Jaime Lerner was a well-known architect, urbanist and politician from Brazil. He was appointed Mayor of Curitiba, the capital city of Paraná, three times. He then went on to become the governor of Paraná twice. During his terms in office, Jaime Lerner, with his team, achieved significant progress in both environmental protection and boosting the city’s spirit. He was a strong advocate of sustainability in urbanism and urban policies. Under his leadership and guidance, the city of Curitiba became the “Model Green City”.

A year after graduating from the Architecture School of the Federal University of Paraná, he co-established the Institute of Urban Planning and Research of Curitiba (IPPUC). Lerner won the UNICEF Child and Peace Award for his projects – ‘From Street to School’ and ‘Protecting Life”, the United Nations Environment Award (1990), World technology Award for Transportation (2001), and Sir Robert Mathew Prize for the Improvement of Quality of Human Settlements (2002). He was nominated as one of the world’s top 25 most influential thinkers by Time Magazine.

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“City is not a problem; it’s a solution.”

Jaime Lerner was a strong believer that cities held the answer to some of the world’s biggest problems, like climate change, for instance, where almost every leader looks at cities as a generator of never-ending problems like traffic, pollution and financial resources problems. He believed that every city holds great potential, and that, within three years, it is possible to turn around any situation that a city is in and solve any problem that the city and its residents might be facing.

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The Turtle Analogy_©nitibhan.com

Jaime Lerner compares ‘a car’ to ‘a person at a party who never leaves’. According to him, cars demand more infrastructure (freeways, parking, gas stations), cause more pollution but cannot carry more than 4-5 people. Buses, on the other hand, can carry around 300 people with lesser infrastructure requirement as a whole and hence they are the better choice. Every city faces two major problems – Mobility and Sustainability. Lerner was in a group of young architects who envisioned a transport system that was affordable, sustainable and accessible to all.

In line with this vision, in 1974, Jaime Lerner introduced the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) that was capable of supporting the large population of Curitiba. The Bus Rapid Transport was introduced as a means to “metronize” the bus. This system grew at an exponential rate of carrying 25,000 passengers a day to almost 2.5 million passengers a day. The BRT has been adopted in more than 80 cities in the world. The plans of the city of Curitiba prioritize buses over other vehicles by means of dedicated bus lanes, routes, feeder buses, and in 1982, “tube stations” or “boarding tubes” with pre-payment options. This step further helped in “metronizing” the buses.

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Metronized Bus and Tube Stations_©www.wordpress.com

Jamie Lerner says that elements like green buildings, new materials and new sources of energy are not enough for sustainability. According to him, the design of a city is what is most important when it comes to practicing sustainability at a large scale. Lerner’s master plans for the city resulted in an increase of green space per person from 1 sq.m to 52 sq.m. The plans included designating multiple green pockets and spaces throughout the city that would develop into gardens, parks and forested areas to act as buffer zones and recreational spaces in a crowded urban fabric. Predicted problems were solved with innovative solutions, for example, since maintenance of these green spaces was very expensive and not affordable to a developing city, Lerner and his team proposed the use of grazing cattle like sheep to keep the green growth at bay.

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Grazing sheep acting as lawn movers_©www.skyscrapercity.com

Jaime Lerner also believed in teaching children and young adults about urban sustainability and new policies as they are the future generation. For example, they were teaching children about waste segregation and recycling. According to him, children are the most active and effective means of spreading information. The children teach their parents and grandparents; they talk about it to their friends and cousins – everyone learns in a very short period.

Jaime Lerner, in his TED talk, talked about how creativity is born out of desperation and shortage. Removing a zero from your budget will increase creativity and innovation; removing two will do you wonders!

Jaime Lerner at his TED Talk- A Song of a City_©www.ted.comtalksjaime_lerner_a_song_of_the_city

In his book, “Urban Acupuncture: Celebrating Pinpricks of Change that Enrich City Life”, he writes: “I have always nurtured the dream and hope that with the prick of a needle, diseases may be cured. The notion of restoring the vital signs of an ailing spot with a simple healing touch has everything to do with revitalizing not only that specific place but also the entire area that surrounds it”. According to him, a similar phenomenon occurs between urban planners and designers and the city itself. Good urban design can revitalize the city and open up a plethora of new possibilities. He advocates the impacts of “Urban Acupuncture” – Small but impactful elements that completely turn around or complete the character of a space.

Jaime Lerner is one of the world’s most influential and experienced urbanists. During his three terms in office as the Mayor of Curitiba, he transformed the city and its fabric to make it more sustainable and rich in culture and heritage. He understood how people behaved and responded to the built environment, and he used that knowledge to design for the better.

References:

  1. Global Site Plans – The Grid. “The Vision of Jaime Lerner for Curitiba, Brazil | Smart Cities Dive.” Smartcitiesdive.com, 2017, www.smartcitiesdive.com/ex/sustainablecitiescollective/vision-jaime-lerner-curitiba-brazil/253266/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2022.
  2. Green, Jared. “Jaime Lerner’s Urban Acupuncture.” THE DIRT, 18 Sept. 2014, dirt.asla.org/2014/09/18/jaime-lerners-urban-acupuncture/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2022.
  3. “Jaime Lerner.” Culture.pl, 2022, culture.pl/en/artist/jaime-lerner. Accessed 22 Feb. 2022.
  4. Lerner, Jaime. “A Song of the City.” Ted.com, TED Talks, 2022, www.ted.com/talks/jaime_lerner_a_song_of_the_city. Accessed 22 Feb. 2022
Author

Anandita is an Urban Design student at CEPT University. An amateur with a mobile-camera and a notes app, she loves exploring whatever city she gets to visit. Her keen interest in architecture, the built environment and a love for all things words has led her to delve into architectural journalism.

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