Jaime Lerner

Individual – Curitiba, Brazil

Jaime Lerner is an architect and urban planner who was mayor of Curitiba, in southern Brazil, and also elected twice as governor of the state of Paraná at various times between 1971-2002. His tenure of mayor between 1971-75, 1979-84 and 1989-92, transformed Curitiba into one of the greenest cities in the world with a 70% recycling rate and an efficient and fairly priced transport system that has been replicated successfully in Bogotá, Los Angeles and Panama. One of the key moves that allowed Lerner to achieve this success was the establishment of the Urban Planning and Research Institute of Curitiba (IPPUC) by his predecessor, Ivo Arzua Pereira (1962-1966). The creation of an independent agency that could supervise and implement planning ensured the continuity of city plans. The unique approach adopted by IPPUC addresses urban problems with inventiveness and simplicity, invariably costing much less than orthodox solutions, for example the use of herds of sheep to trim grass in municipal parks, a tactic that has been replicated in many cities across the world.

Starting out as a practicing architect and planner, Lerner was part of a local team from the Universidad Federal do Paraná which responded to a city call for a plan for the renewal of Curitiba in 1964. Known as the Curitiba Master Plan, it was adopted in 1968 and recommended the establishment of IPPUC. Following his appointment as mayor in 1971, Lerner took this work forward with his first big achievement being the pedestrianisation of the main shopping thoroughfare. This task was carried out in just 72 hours, the speed of conversion giving no time for shop-keepers to oppose the plans; although causing some controversy, with the subsequent increase in trade the scheme was accepted as a major improvement to the city's environment.

Lerner's best known urban project is Curitiba's integrated bus transit system, the Rede Integrada de Transporte (RIT), which carries as many passengers as a large-scale metro but at a fraction of the cost. Dedicated and exclusive bus lanes, innovative shelters, and a flat-rate which subsidises travel to the outskirts of the city where the poorest citizens live, mean that the RIT is regarded as one of the most efficient and cheapest transport systems in the world. Other problems were also solved in ways that show a thorough understanding of the city and its inhabitants, combined with the power to implement radical plans, for example the problem of collecting rubbish and encouraging recycling in the favelas where the streets are far too narrow for garbage trucks to pass. Here arrangements were made for trucks to visit the favelas at a set time each week, with bags of sorted rubbish being exchanged for bus passes or tickets to see a show or football match. School children were also encouraged to collect rubbish in exchange for toys; the unemployed and homeless were employed in recycling plants and retrained on salvaged computers. As governor, Lerner implemented a scheme where fishermen were paid to collect rubbish from the water, thereby supplementing their income and cleaning the bay at the same time. In Curitiba, rather than building expensive canals to divert flood water, floodplains were turned into parks with overspill areas becoming boating lakes. This has boosted green space in the city and costs much less than building expensive levees.

The initiatives put in place by Lerner show how creativity and lateral thinking can create sustainable and user-centred cities without the need for massive investment. Here spatial agency is encapsulated in understanding the connections between city-wide implementation and local conditions, but it is also a testament to the leadership and charisma of one man who has managed to bring about large-scale change in relatively short periods of time. Lerner's decision to pursue politics is perhaps of most importance; it is difficult to imagine how these achievements could have occurred without such an involvement and highlights how closely space is connected to politics.

Other Work

"Jaime Lerner sings of the city | Video on TED.com," TED, http://www.ted.com/talks/jaime_lerner_sings_of_the_city.html

References About

Daralice D Boles, 'Brazil's Modest Miracle', Landscape Architecture, 82 (6)(1992): 58-59.

Bill Hinchberger, 'Jaime Lerner', Metropolis, 25 (5)(2006): 77, 110.

Lucien Kroll, 'Creative Curitiba', Architectural Review, 205 (1227)(1999): 92-95.

Tom Phillips, "Jaime Lerner on what London can learn from his transformation of a Brazilian city | Society | The Guardian," Guardian, March 26, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/mar/26/communities.regeneration

Mike Power, 'Common sense and the city: Jaime Lerner, Brazil's green revolutionary | Environment | guardian.co.uk', Guardian, November 5, 2009, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2009/nov/05/jaime-lerner-brazil-green

Hugh Schwartz, Urban Renewal, Municipal Revitalization: The Case of Curitiba, Brazil, 1st ed. (Higher Education Publications, 2004).

Giovanni Vaz Del Bello, A Convenient Truth: Urban Solutions from Curitiba, Brazil, DVD (Maria Vaz Photography, Del Bello Pictures, 2007).


As I'm a descendent of Jews, I have some commandments that we need to follow. First commandment: use your car less. Second commandment: separate your rubbish. Third: live near to your work, or work near your home. It needs to be about life, work and movement being all together.
- Jaime Lerner quoted in, Tom Phillips, "Jaime Lerner on what London can learn from his transformation of a Brazilian city | Society | The Guardian," Guardian, March 26, 2008, http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2008/mar/26/communities.regeneration


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