Pedestrians x Urban Development vs BRT X Cars

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?

Paris Covered Passages and Shopping Arcades

The typology of the covered street and arcade as was made famous in Milan and Paris inteh 19th Century would be a fantastic reintroduction in todays cities – no the artificially controlled one of the shopping mall, but true public urban space, especially in cities such as Cape Town which has many days of inclement weather 

In the early 19th century Paris contained nearly 150 covered passages filled with shops and studios that helped establish Paris as a shopping capital of the world. But after the large department stores came into being, that number dwindled to a precious few. Janet deAcevedo Macdonald here lists passages couverts de Paris worth a visit from Bonjour Paris.

Galerie Vivienne. Photo: DolceDanielle

Passages are pedestrian pass-throughs beneath glass ceilings created to protect shoppers in inclement weather. Shopping today at a passage is an uncommon shopping excursion that combines architecture and pleasures of window shopping; or as the French say faire du lèche-vitrine (literally, window-licking).

Galeries VivienneColbert and Véro-Dodat are among the most magnificent of the Paris passages and all are located in the first and second arrondissements.

Passage Colbert. Photo: couscouschocolatVéro-Dodat. Photo: NOV-A-KA-IINN

Galerie de la Madeleine in the Paris 9th is a tinier location, just 173 feet in length, but earlier this year it served as a backdrop for haute couture runway shows. The early 19th century setting has a blend of antique shops, fashion boutiques and librairies anciennes.

The popular Passages Jouffroy and Panoramas by the Grands Boulevards retain centuries-old charm with shops for collectors of stamps, books, old postcards and vintage toys.

Passage Jouffroy. Photo: Interzone00Passage Panoramas. Photo: Interzone00

To find these places and more visit

Some passages are devoted entirely to a theme, such as the Passage du Grand Cerf (Big Deer Passage) located in the quartier Montorgueil, Paris 2nd. Passage du Caire, built in 1798, is popular with contemporary artists, craftsmen, artisans and designers. The busy Arcades des Champs-Elyséespassages in the Paris 8th offer the world’s finest in luxury shopping.

Enjoy discovering these mystical, ancient places filled with old-fashioned charm from Paris past.

PHOTO CREDITS: Galerie Vivienne. ©DolceDanielle; Passage Colbert. ©couscouschocolat; Véro-Dodat. ©NOV-A-KA-IINN; Passage Jouffroy and Panoramas. ©Interzone00

To find where they are read more here

Paris hosts the world’s first municipal EV hire scheme

This article originally appeared in Green Futures, the leading magazine on environmental solutions and sustainable futures published by Forum for the Future. 


Parisians can now hire blue, battery-powered, bubble-like cars

Parisians will soon be zipping round Charles de Gaulle Etoile in little blue bubble-like cars, as the world’s first municipal electric vehicle (EV) hire scheme gets underway. Mayor Bernard Delanoë has pioneered the €110 million Autolib initiative to complement the Vélib bicycles, introduced in 2007. The fleet of 3,000 lithium battery-powered cars is designed by Italian partner Pininfarina, best known for their work on desirable brands like Alfa Romeo and Ferrari. Manufactured by French company Bolloré, they will be available later this year from 1,000 self-service hire points throughout the city. Continue reading