Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Imagine a city where recycled garbage is traded to buy essential items; old wooden electricity posts are reused in office buildings, bridges and public squares retired buses transform into mobile classrooms for adult education and; a gunpowder depot becomes a theatre-in-the-round. Curitiba, a city located 200 miles southwest of Sao Paulo in Brazil has done all this and much more. At the recently concluded Habitat ii summit on world's urban problems, Curitiba was heralded as a model for urban planners.

"It is the most innovative city in the world," said Wally N'Dow, chairperson of the Habitat ii summit. Says Rafael Greca De Macedo, mayor of Curitiba whose office is made of old telephone poles and glass, "Virtually everything has more than one use. It is just a matter of figuring out how to reuse things and then teaching people how to do it." And Curitiba has achieved all this despite limitations. It is still a Third World city with 10 per cent of its 1.6 million people living in slums. Its budget is modest compared to its size -- us $1 billion a year, nearly the same amount that Switzerland spends on one-tenth of its population.

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