The Curitiba model: Towards a sustainable, liveable community and city


A short commentary by MBPP councillor Lim Mah Hui:

Today I wish to share with you a short video on Curitiba, a medium sized city of 2m in eastern Brazil that transformed itself into one of the most liveable in the world. In 2010, it was given the Global Sustainable City Award.

It was the effort of a mayor, Jamie Lerner, an architect by profession, who had a vision and the political will to implement that vision that was and still is against the conventional belief that building more highways and bringing in more cars into the city was the path to “development”.

He was ahead of his time. But he had the political will to implement it against great odds and today, he and Curitiba are recognised internationally as vanguards of sustainable development.

The video highlights a few main points.

He implemented radical plans for urban land use that featured pedestrianisation of streets, strict controls on urban sprawl and an affordable and efficient public transport system.

He prioritised public transport over private cars and transformed car lanes into dedicated bus lanes.

When he took office, buses were carrying 20,000 passengers per day; today, they carry more than 2m per day and the bus system is one of the few in the world that is financially self-sustaining. There is only one price, no matter how far you travel, and you pay at the bus stop. It has been a model for other cities trying to achieve more sustainable movement of people and is used by 85 per cent of people living in the city.

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Second, he created parks and green spaces and today the city has four times more green space (52 square metres) per person than the recommended one despite its population tripling in the last 20 years.

Much of the green space was achieved by using federal funds for flood control to build small dams across rivers, creating lakes and parks for the city population. There are 28 parks and wooded areas in Curitiba, creating a city landscape unlike any other in a developing city

He thought outside the box and believed in simplicity and living within his means. He used sheep to graze in the parks instead of using lawn mowers.

He put people before all else. He maintained solidarity with the people, not as rhetoric, and cutting ribbons here and there. As he said, one has to feel inside the daily problems of the people.

Authority must not regard the public and civil society as enemies and meet them only in Appeals Board. Much better to engage with people, listen to their concerns and encourage genuine participation before rather than after the fact.

That is why I have asked for regular public forums to be organised between the public and the council. It was adopted as a KPI at our retreats but has not yet been implemented. I hope this can be taken up this year.

Dr Lim Mah Hui made this address at the full council meeting of the Penang Island City Council on 30 May 2016.

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  1. George Town is no longer liveable for Penangites.
    Penang’s heritage site under threat due to inflated prices
    GEORGE TOWN: Price manipulations, market monopoly and evictions of generations-old tenants are threatening the city’s world heritage site, claimed NGOs here.

    Heritage properties estimated at RM400,000 to RM600,000 had suddenly changed hands for up to RM1.2mil, and these inflated prices have stirred foreigners, especially Singaporeans, into a buying frenzy of George Town’s pre-war shophouses.

    The NGOs feel the soaring prices are eroding liveability, and are urging the public to alert Unesco and put George Town in the World Heritage in Danger list.

    Penang Heritage Trust adviser Khoo Salma suspected that property speculators could have caused the prices to overheat through public auctions.

    “We noticed pre-war houses being auctioned off at RM1.2mil when we thought it would go under the hammer for less than half that price.

    “My friends made bids for such properties and were surprised when other parties made seven-figure offers that they couldn’t match.

    “Before we knew what was happening, the prices of pre-war houses even outside the heritage zone had shot up,” she said in an interview yesterday.

    Meanwhile, the heir of 12 pre-war shophouses in the heritage buffer zone told The Star that he had unsuccessfully tried selling them to the generations-old tenants for RM300,000 each before it went to the Malaysian subsidiary of a public-listed Singapore company for a total of RM11mil.

    “I inherited the old shophouses from my ancestors and asked the tenants who have rented them for decades to buy them in 2010.”

    When the tenants did not take up the offer, he said someone took them off his hands for RM400,000 each and this new owner later sold it to Singaporeans for about RM910,000 each.

    “It’s amazing that Singaporeans are willing to pay that price.

    “I had offered the previous tenants only RM300,000 because if they took bank loans, their instalments would be about the same as the RM1,300 rent they were paying.

    “Now the 12 shophouses are refurbished and being rented for about RM7,000 each,” he said.

    The saddest end of the tale seems to come from the old tenants.

    Penang Gerakan’s Padang Kota coordinator H’ng Khoon Leng said he discovered a number of homeless people in the old city who were evicted tenants.

    “They lived here all their lives.

    “When evicted at their old age, they take to living in the streets of their childhood homes,” he said.

    When H’ng tried to help them find new homes, he found resistance because these old people prefer to remain in the old city.

    • It is true that old people prefer to live in the old city.
      However their old trade are no longer sustainable today due to the change of consumer behavior of the new generation. Their children are unlikely to live in old houses, let alone inheriting the old-style business – evident in most of the old towns in Malaysia.
      It is easy for a third party to want to see old heritage trade thrive in the old city (to feed their younger days nostalgia), but how much would their contribute economically to these old folks beyond taking selfies and photographs? Even the millionaire customer does not help the old kopiitiam.

  2. Foreigners ‘invading’ pre-war properties in Penang

    GEORGE TOWN: The pre-war pro­perty market in the heritage enclave could be overheating with foreign corporations “snapping them up by the rows” and causing the rentals to sky-rocket.

    After evicting the old tenants and sprucing up the shophouses, the foreigners are leasing them out at more than 500% above the previous rent.

    A row of 12 shops near the Komtar-end of Jalan Pintal Tali (Rope Walk previously) has been dubbed “Little Singapore” because of the similarities with how restored pre-war houses in the republic look like.

    The rental used to be not more than RM1,300 before 2010. After the spruce-up, it is learnt the Singapo­rean owners are enjoying rentals of between RM7,000 and RM10,000.

    In Penang’s colloquially named Seven-Street Precinct (Chit Tiau Lor in Hokkien), it is learnt that Singa­poreans have recently bought a row of 11 shophouses along Noordin Street (Jee Tiau Lor or Second Street), where Penang’s earliest Chinese settlers had settled.

    In prime locations like Chulia Street, it is learnt that they are renting out the properties at about RM7,000 a month each.

    In stark contrast, shophouses in Queen Street and China Street, owned by Hokkien clan associations, are rented for between RM1,500 and RM2,700 a month.

    The upsurge of rentals is driving an NGO – George Town Heritage Action – to lobby for the return of rent control to prevent the city’s residents and old businesses from being driven away.

    It is learnt that at least one such public-listed company in Singapore has acquired an estimated RM100mil in pre-war properties or about 150 units.

    In October, the corporation announ­ced that it had spent RM43.4mil to acquire 90% of the shares of a private limited company in the republic that wholly owned another four companies registered in Penang.

    A source said the four companies had been buying pre-war shophou­ses here since December 2013.

    “They look for landlords who own rows of five to 10 shop houses,” he said.

    According to documents from the Companies Commission of Malaysia, four Singaporeans are directors of these companies.

    A Penangite who runs the local scene also sits on their boards.

    A local real estate agent, when contacted, said the Singaporeans’ taste for pre-war shophouses was an open secret in property circles.

    “We all know their Penang director. When pre-war property owners want to sell, we call him.

    “They don’t want single units. Their favourite type of deal is 10 shophouses in a row and they want to deal with a single seller only,” said the agent, adding that the Singapo­reans drove a hard bargain.

    “But occasionally, they buy above market value to beat their rivals. They see something in our pre-war properties that local investors don’t,” the agent added.

    Cheah Kongsi, which owns about 100 pre-war shop­­­houses, keeps the rent at between RM1,500 and RM2,700 each.

    “We know the market rental rates, but our policy is to support the living heritage by keeping rentals low.

    “Private property owners have the right to benefit from their assets. But for the kongsi, we believe in keeping the city’s Unesco World Heritage Site status sustainable,” said chairman Peter Cheah.

    Meanwhile, George Town Heritage Action co-founder Mark Lay said his group was lobbying for state laws to prevent heritage property owners from raising rentals by a huge percentage.

    Admitting that this was similar to the Rent Control Act 1966, which was repealed in 1997, Lay said such a law was now vital to prevent the inflation of heritage property rentals.

    “The unique living heritage that George Town acquired as a British Straits Settlement is leaving the city because it has become too expensive to live in,” he said.

    Lay said old cities in Europe limited rental increases to 10% per year and such a move would preserve George Town’s characteristics.

    “We know it is legal and on a willing-buyer, willing-seller basis, but this economic growth can erode George Town’s heritage. We want public discussion on this and get Penangites to think about what is happening,” he said.

    Note: A more dire headline should be: Invasion of the SingLanders – A Bad Omen for Penang Heritage.

    • Do not be surprised if these foreigners (Singaporeans) are former Penangites who have made their career and money in SingLand, now coming back to their roots in Penang.

      Remember that many Smart Penangites went to study (on SingLand scholarship) and worked in SingLand in the 80’s (little opportunity during the Gerakan era). They would certainly prefer to return to live in Penang in their retirement years as they could live comfortably with their SingDollar and CPF money.

      • Very true. My former classmate worked in Singapore between 1983 and 2015, retired with almost $600K of CPF which he cashed out to retire in Penang, buying a new RM1 million apartment opposite Spice.

  3. Penang announces RM15m expansion for Islamic school in Teluk Kumbar

    To fish for locals’ approval of the 3 proposed controversial islands development off Teluk Kumbar?
    In the spirit of Ramadan, may the Komtar Tower of Cement Brains + Incessant Slippery Development do it with a sincere heart (that Allah can see clearly to the bones) than find questionable ways & means to fulfil developers’ frenzies.
    Teluk Kumbar folks, think carefully & demand transparency from CAT.

  4. To quote again: Authority must not regard the public and civil society as enemies and meet them only in Appeals Board. Much better to engage with people, listen to their concerns and encourage genuine participation before rather than after the fact.

    How to do it?
    JUST get rid of the Bin-chui MercS300Lansi & take Penang Rapid from GreenLane (@junction of {Pinhorn Road) to Komtar daily. The bus is a wonderful place to eavesdrops on daily complains & comments about the state of development & surreal housing frenzies.
    Think of sustainable development by thinking out of the CAT Pandora’s Box of sea tunnel, 3rd Bridge, slippery highways & kidney islands of the south sea. Doing so will avoid after the fact of controversial decisions & unsavoury swap deals no different from selling thy grandparents lands & assets.
    Go down to kopitiams (there are many in Komtar) & wet markets (Chowrasta market the nearest) to get to the ground level of listening & debating CAT-style (LKY did that in the early 60s) any vision or mission of CAT without contamination by developers’ fancies.

    JUST get rid of the Bin-chui MercS300Lansi, can or not?

  5. Actually can learn from town councils in Singapore’s HDB estates on how to create comfortable living for residents.

    Probably Councilor Lim is pushing for lawatan sambil belajar at Brazil during the Olympics? Beware of Zika.

    • Singapore is so near to us only one hour AirAsia flight away. Yet many Malaysians are too ashamed to learn from them after kicking it out in 1965.

      • Learn only what is applicable like transportation & HDB housing.
        You don’t need to swallow everything en mass, do you???
        Unless one is not from Penang.

      • XiaoBee mentioned ‘best practices’. It does not include the Phua Chu Kang Singlish that many young Malaysians have adopted.

        Did you not notice that Malaysia has cloned many Arabian practices?

  6. Some use the excuse of accessibility to widen roads at expense of public amenities or use of public transport.

    Penang Island is a small island, and I support Councillor Lim to propose only small motorised vehicles on the roads. Big size cars owner can show off their vehicles on elsewhere.

    • If too many small cars, you mean still small volume and small flow? Still no difference between few small cars and plenty of small cars on road?

      • Smaller size cars don’t take up too much space especially on narrow roads of Penang. Now we pedestrians cannot walk along kaki lima of heritage Penang as many being blocked or fenced off. So when we walk on the road already narrowed by parking cars by the sides, we can be easily knocked down by reckless cars, even more dangerous if the car is big in size.

        So if MPPP cannot free up kaki lima, then they should ban big sized cars including mercedes or 4 wheel drives vehicles on narrow streets of inner Penang!

      • Oh, yes the Niao Kong can do no wrong!
        Even buying discounted bungalow while the rest of us struggle to buy an affordable house!
        You like that? Jane? Maybe you are rich, so no effect on you.
        Merc is another story of self-aggrandisement & wayang kulit of cheap minister.
        Got discount mah. But the rest of YB cannot drive a Merc! Only the cheap minister who managed to buy it cheap! Nobody else in CAT is entitled to that. Fishy isn’t it???
        Then again, the Niao Kong can do no wrong!
        He’s entitled to it (without questions) with our fool’s votes every 4 yrs.

  7. Don’t forget sustaining “bin chui” can spoil all the wonderful plans as ego supersedes all to majority young penangites! We need to inculcate right morals first and foremost.

  8. Great video..thanks for sharing. Many pearls can be found:
    1. 3 important elements in urban planning: MOBILITY, SUSTAINABILITY and IDENTITY.
    2. ” The difference in Curitiba, is the RESPECT given to its PEOPLE.”
    3. ” We are not afraid of SIMPLICITY.”

    Our people, state gov, MBPP, MPSP etc. can learn from this. This is the direction Penang should move in..

    Anil, please show this video to the PTC!!!

    • Learning to live Simplicity also means to sacrifice some of Cosmopolitan Penang excesses & frenzies.

      Simplicity living is not only for the poor or average.
      The rich & wealthy can also learn to live simplicity & donate some of their surplus wealth to social causes like Tze Chi, mosques, temples & old folks homes. This type of simplicity will make you happy! Starry-Eyed-Buck will not.
      Consumerism is not a bad thing if only we control our ‘demons’ of consumption beyond real needs & wants.
      Eg. getting a smart phone & model type if you really need the apps & use it for 4 yrs.
      Government can also learn to apply simplicity to state management & resources. And save a bundle for the people’s needs like housing, safety, education & greener environment. Forget about pursuing personal political legacy projects like Twin Tower ala MadHatterism. Do people now love MadHatter for Twin Tower?

      Think for a moment of Gandhi has done – what is his legacy that stood the test of time.

  9. lets have more greens and with goats sheeps and cows free to graze and roam. it will drawn singland and urbanised folks.
    one day in johor two cars stop with the people coming out and look at the field. sinkaporeans have not seen real cows before..


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