Welcome to Curitiba
Whenever travelers mention that they are going to Curitiba, people always advise them to take warm clothes. This is one thing you can be sure about in this city, for low temperatures have already become part of the lives of the curitibanos (residents of Curitiba). However, this is not the only piece of advice that may be given to the Curitiba-bound. He could also be told that he should arrive in Curitiba with his eyes wide open to see the signs of an urban scenario in which dwellers, environment and the urban area coexist in a harmoniously. This co-existence itself has become a tourist attraction. Aligning this factor to the fact that the city has an infrastructure implemented specifically for receiving tourists, Curitiba is a city that is ready to welcome them and can truly state: “Make yourselves at home!“
History of the City
Curitiba was born from the combination of natives and Portuguese immigrants, on the first plateau of the State of Paraná, at an altitude of 934 meters above sea level. Its name comes from the language of the Guarani Indians and means pine grove. The name refers to the predominance of ´pinheiro-do-Paraná (Paraná´s araucaria pines) in its territory. Curitiba’s ´birth certificate´ dates back to March 29th, 1693, when its City Council was founded. At the end of the 17th century, Curitiba had an agriculture of subsistence and its economic activities were based mainly on mineral extraction.
The next economic cycle in the region was based on the ´tropeiros´: cattle drivers who traveled with their herds from Viamão, in the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, to the fair in Sorocaba, in the state of São Paulo. From there, the herds were then taken to the state of Minas Gerais. The cattle drivers would spend winter periods in the middle of the journey, in the ´campos de Curitiba´ (fields of Curitiba), and these campsites were set up would only be dismantled when the cold season gave way to spring. These cattle drivers would take advantage of their stay to carry out businesses, and by doing so, they led Curitiba to become an important intermediary trading post. The use of the mate plant to produce a bitter type of tea called ´chimarrão´, the tradition of wearing wool ponchos, roasting meat and kindling bonfires led to the agglomeration of circles of men and the eventual creation of settlements.
Two other economic cycles were happening simultaneously in the history of Curitiba: the cycles of the mate plant and of wood. This expansion, at the end of the 19th century, stimulated the construction of the Paranaguá-Curitiba railroad, this being the first link between the capital of the then Province of Paraná and the coast. Having been built in five years (from 1880 to 1885), this railroad represents one of the greatest works in national engineering, made possible thanks to the engineers and brothers Antonio and André Rebouças. Man labor of immigrants was heavily used, for they had come since the middle of the 18th century. Curitiba benefited, during the beginning of the 20th century, from the wealth that came from the maté mills. The owners of these mills, known as ´Maté Barons´, built residential mansions in the capital, which have been preserved, to a large extent, in two important areas, in the districts of Batel and Alto da Glória.
The next economic cycle that came was that of the monoculture of coffee, which made cities crop up in the northern region of the State of Paraná, having an evident impact on the capital’s econom
y. Suffering the relentless effects of bad weather, coffee crops were gradually substituted by soybeans. Eventually, coffee crops were completely wiped out in the worst frost documented in the region, known as the Black Frost of July, 1975.
The mechanized agriculture of soybean crops drove agricultural workers off of the land. Curitiba received great waves of immigrants. The city had to make swift decisions in order to avoid urban chaos and to foresee future demands. Curitiba invested in urban planning and in city management focused on the dwellers.
The cycle of cattle drives lasted for more than two centuries. With it, came many distinct cultural features now part of the Paraná region, especially the unique accent noticeable by pronounced Es and Ts.
Parks are our ‘beaches’
There are no beaches in Curitiba, but there is, what we call, a ‘green sea’. There are over 30 parks and woods as well as dozens of squares, playgrounds, gardens and other green areas.
Back in the early 70s, a strategic decision was made regarding the empty urban spaces: instead of dividing these areas up into land developments, the City Hall decided to use such areas as an environmental “market reserve”. From 1972 on, parks and woods have been set up on these empty stretches of land. This strategic move aimed at better environmental conservation, sanitation and recreational purposes, and the prevention of floods. At that time there was only one park in the entire city, the old Passeio Público located downtown, built in 1886.
The city was the first in Brazil to introduce the separation of domestic garbage on a wide-scale basis. The acclaimed program ‘Lixo que não é Lixo’ (literally, ´Garbage that isn’t Garbage´; a successful recycling program) created in 1989 has become a paradigm of care for the environment.
The coverage of green areas became well preserved and expanded as trees were planted. Added to the existing sparse vegetation, it ensures a ratio of 51 m² of green area per inhabitant.
In 1989 Curitiba introduced, on a wide-scale basis, before any other town in the country, the separation of domestic waste into different types of garbage through the ‘Lixo que não é Lixo’ program. Later on, new variations of the program were created such as the Câmbio Verde (Green Exchange program) – through which recyclable garbage could be exchanged for fresh produce that was in season – and the Compra do Lixo program (through which recyclable garbage is bought) in more remote locations.
Amongst all environmental programs, it is worth mentioning the Programa Olho d´Água (literally, Spring Stream Program) a partnership scheme between the City Hall and the community. Students from public schools, supervised by municipal technicians, monitor the quality of the water found in Curitiba’s major hydrographic basins.
Curitiba’s best endeavors to continually and proactively preserve and enhance the space of collective life of its inhabitants cover a wide range of actions: from the simple planting of trees up to large scale complex vegetal production; from small ornamental shrubs up to huge parks; from the individual attitude of citizens of “se-pa-ra-ting” garbage at home up to an industrial process through which plastic, tin and paper are transformed into new products. All these actions aim at better standards of quality of life while unselfishly caring about future generations.
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)