Success Stories

Sustainable urban planning in Brazil

Rapid growth of urban areas presents both environmental and socio-economic challenges to residents, businesses and municipalities. With inadequate planning and limited finances accommodating the increasing urban populations often results in expansion of informal housing in cities or suburban developments requiring high use of private transport.Brazil has the fourth-largest urban population after China, India, and the US, with an annual urban growth rate of 1.8 per cent between 2005 and 2010. The city of Curitiba, capital of Parana State in Brazil has successfully addressed this challenge by implementing innovative systems over the last decades that have inspired other cities in Brazil, and beyond.
Through its innovative approaches in urban planning, city management, and transport planning going back as far as the 1960s, Curitiba has been able to grow in population from 361,000 (in 1960) to 1.828 million (in 2008), without experiencing typical drawbacks from congestion, pollution and reduction of public space. The population density in the city has increased three-fold from 1970 to 2008. At the same time, the average green area per person increased from 1 km² to over 50 km².

One of the key elements of urban planning was a choice for growth in a ‘radial linear-branching pattern’, which served to protect both density and green areas. This pattern encouraged - through a combination of land-use zoning and provision of public transport infrastructure - a diversion of traffic from the city centre and the development of housing, services and industrial locations along the radial axes.

Economic and environmental benefits
Cities offer considerable opportunities to reduce CO² emissions when applying coordinated approaches to emission reductions in transport and buildings, which are the two of largest sources. As a result of integrated urban planning, Curitiba has the highest rate of public transport use in Brazil (45 per cent of journeys), and one of the country’s lowest rates of urban air pollution.

The economic and resource efficiency benefits of such initiatives are considerable. Curitiba’s fuel usage is 30 per cent lower than in Brazil’s other major cities. Excessive fuel use due to severe traffic congestion – estimated at a value of US$1 million for Curitiba in 2002 – was about 13 times and 4 times less in per capita terms than those in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, respectively. The per capita loss due to time spent in severe congestion in Curitiba is approximately 11 and 7 times less than in those two cities, respectively.

Policy and city planning for ecological infrastructure and industrial activity
By turning areas vulnerable to flooding into parks planted with many trees, and creating artificial lakes to hold floodwaters, Curitiba has managed to address its potentially costly flooding problem, in terms of flood control and drainage. The cost of this strategy, including the relocation costs of slum dwellers, is estimated to be five times less than building concrete canals. Also, as a result, the property values of neighbouring areas appreciated, and tax revenues increased.

The local government established the Curitiba Industrial City (CIC) on the city’s west side, taking into account wind direction to avoid polluting the central city. The CIC has strict environmental regulations and “polluting” industries are not allowed. After three decades, the CIC today accommodates more than 700 companies, including an automaker producing BRT buses and information technology companies. The CIC has already created about 50,000 direct jobs and 150,000 indirect jobs, and about 20 per cent of the state’s exports are from the CIC.

Curitiba has also promoted waste management infrastructure and public awareness on waste separation and recycling. With 70 per cent of the city’s residents actively recycling, 13 per cent of solid waste is recycled in Curitiba, as compared to only 1 per cent in Sao Paulo. All in all, Curitiba presents a case study of how smart urban planning can avoid significant costs in the future and improve efficiency, productivity and quality of life for its inhabitants.


Eco2 Cities: Ecological Cities and Economic Cities, World Bank, 2009