Curitiba is a city in southern Brazil. It is the capital of the state of Paraná, one of the wealthiest in the country. According to the 2001 census, Curitiba has a population of 1.6 million.
The city is on a plateau 3,120 feet above sea level. It is 65 miles west of the seaport of Paranaguá, to which there is regular train service. The coordinates are 25.42° South, 49.29° West.
The name "Curitiba" comes from the Tupi words coré (pine) etuba (many), or Kurit (pine) Yba (great quantity), due to the high concentration of pine trees previously found in the region. The Portuguese who founded the city in 1693 gave it the name of "Vila Nossa Senhora da Luz e Bom Jesus dos Pinhais" (Our Lady of the Light of the Pines). The name was changed to "Curitiba" in 1721.
Curitiba officially became a city in 1842. Growth was based on trade, leasing of winter homes, and offices for cattle traders. In 1854, Curitiba became the capital of Paraná. Schools and theaters were built.
In 1870, the first European immigrants, mostly Germans, Poles, and Italians, arrived in Curitiba. A smaller number of Japanese, French, English, and Swiss immigrants also established colonies near the city, mainly devoted to agriculture and traditional craftwork.
In 1913, the Universidade Federal do Paraná;, the first of its kind in Brazil, was built, along with the electrification of streetcars. Beginning in 1940, the city began to prioritize public sanitation, efficient transit, and planning as part of "Plano Agache", named after French architect Alfredo Agache.
By the 1960s, Curitiba's population had ballooned to 430,000, and the growth in population threatened to drastically change the character of the city. In 1964, Mayor Ivo Arzua solicited proposals for urban design. Architect Jaime Lerner, who later became mayor, led a team from the Universidade Federal do Paraná that suggested strict controls on urban sprawl, a reduction in traffic in the downtown area, preservation of Curitiba's Historic Sector, and a convenient and affordable public transit system. This plan, known as the Curitiba Master Plan, was adopted in 1968. Lerner closed Rua XV de Novembro, one of the main streets, to traffic and adopted a new road design to minimize traffic. This design, called the Trinary Road System, uses two one-way streets moving in opposite directions which surround a smaller, two-lane street.
Curitiba's bus system is truly innovative. The buses are long, split into three sections, and stop at designated elevated tubes, complete with handicapped access. The system is quite similar to the subsequent TransMilenio in Bogotá, Colombia.
In the 1980s, the Rede Integrada de Transporte (Integrated Transport Network) was created, allowing transit to any point in the city by paying just one fare. The city also begun an interesting project called the "Faróis de Saber" (Lighthouses of Knowledge). These Lighthouses are free educational centers which include libraries, Internet access, and other cultural resources.
Today, Curitiba is considered one of the best examples of urban planning on the planet. In June 1996, the chairman of the Habitat II summit of mayors and urban planners in Istanbul praised Curitiba as "the most innovative city in the world."
The only problem is a real lack of good restaurants, but with an increased focus on tourism, that may well change in the near future.