Seattle has adopted a goal of restoring and increasing our urban forest. We have created an Urban Forestry Commission (UFC) that is reviewing current policies and developing new approaches. I would like to see developed a new set of policies that will emphasize native vegetation, habitat restoration, and the benefits of trees in natural drainage. I am looking forward to working with the UFC on this, and will post future blogs as we come up with new ideas and solutions.
In January I had the opportunity to visit Curitiba, Brazil, which has a bold and far reaching policy to restore its trees, built on many of the same values. Their participation model, political climate, and municipal finance system are all very different from ours, and I am not suggesting that we could replicate their policies. However, we may be able to use their experience to help us imagine new ideas and policies, and I thought it would be interesting to report on their strategy.
Curitiba, a city of 2 million inhabitants in southern Brazil, is famous for its innovative sustainability programs – including inventing an extraordinarily successful model for a Bus Rapid Transit system. In 2007, Curitiba launched the next stage of its sustainability work, a comprehensive program to integrate parks, river and drainage basins, the urban forest, and other environmental initiatives around the theme of “Biocity – the Urban Biodiversity Program.”
Environmental preservation is one of the strategic pillars of the planning process that the city of Curitiba has been conducting for over 40 years. With Biocity, this focus is expanded to include reintroducing native plants, eradicating invading exotic plants, environmental education, revitalizing rivers, and encouraging the preservation of private natural areas.
The Projeto Plantas Nativas Ornamentais
(Ornamental Native Plants Project) seeks to rescue urban biodiversity via the use of the regional native flora. The Guabirotuba Municipal Garden produces some 80,000 native plant seedlings annually, and the City plants them in parks, woodlands, the Botanical Garden, streets, avenues and small gardens, the Linha Verde (Green Line) and Municipal Schools. Over 1000 exotic invasive trees have been removed from the groves and parks of the city, and replaced by native araucaria forest species. The goal is to replace exotics throughout the City, including among the 300 thousand street trees (through the Street Arborization Master Plan). There are also a set of incentives, including the transfer of development rights, offered to owners of forested properties if they preserve them. The City has a CO2 equivalent inventory of trees, and a calculation of its carbon stock based on the number of hectares in forest and the biomass per hectare.
The program is integrated with a formal plan to enhance biodiversity for animals as well, including special efforts to eradicate invasive animals, protect and enhance native ones, and breeding programs at the zoo for local endangered species.
Some schools have adopted nearby groves as outdoors laboratories, where the children interact with nature and take home the basic notions of environmental responsibility, while teachers, parents and students landscape the school with native ornamental plants. The City reports that about 7,000 people annually participate in lectures on topics related to the environment, and engage in over 600 tree and native flower plantings and 31 community cleaning actions, collecting almost 10 tons of garbage.
275 small rural properties occupy about 3% of Curitiba’s area, and are encouraged to remain in agriculture production. Curitiba also has 1,200 community organic gardens that involve 6,000 people. In 2009, Curitiba opened the first Organics Market in Brazil, where 22 stores offer over a thousand kinds of products certified pesticide-free and sustainably grown and processed.
The Projeto Viva Barigui (Project for the Living Barigui) seeks to reverse degradation in the Barigui River basin by relocating 657 families that live in houses located in flood zones (many of which are illegally occupying public land), planting native vegetation in a Permanent Protection Area, and improving the management of the sewage and drainage systems. The Projeto Olho D’Água involves the community in monitoring water quality and undertaking community plantings and other actions.
In the Botanical Garden, the City has created the Jardim Demonstrativo de Plantas Nativas (Native Plants Demonstration Garden), and the Jardim das Sensações (Sensations Garden), which people visit blindfolded to touch, smell and interact with the plants.
The philosophy of Curitiba is that parks and forests are part of the city’s memory and history. Curitiba means “lots of pines” (araucaria) in the language spoken by the natives who inhabited the region where the city is presently located. Green areas are designed to encourage each citizen to feel connected to the natural cycles, and to restore the essence of cities, the opportunity for interactions between people. For more information, go to www.biocidade.curitiba.pr.gov.br