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TED2007

Jaime Lerner: A song of the city

March 3, 2007

Jaime Lerner reinvented urban space in his native Curitiba, Brazil. Along the way, he changed the way city planners worldwide see what’s possible in the metropolitan landscape.

Jaime Lerner - City evangelist
From building opera houses with wire to mapping the connection between the automobile and your mother-in-law, Jaime Lerner delights in discovering eccentric solutions to vexing urban problems. In the process he has transformed the face of cities worldwide. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
I hope you'll understand my English.
00:19
In the mornings it is terrible, and the afternoon is worst.
00:21
(Laughter)
00:27
During many years, I made some speeches starting with this
00:30
saying: "City is not a problem, it's a solution."
00:35
And more and more, I'm convinced that
00:40
it's not only a solution for a country,
00:46
but it's a solution for the problem of climate change.
00:50
But we have a very pessimistic approach about the cities.
00:55
I'm working in cities for almost 40 years,
01:02
and where every mayor is trying to tell me his city is so big,
01:06
or the other mayors say, "We don't have financial resources,"
01:13
I would like to say
01:19
from the experience I had: every city in the world
01:22
can be improved in less than three years.
01:26
There's no matter of scale. It's not a question of scale,
01:34
it's not a question of financial resources.
01:38
Every problem in a city has to have its own equation of co-responsibility
01:41
and also a design.
01:48
So to start, I want to introduce some characters
01:51
from a book I made for teenagers.
01:57
The best example of quality of life is the turtle
02:00
because the turtle is an example of living and working together.
02:06
And when you realize that the casque of the turtle
02:13
looks like an urban tessitura,
02:18
and can we imagine, if we cut the casque of the turtle, how sad she's going to be?
02:23
And that's what we're doing in our cities:
02:32
living here, working here, having leisure here.
02:34
And most of the people are leaving the city
02:37
and living outside of the city.
02:41
So, the other character is Otto, the automobile.
02:44
He is invited for a party -- he never wants to leave.
02:50
The chairs are on the tables and still drinking,
02:55
and he drinks a lot. (Laughter)
03:00
And he coughs a lot. Very egotistical:
03:02
he carries only one or two people
03:06
and he asks always for more infrastructure.
03:09
Freeways.
03:16
He's a very demanding person.
03:18
And on the other hand, Accordion, the friendly bus,
03:21
he carries 300 people --
03:25
275 in Sweden; 300 Brazilians. (Laughter)
03:28
Speaking about the design: every city has its own design.
03:39
Curitiba, my city: three million in the metropolitan area,
03:44
1,800,000 people in the city itself.
03:48
Curitiba, Rio: it's like two birds kissing themselves.
03:53
Oaxaca, San Francisco -- it's very easy:
03:56
Market Street, Van Ness and the waterfront.
03:59
And every city has its own design.
04:02
But to make it happen, sometimes you have to propose a scenario
04:06
and to propose a design --
04:10
an idea that everyone, or the large majority,
04:13
will help you to make it happen.
04:16
And that's the structure of the city of Curitiba.
04:19
And it's an example of living and working together.
04:24
And this is where we have more density;
04:29
it's where we have more public transport.
04:34
So, this system started in '74. We started with 25,000 passengers a day,
04:37
now it's 2,200,000 passengers a day.
04:45
And it took 25 years until another city ...
04:48
which is Bogota, and they did a very good job.
04:52
And now there's 83 cities all over the world that they
04:57
are doing what they call the BRT of Curitiba.
05:02
And one thing: it's important not for only your own city;
05:06
every city, besides its normal problems,
05:13
they have a very important role
05:17
in being with the whole humanity.
05:20
That means mostly two main issues --
05:23
mobility and sustainability -- are becoming very important for the cities.
05:28
And this is an articulated bus, double-articulated.
05:33
And we are very close to my house.
05:38
You can come when you are in Curitiba and have a coffee there.
05:41
And that's the evolution of the system.
05:46
What in the design that made the difference
05:48
is the boarding tubes:
05:52
the boarding tube gives to the bus the same performance as a subway.
05:54
That's why, I'm trying to say,
05:59
it's like metro-nizing the bus.
06:04
This is the design of the bus,
06:06
and you can pay before entering the bus you're boarding.
06:12
And for handicapped, they can use this as a normal system.
06:15
What I'm trying to say is
06:23
the major contribution on carbon emissions are from the cars --
06:26
more than 50 percent -- so when we depend only on cars, it's ...
06:32
-- that's why when we're talking about sustainability,
06:41
it's not enough, green buildings.
06:45
It's not enough, a new materials.
06:48
It's not enough, new sources of energy.
06:51
It's the concept of the city, the design of the city,
06:54
that's also important, too. And also, how to teach the children.
06:58
I'll speak on this later on.
07:09
Our idea of mobility is trying
07:14
to make the connections between all the systems.
07:17
We started in '83, proposing for the city of Rio
07:20
how to connect the subway with the bus.
07:25
The subway was against, of course.
07:28
And 23 years after, they called us to develop -- we're developing this idea.
07:31
And you can understand how different it's going to be,
07:37
the image of Rio with the system --
07:41
one-minute frequency.
07:44
And it's not Shanghai,
07:48
it's not being colored during the day, only at night
07:50
it will look this way.
07:54
And before you say it's a Norman Foster design,
07:57
we designed this in '83.
08:02
And this is the model,
08:07
how it's going to work. So, it's the same system;
08:08
the vehicle is different. And that's the model.
08:13
What I'm trying to say is, I'm not trying
08:20
to prove which system of transport is better.
08:23
I'm trying to say we have to combine
08:29
all the systems, and with one condition:
08:32
never -- if you have a subway, if you have surface systems,
08:37
if you have any kind of system --
08:43
never compete in the same space.
08:46
And coming back to the car, I always used to say
08:51
that the car is like your mother-in-law:
08:58
you have to have good relationship with her,
09:03
but she cannot command your life.
09:06
So, when the only woman in your life is your mother-in-law,
09:11
you have a problem. (Laughter)
09:21
So, all the ideas about how to transform through design --
09:25
old quarries and open universities and botanic garden --
09:32
all of it's related to how we teach the children.
09:39
And the children, we teach during six months how to separate their garbage.
09:47
And after, the children teach their parents.
09:51
And now we have 70 percent --
09:56
since 20 years, it's the highest rate of separation of garbage in the world.
09:59
Seven zero.
10:05
(Applause)
10:07
So teach the children.
10:12
I would like to say, if we want to have a sustainable world
10:15
we have to work with everything what's said,
10:21
but don't forget the cities and the children.
10:25
I'm working in a museum and also a multi-use city,
10:30
because you cannot have empty places during 18 hours a day.
10:34
You should have always
10:39
a structure of living and working together.
10:42
Try to understand the sectors in the city
10:46
that could play different roles during the 24 hours.
10:49
Another issue is, a city's like our family portrait.
10:55
We don't rip our family portrait,
10:59
even if we don't like the nose of our uncle,
11:02
because this portrait is you.
11:07
And these are the references that we have in any city.
11:10
This is the main pedestrian mall;
11:16
we did it in 72 hours. Yes, you have to be fast.
11:19
And these are the references from our ethnic contribution.
11:24
This is the Italian portal,
11:30
the Ukrainian park, the Polish park, the Japanese square, the German park.
11:32
All of a sudden, the Soviet Union, they split.
11:39
And since we have people from
11:43
Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, [unclear],
11:45
we have to stop the program.
11:49
(Laughter)
11:51
Don't forget: creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget.
11:53
If you cut two zeros, it's much better.
12:02
And this is the Wire Opera theater. We did it in two months.
12:07
Parks -- old quarries that they were transformed into parks.
12:14
Quarries once made the nature, and
12:18
sometimes we took this and we transformed.
12:23
And every part can be transformed;
12:27
every frog can be transformed in a prince.
12:32
So, in a city, you have to work fast.
12:38
Planning takes time. And I'm proposing urban acupuncture.
12:42
That means me, with some focal ideas to help the normal process of planning.
12:48
And this is an acupuncture note --
12:56
or I.M. Pei's. Some small ones
12:59
can make the city better.
13:06
The smallest park in New York, the most beautiful:
13:09
32 meters.
13:14
So, I want just to end saying
13:17
that you can always propose new materials -- new sustainable materials --
13:20
but keep in mind that we have to work fast
13:27
to the end, because we don't have the whole time to plan.
13:31
And I think creativity, innovation is starting.
13:41
And we cannot have all the answers.
13:47
So when you start --
13:52
and we cannot be so prepotent on having all the answers --
13:55
it's important starting and having the contribution from people,
14:00
and they could teach you
14:05
if you're not in the right track.
14:08
At the end, I would like if you can help me to sing the sustainable song.
14:11
OK?
14:19
Please, allow me just two minutes.
14:22
You're going to make the music and the rhythm.
14:25
♫ Toonchi-too! Toonchi-too! Toonchi-too! ♫
14:31
♫ Toonchi-too! Toonchi-too! Toonchi-too! ♫
14:35
♫ It's possible! It's possible! You can do it! You can do it! ♫
14:38
♫ Use less your car! Make this decision! ♫
14:42
♫ Avoid carbon emission! It's possible! It's possible! ♫
14:45
♫ You can do it! You can do it! ♫
14:50
♫ Live closer to work! ♫
14:52
♫ Work closer to home! Save energy in your home! ♫
14:56
♫ It's possible! It's possible! You can do it! ♫
15:04
♫ You can do it! Separate your garbage! ♫
15:07
♫ Organic, schmorganic! Save more! Waste less! It's possible! ♫
15:11
♫ You can do it! Please, do it now! ♫
15:17
Thank you.
15:25
(Applause)
15:27

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Jaime Lerner - City evangelist
From building opera houses with wire to mapping the connection between the automobile and your mother-in-law, Jaime Lerner delights in discovering eccentric solutions to vexing urban problems. In the process he has transformed the face of cities worldwide.

Why you should listen

For many city governments seeking visible improvements in their congested streets, the pace of change is measured in months and years. For Jaime Lerner, it's measured in hours. As mayor of Curitiba, he transformed a gridlocked commercial artery into a spacious pedestrian mall over a long weekend, before skeptical merchants had time to finish reading their Monday papers.

Since then he's become a hero not only to his fellow Brazilians, but also to the growing ranks of municipal planners seeking greener, more sustainable cities. His dictum that "creativity starts when you cut a zero from your budget" has inspired a number of his unique solutions to urban problems, including sheltered boarding tubes to improve speed of bus transit; a garbage-for-food program allowing Curitibans to exchange bags of trash for bags of groceries; and trimming parkland grasses with herds of sheep.

In addition to serving three terms as mayor of Curitiba, Lerner has twice been elected governor of Parana State in Brazil. His revolutionary career in urban planning and architecture has not only improved cities worldwide, but has also brought him international renown. Among his many awards are the United Nations Environmental Award (1990), the Child and Peace Award from UNICEF (1996), and the 2001 World Technology Award for Transportation.

 

The original video is available on TED.com
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