Curitiba, Brazil's leading smart city

It was the central topic of the last "Cities Against Inequality" session, organised by Casa Amèrica Catalunya in collaboration with DIPLOCAT 

The last session of the "Cities Against Inequality" series, organised by Casa Amèrica Catalunya in collaboration with DIPLOCAT, took place today. Over the course of three talks, experts from Catalonia and Latin America discussed key issues in transforming cities into fairer, more liveable and more sustainable places: namely, access to decent housing, public health, and improving public safety.

The theme of this last session was sustainable urban planning based on the model city of Curitiba, which is considered to be Brazil's leading smart city. Eloy Casagrande, coordinator of the Green Office at the Technological University of Paraná (UTFPR, Brazil), and Sara Vima Grau, PhD student in Sustainable Housing at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), demonstrated how innovation and technology are often implemented without really addressing existing social needs.

Casagrandre reviewed the city's urban development throughout history and highlighted its urban planning model, which has been a reference for many other cities. However, he does not foresee a promising future due to a 200% increase in population in the past 50 years and the city's transition to a tourist destination. Curitiba uses elements that reflect the city's cultural identity through innovative and visually striking designs, such as bus stops in the shape of the Paraná pine tree. Furthermore, it was the first city in Brazil to create a promenade and close its main commercial thoroughfare to become completely pedestrianised. In addition, public transport was separated from other vehicles to improve mobility, and a series of parks were created to prevent flooding caused by the various rivers that flow through the city.

The city currently has 60m2 of green space per inhabitant, which is double the UN recommendation. It also pioneered the introduction of sorted waste collection and recycling projects in 1989. After so many years, only 22% of waste is recycled, which is low despite being well above the 4% of the rest of Brazil's cities. However, the city is no exception to the challenges faced by tourist hub cities. Beyond the city centre, which is an exemplary model of planning and design, the city has up to 410 unregulated urban development areas, and more than 50,000 families live in poverty and in flood risk zones. Moreover, Curitiba has more cars per inhabitant than any other city in Brazil, despite the city's commitment to improving mobility.

To this end, the speaker praised the work carried out by the university's green office. The project sets out to extend the university beyond its doors and to open a dialogue with society to discuss and promote sustainable construction and mobility, environmental education and technological innovation with and for all stakeholders.

Vima agreed that the Barcelona project, known as a city of architects, especially in reference to the Barcelona'92 Olympic project, has also been exported to other places. Although it often failed to fit into the right context and time. She also drew attention to the similarities between Barcelona and Curitiba's pursuit of sustainability, social equality, and environmental care. Vima felt that the focus should be placed on innovation. Technology use as a tool to reduce inequalities should be encouraged. It need not be a goal in itself, but the important thing is what we use it for and who can use it. As such, she challenged the relationship between development and growth. Vima believes that development and progress should not be incompatible with decline.

Lastly, the speaker also emphasised what can be done at the university level and how to develop inclusive and successful green innovation. There is a need to apply the "quadruple helix", which envisages interaction between all stakeholders involved in the knowledge and entrepreneurship ecosystem, i.e. universities, business, government and civil society. Along these lines, she mentioned how technical universities in Catalonia already work actively and jointly with companies and public administrations, but that the fourth necessary stakeholder, civil society, is only now beginning to be included.

At a time when the majority of the world's population lives in cities, urban centres have often become a source of unrest and conflict for the physical and mental health of their citizens. Cities must shift towards healthier and more sustainable spaces to become more welcoming to their inhabitants. This series of three talks explored issues that can have an impact on making cities more sustainable, safer, healthier and friendlier spaces: how to ensure citizens' health (less air, noise and light pollution, based on a comprehensive energy transition or waste management); improving safety on public roads (with new urban planning that incorporates artificial intelligence); and guaranteeing adequate housing for all (efficient and sustainable buildings).