Lerner’s first project in 1972 earned him an early reputation as an enforcer. He proposed transforming the Rua Quinze de Novembro from an automobile thoroughfare into a pedestrian mall. “At first, the shopkeepers were furious with the mayor,” Rabinovitch says. “People had the habit of stopping their cars in front of the stores, buying what they wanted, and then getting back into their cars. But that meant that when the shops closed down, the city centre was dead.”
The shopkeepers organised resistance to the new plan, and resolved to file an injunction to stop it – a typical tactic for arresting the implementation of urban projects in Brazil.
“Every time, you always have a big resistance,” Lerner says. “When we first proposed the project, we tried to convince the merchants. We showed them designs, information … it was a big discussion. Then we realised we had to have a demonstration effect.”
So Lerner took the plan to his director of public works, saying: “I need this [built] in 48 hours … He looked at me and asked, ‘Are you crazy? It will take at least four months.’”
Regardless, Lerner and his team – impatient, wily or both – prepared to begin work at sundown that very Friday, waiting only until after the city’s courthouse had closed so that shopkeepers could no longer file their injunction.
“If I’d received a juridical demand to stop the project, we would never have made it,” Lerner recalls. “So we finished in 72 hours – Friday night to Monday night. And at the end, one of the merchants who wrote the petition to stop the work told me: ‘Keep this petition as a souvenir, because now we want the whole street, the whole sector pedestrianised!’”
The project encapsulates Lerner’s planning philosophy: act now, adjust later. “We had to work fast to avoid our own bureaucracy, and to avoid our own insecurity, because sometimes we start to think: ‘That’s a good idea but I cannot make it happen.’ So the key issue in Curitiba was to start – we had the courage to start.”
When I press Lerner on the political implications of this kind of strong-arming – which some have described as a “technocratic approach without participation” – he has a ready response: “Democracy is not cons ensus. Democracy is a conflict that is well managed. It’s about how you manage that conflict – sometimes for the minority, sometimes for the majority. But it has to happen.”
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