touring the bush (9) : brasilia vs curtiba, failed utopia / future utopia

unlike brasília, modern curitiba wasn’t brand new, the city came before the ideas for the city, and, in the beginning, it wasn’t even really a beacon of progress. dating back to the seventeenth century, in the late 1800s curitiba became the capital of the state of paraná. nothing particularly interesting yet. in the 1940s the city began to grow considerably with rural populations all over brazil (and the world in general) flocking to the nearest urban center. The city’s population of 50,000 in the early 1900s grew to around 450,000 in the sixties.

compared to brasília’s proud and heroic planning epic, curitiba has a somewhat darker little tale to tell. the notable moments in the city’s urban history coincide with times of shady political debauch. “alfredo” agache arrived from france in 1927, after a grand (urban) tour that included working in casablanca, lisbon, istambul and a third-place plan for canberra in 1912, championing garden city principles and “higienismo.” agache was one of the first “urban missionaries” to arrive in brazil, beating le corbusier to the pulpit. back then rio de janeiro already had a population of 2 million, and the city was trying to push a new phase of modernization and an adequate urban plan. here it starts to get interesting. In 1930, a coup d’état brought getúlio vargas into power, and he eventually inaugurated a fascist-toned dictatorship and police state, the estado novo in 1937.

between 1941-1943 agache created the first modern plan for curitiba, but it was never realized, and was stained by the unfavorable political circumstances of its inception (agache was highly criticized by the likes of costa and other “true” brazilian modernists). despite being tied to the vargas regime, the plan was actually less political than brasília, and it actually marked a more autonomous (and eventually more successful) planning history for the city, proposing a set of “functional guidelines” in terms of sanitation, transportation, congestion and productivity. it proposed a far more “neutral” or pragmatic structuring of the city, without the overwhelming symbolic charge of brasília, and proved to be a healthier legacy.

curitiba would grow in the shadow of the new capital. but as time would show, being closer to urban concerns and less tied to political spectacle was the key of the city’s planning successes. jaime lerner was born the same year as the estado novo. he was one of the young planners who created the institute of urban planning and research of curitiba, graduating in 1964, the same year the city commissioned a new preliminary urban plan to update the shelved agache plan. it was also the year of the coup that installed a right-wing military dictatorship in brazil that would last (with successive leaderships) until 1985. in 1965 the city launched a "curitiba of tomorrow" initiative, where planning issues were discussed and in a series of public debates. lerner contributed to the design of the 1966 master plan for the city that abandoned agache’s radial scheme and focused on linear expansion, sprawl control, transportation integration, downtown preservation and decongestion, and urban equipments.

lerner understood the plan as relatively flexible guideline for action, as opposed to a near-sacred overarching enterprise. in the following years, the implementation of the master plan incorporated new ideas, concepts and needs along with its basic provisions. hints of lerner’s innovative vision and attitude started to show. in the 1970s curitibia started closing down central city streets and turning them into pedestrian-only areas, and created a consequent set of arteries leading into and out of the city (they would later be the backbone of curitiba’s bus-rapid-transit system).

brazil in the 1980s fell into social discontent, economic downward-spiraling, poverty growht, overcrowding and slum urbanization and deforestation. meanwhile, curitiba reached its million-people mark with a whole set of unique sustainable development measures, including protected green belts and parks, the brt system, decentralized administrative processes and a city-wide recycling program. curitibia and not brasília would end up being the model city, not just for brazil, but a true global urban paradigm. who would've known...

next: brasília vs curitiba, now

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