For those of us living in the United States, and receiving our news primarily from U.S. media, it is easy to forget that countless citizens in other countries are quite interested in developing and living in urban environments that do not degrade the environment. When pressed to identify the locations of environmentally conscious cities in foreign lands, most Americans would point to Europe and the Scandinavian countries. Yet the U.S.'s neighbors to the south are joining in the growing global awareness that cities not designed to work in harmony with nature, will likely never come close to doing so.
One example of an eco-friendly metropolis in South America, is Curitiba, which bills itself as the ecological capital of Brazil. This prosperous city, located in the southern region of the country, did not start off as a green community. Curitiba was founded in the 17th century as a gold-mining camp, became the capital of the State of Paraná, and rapidly expanded to over 1.6 million residents. Such tremendous growth, if not steered by long-term thinking, could have easily resulted in Curitiba becoming a typical urban disaster, with streets clogged by polluting cars.
Instead, Curitiba's thoughtful city plan outlined sensible transportation and land-use policies designed to maximize public mass transit and self-sufficiency within local areas. The coordination of over a dozen separate bus systems, allows city transportation to be fast and convenient — essential ingredients missing from most U.S. transit systems. Local community self-sufficiency is achieved by providing all city districts with health care, education, and recreation facilities, thereby reducing transit load.
These efforts have not gone unnoticed. Curitiba was nominated as the American Capital of Cultural 2003, an initiative of the Organization of the American States (OEA). In addition, it won a UNESCO prize for its smart urban development. Even individual neighborhoods are gaining recognition: One residential area, called Ecoville, made news recently when an innovative apartment building was built and inaugurated within the neighborhood. The building's 11 levels can revolve independently, providing its residents with 360-degree views.