land, the receipts of which the city uses for low-income housing. Land-use legislation encourages high-density growth along the arterials, and a 'social fare' mass transit fare system was employed with the fare the same for close-in residents and lower-income users living on the periphery.

On a larger scale, Curitiba's bus system is so frequent that, as Lerner says, 'you never need a timetable'. It has articulated buses that can carry up to 300 people and trademark clear tubes for boarding, where people pay before entry and get on and off so speedily that it is like a metro. It is efficient, affordable, and solvent. Eighty cities around the world are using similar rapid bus transit systems, which can be constructed 20 to 100 times more cheaply than light rail or subway systems.

In the end long-term urban kindness pays back. It engenders social capital. The city government has demonstrated its commitment to the constant maintenance of green, pedestrian and landscaped areas, and now citizens, who once took the flowers and committed vandalism, have become responsible partners, protective of these public spaces.

Several guiding principles govern decision-making at city and community levels. Priority is given to people and public transport, design should keep nature in mind and technology should be appropriate to the situation. Three components guide Curitiba's regional planning: the idea, the viability and the operation. Planning, execution, and administration are handled separately by Curitiba's government. The three interface constantly, with weekly meetings among the mayor and key players in each area of responsibility, who define and set weekly targets. The ethos of city managers is that good systems and incentives are better than good plans. Awareness of environmental sustainability and each individual's quality of life is part of the education of every person in Curitiba. All school students participate in environmental surveys. Forty-seven school libraries have been brought outside schools to allow public access. They each have a lighthouse tower and guardhouse based on the ancient Library of Alexandria. Seventy-five per cent of commuters take the bus, although Curitiba has the second highest per capita car ownership in Brazil. This has resulted in one of the lowest air pollution levels in Brazil. Because of the integrated transportation system, Curitibanos spend only 10 per cent of their income on transport. During a period of startling population growth, Curitiba expanded its green space more than a hundredfold - from 0.5m2 of serviced green space per person to 52m2 per person - 21 million m2 in total. Free green-coloured buses and bicycle paths fully integrate these public spaces into their local and larger communities.

Curitiba shows that cities do not necessarily require expensive mechanical garbage separation facilities. Residents recycle two-thirds of their garbage in a programme that costs no more than the old landfill. The 'Garbage that is not Garbage' and 'Garbage Purchase' programmes involve kerbside pick-up and disposal of recyclables sorted by households and, in less accessible areas, the exchange of food and transit tickets for garbage collected by low-income residents. The 'All Clean' programme temporarily hires retired or unemployed persons, who concentrate on areas where litter has accumulated. Trash is separated into only two categories, organic and inorganic, picked up by two different types of trucks. Poor residents in areas unreachable by truck bring their waste to neighbourhood centres, where they exchange it for bus tickets or eggs and milk bought from outlying farms. Trash is separated at a plant built of recycled materials, sorted by workers who are handicapped, recent immigrants and alcoholics. Recovered materials are sold to local industries. Styrofoam is shredded and used as stuffing for quilts. Since its 1989 start-up, the recyclable waste programme has separated 419,000 tonnes - enough to fill 1200 twenty-storey buildings. Inorganic waste (plastic, glass, paper, aluminium) totals 13 per cent of garbage collected.51

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Acupuncture For Cynics

Acupuncture For Cynics

Have You Always Been Curious About Acupuncture, But Were Never Quite Sure Where To Stick The Needles? If you associate acupuncture with needles, pain and weird alternative medicine then you are horribly misinformed about the benefits of the world's oldest form of medicinal treatment.

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