Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Curitiba, Brazil

Let me just say that Curitiba thrills me. Is it the perfect city? No… but its close in my book, and should be what all governments (at every level) aspire to be: Green and in the business of making its citizens’ lives better. 

I have never heard of a place where social programs were so far-reaching, supported/well received and successful than in this ‘third world’ city--or where environmental practices were so readily and eagerly adopted.  The amount of change that was done is so little time is staggering.  Contrary to American believe & practice things can be done quickly, cheaply and simply—as Mayor Jamie Lerner has been proving for almost twenty years!

Several great points are brought up in this chapter, one of them being how our sense of community has all but vanished.  We focus so much on our own lives that we all but completely remove ourselves from the places we live.  Most barely know about the going-ons in their city, much less are proud of it.  And how many of us know our neighbors anymore?  I’ll be honest; I know 2--my best friend across the street and the evangelists next door.   So how do we expect to make the right decisions for our communities/towns etc., when we don’t know anything about the people living there?  Communities aren’t just a network of people, it’s intimately tied to their location.  If you do not have some kind of personal connection to where you live its damn-near impossible to really care about it and make responsible, educated decisions regarding it.  Lerner, by focusing on the people of Curitiba, made that connection; he made the city work for the people and in doing so gave them pride and the desire to work for and better it in return.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is much like one I’ve heard my entire life.  “It takes the same energy to say why something can’t be done as to figure out how to do it.”  My mother used to tell us kids this same thing; later, when we got older and started completing her sentences/ lectures for her she’d just say “Well it has to get done so figure it out!”  Think of the changes that could be made if we said that to our elected leaders! No more accepting that things are too complicated, expensive or difficult to do—just do it! Figure it out! Just imagine for a second if Americans adopted Lerner’s way of thinking instead of what we do now.  Consider how far mankind has progressed by thinking outside the box—why can’t we continue that tradition in a way that doesn’t make ‘progress’ a bad word? 

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?   I think Jamie Lerner took that Robert Kennedy quote to heart and used it as his mantra, and in mixing it with creativity transformed his ‘third world town’ into one of the most environmentally friendly & responsible cities in the world.  And now, with the story of this city fresh in my mind, I find myself looking at my country and asking the same question. Why not?

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