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Jaime Lerner
In 2000 I accompanied several Berkeley friends to attend an Eco-city conference in Curitiba. Previously I had read Bill McKibben’s very favorable account of his experiences of Curitiba in his book Hope, Human and Wild. I had also seen Lerner being interviewed on NBC’s hour long Sunday evening show. The commentator asked Lerner how he accomplished so much city development in so little time. Lerner replied among the first things I did was to appoint women to the City Council because they will make decisions. Lerner, a warm, thickly set and hearty man should have twenty Nobel Prizes for his work as three time mayor and planner of Curitiba. After spending eight days in the city I am just glad I lived to see it. Curitiba is the greatest example of urban planning and social programs in the world. With a population of two million it would best all other cities in ecological programs, transportation systems, parks, libraries, job training and most important, programs for social justice. Lerner, just out of graduate school in the late sixties, was appointed by the Brazilian government (at that time, a dictatorship) to redesign a colonial city of a half million residents into a model city to attract industry and business. The government wanted to resettle farmers, who were cutting rain forests to plant failing crops. When I was in CURITIBA in 2000, Lerner had assembled a team of 215 assistants under one roof. As a team they handled all city functions from designing actual architecture and parks to gathering and recycling trash. They also created a program for public education including television to build community loyalty and awareness.


1. Five mile diameter greenbelt with ponds and lakes. All industry to be located outside the greenbelt.

2. Main streets with busses running every 45 seconds during business hours. All high rises located on block next to main streets leaving the surrounding low rise city to be thickly planted with trees

3. Ring roads with connections to neighborhoods

4. Community centers, recreation and city offices located at intersections of fast streets with ring roads, 32 block long granite paved pedestrian business mall Lighthouse libraries. 8 district libraries with trade mark lighthouse but neighborhood regional design for each library. Environmental center built on reclaimed quarry. Outdoor meeting space, computer library designed into salvaged pole structure with winding ramp to top of quarry 80 feet above. Two large brick faced classrooms set in trees with 10 foot wide wood ramp through a water garden connecting all facilities. 1500 seat glassed in theatre over a reclaimed quarry formerly holding abandoned cars. Small white painted steel columns with arches and open grate walkways make this building into a glimmering, transparent and reflecting landmark in the city. More park space than any other city. An ecological plan incorporating flood plains and ranging in treatment from NYC Central Park manicure with benches, lighting and paved walks to grassy meadows (timed by sheep directed by homeless teenagers who are given a job and schooling), to vegetation left wild. These large parks have increased the city tax base because of property values going up directly around the parks. Job Training. One example is rebuilding busses so that trainers can travel to suburbs where people can learn skills from computers to sewing Quality day care for indigent families in beautifully designed architecture close to the city's two flavelas. (stainless steel kitchen with two white uniformed chefs serving two meals a day and snacks under a large skylight). If families are unable to pay one family member is employed by the city collect trash for one day a week. After absorbing all the excellent architecture, the range of staff and equipment from cribs to a grade school I found tears in my eyes. And this in a free enterprise society. Trash Pick up. For two flavelas lacking passable roads, residents are given large trash bags. They can exchange one bag of trash for one bag of produce set out on market tables. I also see Lerner’s approach to planning and design as a parallel to The Armature Way of Building. He utilizes a team concept with his team and with citizen participation while encouraging loyalty and pride in the community. Speaking for myself, Lerner has contributed more to the world than any other contemporary planner, architect or artist that I know of.

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