Flip through any travel magazine and you'll see plenty of options for green resorts on just about any continent. But for travelers who want a learning vacation on city wide environmental sustainability, Curitiba, Brazil is hard to beat.
It's hard to believe that such a large city, with a population of 1.8 million, can be called "one of the most innovative cities in the world". Curitiba's path to sustainability has been well documented, beginning in the 1940s, when they began addressing the needs of their booming population through thoughtful urban design.
Curitiba's strategy, known as the Master Plan, focuses on putting people first. It's not one big idea, but many smaller ideas that contribute to the plan which improves the environment, cut pollution and waste, and make the quality of life in the city better.
The public transportation system, made up entirely of buses, doesn't sound too unique until you realize that the city was revamped with bus travel in mind. Buses are specifically chosen based on their route - stations are designed to be easily accessible, but above all, aid in speedy loading and unloading of passengers. The system's efficiency encourages people to leave their cars at home, and much of downtown is open to pedestrian traffic only.
Under the "garbage that's not garbage" program, 70% of the city's trash is recycled by its residents. Some U.S. cities collect three types of recyclables, but Curitiba provides five different recycling receptacles in public areas.
Low income residents who live in areas of poverty, can exchange bags of garbage for groceries and bus tickets. They also have access to social programs and health services funded by recycling programs. There's also a program for children where they can exchange recyclable garbage for school supplies, chocolate, toys and tickets for shows.
Curitiba is also referred to as the ecological capital of Brazil, with a network of 28 parks and wooded areas. In 1970, there was less than 1 square meter of green space per person; now there are 52 square meters for each person and 200 km of bike paths, thanks to 1.5 million trees planted by volunteers, and a tax break for builders if their project includes green space.
And if you'd rather visit by taking a reading vacation, Bill McKibben's Hope, Human and Wild, True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth documents some of the green efforts found in Curitiba, Brazil; Kerala - India; and the Adirondack Mountains, giving us all hope that sustainability can be achieved.
For your next vacation, consider what green ideas you might be able to pick up along the way for your home and city. Here is a list of Five Eco Cities from the Eco Times.