Guest Column by Ken Conrad
Recently, I became fascinated with the country of Brazil. After asking my friends what they knew about Brazil (and keep in mind theyre not geographers), I realized that for the most part we in the United States know very little about this beautiful country in the southern hemisphere. Moreover, when we think of Brazil, it is most often the capital, Brasilia, which comes to mind, or the city of Rio de Janeiro, the home of the world famous Carnaval.
However, for me the greatest city in Brazil or for that matter, in all of South America is Curitiba. Yes, I know many of you are saying Curti-what? For you geographers, the coordinates 25.5° South and 49° West may be familiar. For you non-geographers, Curitiba is approximately 497 miles (800 km) south of Rio and is in the state of Parana. Nearly all-major cities in Brazil are near the coast, as you may know, with the exception of Sao Paulo the largest city in Brazil and Curitiba. Both of these cities are inland, but yet each is only a short hours drive from the cool Atlantic waters.
The reasons that I find Curitiba fascinating are many. First, its one of the oldest cities in the Americas, founded in 1653 by the Portuguese. (The founding papers are still on in display in Lisbon, Portugal in the Marinha e Ultramar archives.) The name, Curitiba, went through a series of changes from the original Guarani word, "kur'yt' yba" (The Guarani are one of the few indigenous tribes of Brazil). The word means pine nut and the current spelling became official in 1919.
One of the things that I find enchanting about the metropolis of Curitiba is its similarity to so many cities in the United States. Curitiba is an ultra-modern city with a population approaching two million. It is not only modern, but it is a leader in many civic and industrial areas. For example, their transit system is a paradigm for the world. Recently the Mayor of Los Angeles, the honorable Richard Riordan, traveled to Curitiba for ideas on how to improve the antiquated transit system of L.A. Transportation in Curitiba is facilitated by central hubs within the city where the long buses, a regular 40 passenger bus with two connected coaches in tandem, pick up their passengers for the outlying areas of the city.
For those who live in the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles, or in many of the large cities in the U.S, you would notice little difference if you were in Curitiba. The city abounds with supermarkets, shopping centers, and the hustle-bustle that we commonly associate with large cities. In some ways Curitiba is even more modern than many cities in the United States. For example, Curitiba recently held elections and the people voted by touch-screen computers.
Curitiba is a very industrialized city with state of the art automotive plants like Ford, Chrysler, Renault and VW/Audi. And like all cities it creates enormous amounts of refuse with the estimates in 1999 of 51,000 tons per month. In other words, all the gains and pains of a fully industrialized city.
The climate of Curitiba is wet and temperate owing to its geographic location on the eastern coast of Brazil with latitude south of the Tropic of Capricorn. The average temperatures are around 22°C. (71.6°F), with the temperatures dipping in the winter months to an average of 12 degrees C. (53.6 F). However, frost is not unheard of in Curitiba. The climate is similar to that of the states of Georgia or South Carolina in the United States.
There is little difference between the people of Curitiba or the people of any large city in the western United States. However, the people of Curitiba have a difficult time relating to earthquakes. Curitiba, or the entire country of Brazil for that matter, has never experienced an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. The country of Brazil rests on a cratonic shield, i.e. it has escaped orogenic (mountain building) activity for the past two hundred million years. There are, however, rugged hills around Curitiba reaching as high as 1200 meters (3900 feet) that have been caused by erosion. The city was built on a plateau and the mean elevation is 914 meters, about 2900 feet.
The city has five rivers, the Passauna, Iguacu, Atuba, Barigui, Belem, as well as many beautiful parks, and many have small lakes for recreation. The largest park is the Parque Barigui named after the river. Moreover, Curitiba has many green areas, which along with the parks comprises 22 million square meters of park-like settings.
Although the climate may be like the southeastern United States, when you walk city streets of Curitiba between its tall cement canyons, you may feel like youre in New York. Brazilians have a penchant for building skyscrapers, and Curitiba is no exception. Its tall buildings are the equals of any within Brazil or throughout the world. Their tall buildings are beacons of progress, and the city of Curitiba in the last ten years has accelerated into the twenty-first century as one of the worlds leaders in business and commerce.
And, like many cities through out the world, Curitiba takes great pride in the lighting and decoration of their city for the Christmas season. Many in Curitiba feel that their citys decorations equal, or may be even prettier than those of New York. Christmas truly allows their civic pride to show. But, theres one major difference between the two cities: Theres no dreaming of a white Christmas in Curitiba, for its summer in December. Hmmm, Im not dreaming of a white Christmas in Curitiba, that sounds like a good title for a Christmas song, doesnt it? Well, maybe not .
Ken Conrad, albeit a senior citizen, is a returning student at California State University Northridge, and his interest in Brazil was inspired by his Geography Professor, Dr. Gary Lobb.