Thanks to Helen of Urban Practitioners for sending me this article in The Guardian a couple of weeks back about Jaime Lerner and his radical environmental policies that have transformed the Brazilian city of Curitiba.
I say environmental in the truest sense: he is an architect by trade, and is concerned with the built environment, as well as carbon footprints.
What is particularly interesting was the necessity of stealth and speed: with political turmoil and dictatorial governance, he was never quite sure how long he had before his authority as mayor was swept away, nor how long it would be before someone tied his ideas up in red tape. Hence:
"We had to do things quickly because next week we might not be here anymore [because of the dictatorship].’ And you have to be quick to avoid your own bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is like a fungus that contaminates everything. We built the opera house in two months, the botanical gardens in three months, Niemeyer’s museum in five months. We transformed the city’s main street into a pedestrian area in 72 hours. It wasn’t that we were chasing after records – it was necessity."
There’s something of the trickster about him, and as London comes to its own mayoral elections, it’s going to be interesting who people plump for. One wonders if Lerner would have won the popular vote; in the case of Ken Livingstone, many of his policies for London – like the congestion charge – have been wildly unpopular, and yet have been very successful and vital to the city’s environmental awareness.
Einstein once said ‘the environment is everything that isn’t me’, and we might re-phrase that as ‘the city is not about the self.’ It’s worth holding this in mind whenever we vote. Are we voting for our own pockets, or for the common – and more difficult – good?