Street Smart

    Street Smart

    When Curitiba, a city on the southern state of Paraná, does
    something the world pays attention. Citizenship Street is a recent urban innovation in
    this city of 1.6 million people that is generally viewed as a model of orderly urban
    development in Latin America. As a meeting place, Boqueirão’s Citizenship Street is an
    unqualified success. The place also succeeds as an architectural statement and as an
    effective means of delivering city services. Can the world learn something from this
    experience? We believe so.
    By Charles W. Levesque

    It is 8:30 a.m. on an overcast Monday morning in the Boqueirão neighborhood of
    Curitiba, Brazil. A line of job seekers snakes out the door of the city employment office
    and into the street. There is no danger of anyone being hit by commuters rushing downtown
    or getting wet if it rains because the job seekers are waiting on Boqueirão’s
    "Citizenship Street," a covered, two story, two block long pedestrian mall. This
    open-ended, rustorange stucco tube of a building, capped with a bright yellow metal roof
    and bisected by a bus depot, was built in 1995 at a cost of approximately $2.5 million. It
    was designed to serve as the outpost of City Hall in this lowermiddle class neighborhood;
    a convenient place where neighborhood residents could access a wide range of city
    services.

    Today, nearly all of Curitiba’s municipal departments have an office on Boqueirão’s
    Citizenship Street. Municipal services are complemented by a smattering of small shops and
    the large bus terminal with its frequent service to downtown and other neighborhoods.
    Former Mayor Rafael Greca de Macedo has stated that Boqueirão’s Citizenship Street was
    designed to serve as "an open space and meeting place for citizens." Citizenship
    Street is also one of the most recent urban innovations in this city of 1.6 million people
    that is generally viewed as a model of orderly urban development in Latin America. What
    happens in Curitiba is often copied throughout the developing world as urban planners
    struggle with rapid urbanization. Is Boqueirão’s Citizenship Street a model worth
    copying?

    As a meeting place, Boqueirão’s Citizenship Street is an unqualified success. Even at
    this relatively early hour, the Street stirs with activity. Across from the job seekers,
    middle aged women stiffly mimic a gym teacher as she bounces and catches a plump, red
    rubber ball while strutting the length of the open air gymnasium. Next to the gymnasium
    there is a CD shop, a lottery outlet and a video game parlor. The shops are still
    shuttered.

    Ironically, while commerce sleeps, the Street’s bureaucrats are already at work. At the
    Municipal Department of Children’s Services, social workers confer over programs they are
    designing for 30 local day care centers. At the Department of Urban Affairs, technicians
    review blueprints for new buildings and work with local residents to issue business
    permits.

    Upstairs, teachers are meeting in a community room that usually serves as a small
    claims court and are struggling over strategies to reduce dropout rates in Boqueirão’s
    schools. Further down the Street, past the small storefront library, Maria do Amparo, 43,
    a teacher, is entering Curitiba’s Cultural Foundation to take a drawing class.

    Júlia Taniguchi, City Coordinator for Boqueirão’s Citizenship Street, estimates that
    approximately 90,000 people call and/or visit the Street each month. Leaning against a
    balustrade outside her second floor office, Taniguchi notes that the high volume of
    pedestrian traffic has led state and federal government agencies to open offices on the
    Street. Asked about problems on the Street, Taniguchi laments the lack of available space
    for other interested offices and businesses and the limited onsite parking.

    If a random survey this morning is any indication, the Street has won the approval of
    neighborhood residents, largely because of its convenience. At the employment office,
    Marcelo, 19, is waiting to sign up for unemployment insurance. He visited the street
    before to register for military service. Marcelo likes the Street because it facilitates
    errands like this. "You don’t have to go all the way downtown," where, he notes,
    the line would certainly be longer.

    Simone, also looking for work, likes the Street’s recreational offerings. She has taken
    classes at the gymnasium and borrowed books from the library. The only negative comment
    comes from Dilce, 44, who complains that the city spent too much money building the Street
    and promoting it to other cities in Brazil, the latter criticism a reference to the
    marketingsavvy City Hall technocrats who regularly produce highquality publications and
    exhibits touting Curitiba’s urban innovations.

    The Street also succeeds as an architectural statement. The building’s bold and
    colorful design adds needed spark to a nondescript neighborhood and hints that it is a
    special place. Seamlessly weaving transportation, shopping and government services into
    one structure, the City has created a vibrant streetscape; a place that draws all types of
    people pursuing different activities. Visitors to the Street this morning allude to this
    vitality when asked why the Street is called Citizenship Street. Simone responds that it
    is called Citizenship Street because it "is really a small city." Marcelo
    ventures that the name is derived from the fact that the Street "is a street for
    citizens."

    The Street is also an effective means of delivering city services. By making municipal
    services so accessible, Curitiba has not only made government more user-friendly but has
    also increased the likelihood that citizens will avail themselves of such programs. This
    is a significant achievement in a large city where a high quality of life depends on
    citizen compliance with municipal laws such as zoning ordinances and building codes, but
    where traditionally such compliance has been low.

    However, in an age where public investments increasingly are designed to leverage
    additional private investment, it is unclear whether the Street has acted as a catalyst
    for neighborhood development. While Citizenship Street hums with activity, the surrounding
    streets are notable only for the steady stream of cars and buses headed downtown. Side
    streets are pocked with vacant lots between the simple one story houses with their drab
    concrete walls. An official at the Department of Urban Affairs cannot point to any local
    commercial developments that stem from the construction of Citizenship Street. In fact, it
    seems entirely plausible that the Street may have drained some of the vitality of the
    surrounding community.

    Whether other cities will be interested in Curitiba’s Citizenship Street seems likely
    to depend on their fiscal resources and the strength of their downtowns. Curitiba is an
    affluent city by Brazilian standards and has sufficient financial resources to construct
    and operate these neighborhood centers. It also features a robust downtown with strong
    retail and residential sectors. In cities where commerce and residents are increasingly
    deserting downtown, it may not make sense to relocate government services which often
    anchor downtown businesses and support the local property market.

    Regardless of whether Curitiba succeeds in exporting its Citizenship Street, the city
    believes that it has found a model that works for its citizens. Since 1995, Curitiba has
    built Citizenship Streets in seven other city neighborhoods.

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