[FORUM]Cut red tape to make a Curitiba

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[FORUM]Cut red tape to make a Curitiba

Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Parana, is in the southern coastal area near the Atlantic Ocean. It covers an area of 432 square kilometers and has a population of 1.7 million. The city is similar in size to Daejeon, Korea. Curitiba is the center of global attention as a model of an ecological city. It was also where the Curitiba Convention for sustainable urban development was held in 1992.

The kudos for Curitiba have resulted in several awards to the city, including a United Nations Environmental Award given by the United Nations Environmental Program in 1990. Time magazine evaluated it as the "ecologically best city in the world" in 1991 and U.S. News and World Report appraised it as "the cleverest city in the world" in 1998.

Curitiba is a city in which man and nature coexist in harmony with each other. It was the first city to introduce bus-only lanes, and its bus-oriented mass transit system solved the city's traffic problems without the help of a subway. A transportation policy that gives first priority not to vehicles but to humans led to over 100 kilometers of bicycle-only roads and pedestrian-only zones. It has a large area of woods and parks and has a registration system for trees. Even on private property, cutting down trees without permission is prohibited. Trash is recycled or sold for recycling elsewhere, and the city's eyesores like abandoned mines, powder magazines and candle factories were renovated for parks or cultural spots. "Lighthouses of wisdom," libraries by day and crime prevention centers by night, have been established in every slum area on the outskirts of the city.

The success story of Curitiba has spread widely in our country after Park Yong-nam, a civic activist, published a book named "Curitiba, the City of Dreams" early last year. There was a boom of "benchmarking Curitiba" at local governments. According to Mr. Park's book, which was revised recently, more than 20 groups of officials and experts from Korea visited the ecological city in the first half of last year, and Mr. Park has been very busy with a rush of orders for lectures.

What is to be learned from Curitiba? Mr. Park asserts that we must learn the philosophy of city management and principles of administration rather than just programs for an ecological city. Jaime Lerner, who was mayor of Curitiba for 15 years, is the incarnation of that philosophy.

In the period between 1971 and 1992, he served for 15 years as an appointed and later as an elected mayor, and battled rapidly increasing population, environmental pollution, traffic congestion and the ruins of historical remains. But he made several breakthroughs, thanks to innovative and creative ideas to lift citizen participation.

Jaime Lerner's principles of low cost, simplicity, frugality and speed were very fresh to me. His bus transportation system can carry four times more passengers than a subway can, but the cost was only about half a percent of a subway system. He maximized the city's budget efficiency -- he had less than 20 percent of an average American city's budget per capita to work with ?renovating antiquated buildings for public performance centers or community facilities. This is quite different from the way we do things. Our local governments are busy constructing subway lines and new magnificent cultural centers or grand performance theaters, and the spree has resulted in mammoth debts. Local governments here are only about 55 percent self-sufficient, and 146 local governments cannot meet their own payroll cost from local tax revenue.

One anecdote Mr. Lerner tells is instructive; he pushed for pedestrian malls in spite of merchant opposition. He simply brought out the jackhammers at 6 a.m. one Friday, and it took only a week to make a pedestrian zone with landscaping. Local autonomy can mean speedy projects. Our local governments should regret their red tape, and should not pay too much attention to Seoul or pressure groups.

The pork barrel is overflowing in gubernatorial elections. Some candidates promised that their hometowns would be Korea's Curitiba. But I am pessimistic about how many candidates could preserve a good urban philosophy and administrative principles that admire citizens and emphasize thrift.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Han Cheon-soo

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