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Jaime Lerner on Making Curitiba’s First Pedestrian Street

This is the third installment of videos from Brazil. Demonstrating again how Curitiba Brazil was 35+ years in front of our NYC livable streets curve, this video is about a street transformation.

Former Mayor and founder of Bus Rapid Transit, Jaime Lerner sat down with me during my visit to discuss how and why he made the first pedestrian street in the middle of downtown Curitiba.

Rua XV de Novembro (15th of November Street) is a vital artery through downtown Curitiba. In 1972 under the direction of then Mayor Jaime Lerner, it became the first major pedestrian street in Brazil. The first phase of closing the street to automobiles and opening it to people took place in only 72 hours. The pedestrian plaza spans 15 blocks, and although it was initially unpopular, it is now a central meeting spot and the epicenter of local businesses in the center of Curitiba.

[music]
Jaime Lerner: [0:08] We have to have places where we can meet ourselves, and very pleasant places. Between all this slew of cars, we have to have a gap for people.
People: [Speaks Portuguese] [0:26]
Speaker: [Speaks Portuguese] [0:36]
Speaker: [Speaks Portuguese] [1:00]
Speaker: [Speaks Portuguese] [1:19] [music]
Jaime Lerner: [1:32] We knew that it should be for pedestrians, but the question was the people that were against emissions, they were against... We showed them the designs, and we realized that it's no way. A few blocks, we should do it immediately. [1:52] So, I called my Secretary of Public Works, and asked him how long it would take. He told me around five months. "No, I need this in 48 hours."

[2:03] He said, "You're crazy."

[2:06] We started the whole discussion on one day. "OK, one week, if we could have the whole street furniture, all materials, all the manpower together and working 24 hours."

[2:21] At the end, we were agreed with 72 hours with that one. Friday night, and we finished on Monday night.

Speaker: [speaks Portuguese] [2:32]
Speaker: [speaks Portuguese] [2:41]
Jaime Lerner: [2:51] What happened in Curitibas, we were a very young group of professionals and we had the courage to start. And the moment when we started, we saw that it could be improved, and improving any one solution could bring synergy to another solution. Now, probably transport to cultural problems.
Speaker: [speaks Portuguese] [3:17]
Jaime Lermer: [3:22] Sometimes, we have to work fast. Why? First, to avoid our own bureaucracy. Second is to avoid political problems. Once the political decision is done, you have to do it fast. If not, it's going to be like a Sunday branch in a huge family and have a huge discussion. You have to start immediately. [3:51] The third reason to be fast is to avoid your own insecurity.


Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    This is an absolutely wonderful story. I want to go there!

  • http://www.transportehumano.com.br Luis Patricio

    XV Street is really a nice place here in Curitiba. Unfortunately it was an isolated measure taken more than thirty years ago.

    On the last decades it's happening exactly the opposite. Public parks cut down in half, lots of new fast lanes, underpasses ...

  • brian

    the micro-centro neighborhood of buenos aires has a wonderful network of pedestrianized streets also.

    calle florida is one of them and connects with others:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florida_Street

  • Shemp

    It's ridiculous to say "Brazil is 35 years ahead" when focusing on one city that isn't exactly the country's center of gravity. Sao Paulo and Rio not exactly kicking butt here.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/ Elizabeth Press

    Shemp thanks for the comment - Curitiba, Brazil would have been more appropriately stated...the integrated thought process around public transportation, public spaces, parks, recycling, social project etc 35 years ago in Curitiba are things we have only started to pay attention to and focus on in NYC over the last several years.

  • http://www.computer-s.net/v/sexhinam.com Giuseppe Zadrozny

    You have some excellent points there. I did a lookup about the topic and I want to say that I found out many people today will agree with your post.

  • http://www.facebook.com/henrique.jakobi Henrique Jakobi

    But since those almost 40 years ago, Curitiba did nothing significative for pedestrians or public transportation (there is not even a subway and Curitiba is almost 2 million people) and now all the efforts the to make mobility better (at least is what the mayor and most of people in the city think) is dedicated for cars. But, that is not the problem, is much more serious. That is just a reflect of sad culture when cars are not only a mean of transportation but an object of status and desire, added with a lack of traffic education and a lack of respect in general.
    New car lanes cross squares and parks and take a piece of the sidewalks. Everything they built is prioritizing cars. And all those actions do not provide a better quality in transport as traffic is only getting worse. Some exclusive bus lanes were disabled! Even if the Bus Rapid Transit was still the same, it would not support the new traffic, but it was even made worst.Drivers think they own the streets: most never stop for pedestrians in the right and do not respect cyclists (whose have not a safe place to ride to work of school, as bike paths only connect parks) or other drivers, driving in a dangerous way, never using blinkers or respecting preference.This commentary comes from cyclist from Curitiba. And, unfortunately, if you complain to a driver for your right as a pedestrian of cyclist, they will tell down on you or even threat you, as here cars have always preference. I was other day almost killed by a police car when crossing legally the street in a crosswalk and the most absurd is: if you jaywalk, drivers get offended.I think our child are misinterpreting that Cartoon with Goofy, Motor Mania.