Isn’t this the truth all planners and urban designers are hiding from – we are in love with our cars and the motor industry is doing everything in its power to sell more – Europe’s fate depends on it – Isn’t that what makes Germany able to pay for all its poor lazy cousins in the South? Cape Town’s much vaunted BRT system no doubt helps a bit of congestion – but at what astronomical price?
This is my debut on Urban Times and after thinking much about what kind of issues I would like to propose in this very first publication, I realized that nothing could express my future contribution here better than a ‘urbanist’ discussion involving pedestrians and urban development.
I’m Brazilian. I came from the “new world”, more exactly, from the “most developed city” in Brazil in terms of the quality of life. Curitiba is well known between architects and urbanists all around the world because of its supposedly innovative transportation system. This is nothing but a special bus lane, wherein bi-articulated buses circulate carrying almost 1 million passengers per day. These buses are powered by gasoline. They cross the city from its two principal axes: north-south and east-west. Commuters are formed mainly by workers and students that don’t have a driving license yet.
In Curitiba, there are no metro or trams. Electric vehicles are far from making an appearance on the streets and even bio-diesel, the ecological fuel produced in the country, is not filling up all the bus tanks (very few vehicles use this kind of gas). But this same proud city, which has already won many international prizes, including the Sustainable Transport Award 2010, from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP), also holds the amazing record of having the biggest automobile fleet in Brazil. With a population of 1.7 million people, Curitiba has more than 1.2 million cars on the streets. That is, 0.71 cars for each citizen!
Curitiba transportation system (JoelRocha/SMCS)
This absurd statistic, based on more recent demographic numbers provided by IBGE (Brazilian institute of statistics), clearly shows how unsuccessful the transportation system is. But, in a country where a car represents a social status, this reality not only shows social problems but also exhibits an urban development dilemma where cars are more important than people and the urban areas are made to make circulation easy for motorized wheels. This model, I have to say, is responsible for the deserted streets that propitiates the rising of urban violence (no people on the street = perfect habitat for criminals).
Living in Paris since April, I sadly feel that Brazilians cities, Curitiba especially, are driving in reverse. While my hometown stimulates more and more people to have their own cars, and simply ignores the existence of the bicycles, what I see in Paris is a surprisingly good example of urban policies that are trying to put the automobiles away without risking city development. In this moment, two of the most important public projects will transform areas of the intense traffic into pleasant pedestrianised spaces.
The first one is taking place around the Place de la République, one of the most crucial circulation axes of the French capital, on the way to the north of the city. Until 2013, the area will be entirely rehabilitated to become a pedestrian’s paradise, free of cars. The second one will reconfigure the left bank of the Seine, bringing an even more expressive transformation. About 2.4 km of the lanes will be closed down to traffic and in its place will be constructed an sporting and leisure facility, including gardens and floating islands, where cultural events will entertain (more) the day-to-day life of Parisians.
A vision of the future bank (image source: REUTERS/Apur/JC Choblet)
So if I go back to my introductory proposition: does this old-fashioned habit of walking, increasing everyday here in Europe, makes life easier, or does it serves as a barrier on the development of emerging countries, such as Brazil?