Lessons from Latin America inspire US and European cities

Click here to read the article on BetterCitiesNow.com

Ideas that have been put in place during the the past twenty years in Latin American cities are now making their way to the developed world. In particular US cities have been looking to their neighbors to the South to get some ideas on how to improve mass transport and make their cities more livable.

As cities compete to attract businesses and employees, the importance of livability is increasing. New York City under the watch of Mayor Michael Bloomberg has initiated a number of projects designed to make city life more enjoyable including the creation of a pedestrian zone at Times Square, the expansion of bike paths and the redevelopment of the “High Line” into an elevated green space.

Some of these initiatives seem quite progressive by American standards but in fact the seeds of this type of green development were planted years ago in places like Curitiba, Brazil and Bogotá, Colombia (pictured above, courtesy of several photographers). Curitiba is the birthplace of the cost effective and popular Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that is now being copied throughout Latin America and the US.

In this video, Jaime Lerner, three-time mayor of Curitiba, talks about his approach to urban planning. Some of his famous proposals include a garbage-for-food program allowing low-income Curitibans to exchange bags of trash for bags of groceries and trimming parkland grasses with herds of sheep (something which is now being planned for Hampstead Heath in London.

In the late 1990s the municipal government in Bogota created one of the world’s longest bike routes, at more than 300km, in order to better link poor communities with the transit system and the city center. This video shows how the so-called CicloRuta has created employment opportunities, raised property values and improved security in the once violent city. The Ciclovia, which is also highlighted in the previous video, involves the closing of one of Bogota’s main avenues every Sunday and holiday to traffic and attracts citizens from all walks of life to the downtown area each week to skate, bike, walk, run and exercise. (Watch this amazing video of the “Recreovia”, a mass open air aerobics class given each Sunday alongside the Cicolvia.)

The dire circumstances of the often unplanned, congested and chaotic Latin American cities have definitely played a role in spurring some of these trends. As major US and European cities become more crowded and congested they will also be forced to take some more desperate and hopefully innovative measures.

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