TREATING CITIZENS AS A PRECIOUS RESOURCE
TOWARDS A RESTORATIVE ECONOMY AND SOCIETY
Curitiba, as described by Paul Hawken (3), in his Natural Capitalism, and updated by Brazilian environmentalist Daniel Conrado, as an example of a "restorative economy and society", is a south-eastern Brazilian city with the population of America's Philadelphia.
It shares with hundreds of similar sized cities in the developing world a dangerous combination of scant resources and rapid population growth. Yet it has flourished by treating all its citizens (most of all its children) not as a burden but as the city's most precious resource, that is as creators of its future. Curitiba has succeeded by combining pragmatic leadership with an integrated design process, strong public and business participation, and an inspiring, widely shared vision.
In the restorative process, during the period of the 1970s and 1980s, parks were renewed to revitalize the arts, culture and history of the urban core. The city's rich ethnic heritage has been honoured and preserved, with a ceremonial gate and special centre created for each main culture. The urban core, relieved of commercial pressures, has been returned to pedestrian priority. In addition, the city has built schools, clinics, day-care centres, parks, food distribution centres, and cultural and sports facilities throughout its suburbs, democratizing amenities previously available only to those who journeyed downtown.
MAYOR LERNER: BRAIN OF A TECHNOCRAT, SOUL OF A POET
It all began in 1971, when Brazil was still under military dictatorship. The governor of Parana state chose as mayor of its capital city a 33-year-old architect, engineer, urban planner and humanist named Jaime Lerner. Informal, energetic, intensely practical, with the brain of a technocrat and the soul of a poet, Lerner was selected not only for his knowledge of the city's needs but also for his supposed lack of “political" talent. The governor wanted someone politically nonthreatening. Unexpectedly Lerner turned out to be a charismatic, compassionate and visionary leader who ultimately ended his three terms, totalling a record 12 years, as the most popular mayor in Brazilian history, who has truly "lit up" his people's lives, through education of all kinds, in all places. In fact his leadership and example were adopted by all the mayors that came after him, even from opposition parties, in a way that permitted his goals to continue to be pursued.
ESTABLISHING LIGHTHOUSES OF KNOWLEDGE AND HEALTH PROGRAMMES
With nearly 100 children born daily, Curitiba has consistently spent 27 per cent of its budget on education. Its 120-odd schools, many reused for adult education at night, have achieved one of Brazil's highest literacy rates: over 94 per cent by 1996.
Environmental education, too, starts early in childhood and is not just taught in isolation but integrated across the core curriculum. Similarly, when gangs tore up the flower beds at the new Botanical Garden, their vandalism was interpreted not as a venting of hostility but as a cry for help that led to their hiring as assistant gardeners.
At the same time libraries termed "Lighthouses of Knowledge" emerged with the aim of having one within walking distance of every child's home. A ten-volume text on Curitiba's history, culture and civics has been developed that is fundamental to all primary schooling. Moreover, strengthening civil society is the focus of many other important programmes in Curitiba. The larger bus terminals contain "Citizenship Streets", clusters of satellite municipal offices that bring City Hall to its constituents where they change bus lines. These Citizenship Streets also offer information on training, business loans and job opportunities; the largest one is integrated with a street market. They also provide shops, cultural spaces, and sports and arts facilities for community use.
The health of children was taken very seriously, beginning with the programme called "Mae Curitibana", that follows pregnant women from the beginning of their pregnancy through to delivery. It provides all the necessary examinations as well as educational workshops covering general health and good care of the baby. There are around seven thousand professionals involved in this programme, spanning physicians, nurses, nutritionists, dentists and health agents. The number of children's deceases in Curitiba in 2013 was the lowest in its registered history, that is 216 deaths for under-one-year-olds, and 9.6 per cent less than that in 2014.