20 May 2006

Jaime Lerner at Chase Auditorium

Very inspiring talk last night by Jaime Lerner, former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. He started with the motto that cities are not a problem but a solution, and touched on several aspects of his success in Curitiba and elsewhere. He emphasized the importance of being willing to work cheaply, on a small scale, and quickly.

He's coined a term, "urban acupuncture," which refers to small-scale successes—wonders of design or usefulness—around which cities cohere. One example was the Paley pocket park in New York. Another was the famous Metropolitain subway entrance in Paris. In Chicago, Millennium Park is clearly another example, though neither cheap nor quick. Just the same, urban life has been drawn to it and the surrounding area continues to evolve in response.

Though I don't think he ever explicitly used the word, beauty is critical. In response to another question, he talked about respect. Respecting all the people, poor as well as rich. This means decent, integral, affordable public housing; transportation systems that serve everyone; abundant public health care; and sufficient child daycare facilities. Though he didn't mention it, this also means public beauty.

Some principles around transportation systems: different modes of transit should never compete in the same space. Thus, he champions dedicated bus lanes. Also, it's all one system; one transit card for all modes, whether a person drives a car, takes a subway, rides a bike, or gets on a bus. With cheaper rates for using public transit (and, presumably, bicycling) than for using an automobile. The transportation system must work well; it must be seamless. In his city, he said, commuters never need to wait more than a minute for a bus. Transfers from mode to mode (e.g., from bus to subway) should be seamless as well.

On the Web this morning, I found this interesting article on what Chicago can learn from Curitiba.

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