The scale of the coronavirus pandemic in Brazil has been devastating, with the country recording among the highest case rates and deaths in the world. Although the southern city of Curitiba, in the state of Paraná, has experienced mixed fortunes, its mayor, Rafael Greca, says he is looking to drive sustainability and innovation as a route to recovery.

For Mr Greca, sustainability is vital to the city’s fortunes. “We’re a big industrial centre with three million inhabitants. We’re known as the capital of the Paraná state famous for production of coffee, soybeans and wheat,” he says. “A year ago we were on the up, economically. We had high hopes of transforming ourselves into a reference case for clean energy. But then the pandemic was declared by the World Health Organization.

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“In the beginning, it looked like Curitiba would be spared, but Covid-19 hit the city very seriously in July and August. We took a number of measures to increase hospital capacity, including transforming a local hospital for the elderly into one dedicated exclusively to Covid-19. In total, we created 1314 beds to treat Covid-19, plus an extra 400 intensive care beds, excluding private hospitals.”

Innovation

Mr Greca reports that innovation has been vital during the worst periods of the crisis, including implementing video calls for medical consultations as well as the use of robots and artificial intelligence. 

One of the city’s biggest innovations, he says, has been the development of a care management AI robot called Laura, which specialises in clinical deterioration, healthcare protocols, process monitoring and being a digital personal assistant, enabling vital early intervention.

Mr Greca believes the city has reacted well to the crisis and is now in a good financial position. “I viewed the situation last year as being like a bird. One wing was health and the other was the economy. We had to nurse these two wings across a difficult year so that we could return to growth,” he explains. 

Sustainability

As Curitiba looks to recover, Mr Greca says he is keen to press ahead with his plans for start-ups and the green economy.

“We’re supporting start-ups through Pinion Valley, our answer to Silicon Valley. We were keen to seed innovation before the pandemic and want to push that agenda forward now.

“We’ve invested in solar energy throughout the city and we want to transform all public buildings into ones powered by the sun. We’re also working on a solar pyramid and a social housing scheme in the new district of Caximba, which will be fed by solar panels and has received $43m in finance from the French Development Agency.”

Other initiatives include a hydroelectric project to promote clean energy; the development of public transport using electronic vehicles; and organising 50 cooperatives to process rubbish so it can be reused by the local cement industry.

“We’re also focused on green areas,” says Mr Greca. “We have about 800 squares and 43 large parks planted with native trees, plus more than 30 private woods. And we’re investing in a small urban farm, vegetable gardens and orchards. The urban farm is a food and nutrition teaching centre, and is operated by Sweden’s Malmo University in partnership with the Catholic University of Paraná.

For Mr Greca, putting young people at the heart of the city’s sustainability plans is essential. He says: “Children are the future, so I’m working with them to make them conscious of clean energy. Everyone loves and supports ecology. Our children are learning to love their trees.”

This article first appeared in the April/May print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.