touring the bush (10) : brasilia vs curtiba, now

the sun is out, sheep are trimming the lawns, as usual. they are watched by gardeners-turned-shepherds. instead of the constant jerky grumble and oily stink of mechanical mowers, you get the occasional bleat and the considerably gentler whiff of ruminant droppings. yes, mother nature’s little croppers are also excellent providers of fertilizer. when the time is right, the sheep are shorn to make blankets for the poor.

this is not a chapter in a precious moments my first good christian going green guide. this is brazil. yes, the same country you saw in all those movies with kids being shot in the head for stealing a candy or sold for organ adoption. but that’s rio, or sao paulo, this is curitiba.

ok, it sounds a little off. it probably is. yes, it is a little christian, this whole garden-as-a-little-piece-of-paradise-on-earth thing. yes, it is a tad populist, this spoonful-of-sugar planning. but somehow it’s working. 98% of the people who live here say they wouldn’t prefer living anywhere else.

besides, it’s not just sheep and lawns. there is a highly participative city-wide recycling program, and people who live up in hard-to-get-to favelas and bring down their trash to be collected get food or bus tokens for their contribution and effort through a “green exchange” program. social-service themed buses tour the city teaching clean water conservation or offering p.e. to poor kids. there is fifty square meters of green area per inhabitant, compared to the recommended twelve of international standards.

institutional innovations include the “lighthouses of knowledge” learning spots, a decentralized and easy-access network of city service branches known as “citizenship streets” and the open university for the environment. city-funded day care, tree-planting initiatives, conscious industrial regulations, recreational activities, auto-construction assistance, infrastructure conversion…all this is part of curitiba’s successful city-building.

brasília, on the other hand, despite its unesco world-heritage status and all its poured concrete greatness, remains an uncomfortable testimony to the contradictions of city planning solely in the service of (state) power. lonely planet sums it up like this: "though it probably looked good on paper and still looks good in photos, in the flesh it's another story." the city center is soulless, a precious collection of government buildings. the city's alternative to a pedestrian scale is walking long, dry and hot distances. it isn't rare when someone is run-over trying to cross a superhighway. an expensive metro system still remains unfinished. poor residents are located in faraway "satellite" towns, championing in higher-than-average sprawl-induced depression. infrastructural maintenance is poor and costly. people with moyens spend their weekends in sao paulo or rio.

the city is detached and limited. like a hollow idea. or as someone else puts it, "a photogenic myth".

next stop: caracas (it's gonna be bueno)

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