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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