by Sílvia Oliveira
The “ecological” Curitiba, that place you’ve heard so often called the best place to live in Brazil (maybe the world!), underwent a severe face-lift. Everything changed – a kind of Extreme Makeover of cities. Here a quarry became an actor’s stage, there a powder magazine became a theater and there a valley bottom became a park. Until the 1970’s, the city was far from being a mecca for Brazilian and foreign tourists, thought it would soon be off to the operating table. Lacking the immense waterfalls of Foz do Iguaçu of lands not far away, it sought to replicate such splendor in the waterfalls at Tangua Park, built over an old degraded area.
Today, it is the charming hallmark seen in so many photographs of Curitiba. Already rivaling the nearby Serra do Mar, one of the last remnants of the Atlantic Forest, making a visit perhaps a waste of time and money. The technical planning of the city entailed utilizing each and every patch of green in the city to create parks. And they have succeeded. They are immensely beautiful. The city with the highest concentration of parks per square meter on the planet is sure to be the capital of the state of Paraná. Once again someone’s skill with the knife has yielded fine results.
The municipality proudly carries the benchmark of 55 square meters of green space per inhabitant. Moreover, Curitiba has a reputation of being a pioneer in almost everything: the first Federal University in the country was founded in the city. The first Brazilian street designed to be completely covered (currently being renovated), the 24 Hour Street (“Rua 24 Horas”), lies at the heart of the capital city. It has the only museum in the world in the shape of an eye, the MON. It was signed by Oscar Niemeyer, one of the greatest Brazilian architects. Recently, the city inaugurated Brazil’s first Organic Market, a pleasant venue that offers more than a thousand products certified as having “no pesticides and chemical additives”.
The precursor “Ligeirinho” bus, a kind of subway on 4 wheels, has transformed the lives of those who depend on public transportation. While not ideal (there is overcrowding during peak hours and on some routes the name “slow bus” may be more appropriate), the system is so innovative that cities like Los Angeles are already adopting the model. Curitiba has simply worked out. In addition, it has an even greater resource, one that is engaging, diverse, with so many stories to tell: people!
People from everywhere and all walks of life. Immigrants dedicated themselves to agriculture and brought skilled labor for industry. So much work for one title: a people with a per capita income 40% higher than the national average. On Sunday, the highly competitive Largo da Ordem Fair, in the city’s historic downtown, will send you home with armfuls of trinkets, handicrafts, used books, antiques, and especially with the certainty that Curitiba is indeed the most successful architectural “liposculpture” in Brazil!
Photo: Raul Mattar