Curitiba in south-eastern Brazil has a global reputation for ‘sustainability’, having successfully dealt with rapid population growth during the late 20th century. The population tripled over twenty years as people from surrounding areas as well as Europe sought work in the city’s industries, such as construction and car manufacturing – in addition to achieving economic and income growth, the city invested in affordable public transport systems and pedestrianised shopping areas, placed limits on urban sprawl and preserved green spaces, with disused land purchased to house new residents. With the lowest illiteracy rate in Brazil, Curitiba has built a ‘Lighthouse of Knowledge’ (‘Farol do Saber’) in every part of the city, situated near schools and public squares – all citizens have access to an observation tower and can use the computers and neighbourhood libraries for free. Students recycle waste in exchange for school supplies and cultural activities, with some of the money raised going to programmes such as those employing homeless people in recycling separation jobs, while an Open University allows residents to undertake courses on everything from hairstyling to mechanics and environmental protection.
Founded in 1861, the independent Lincolnshire Co-operative – which administers over 200 outlets around the county including food stores, pharmacies, funeral services, post offices, coffee shops, department stores and a florist - has a quarter of a million individual members, all of whom get a share of its profits. In the past financial year, £20.9 million was paid to members in the form of a dividend – ‘the divi’ – and each Co-op cardholder is linked with a local good cause, with a donation made every time they shop. The democratic, ethical and social principles underlying the co-operative movement sees Lincolnshire members elect representatives to their board – in the run-up to an election, ballot papers are automatically generated with a till receipt – while buying energy from small-scale hydro-electric plants and wind farms, and working with the council to deliver local library services.
In 2011, four American graduate students set up ‘GiveDirectly’, which collects public donations online and makes direct cash transfers of $1000 over ten months to some of the poorest households in Western Kenya, no-strings-attached. The initiative targets homes made from non-durable material; mud or thatch, rather than cement or iron - the average recipient family lives on 65 cents per person per day, and two-fifths have had a child go without food for at least a full day in the previous month. ‘GiveDirectly’ is an alternative to traditional aid projects distributing non-financial gifts or offering conditional cash transfers (requiring families to, say, enrol children into school or get them vaccinated), understanding that the most impoverished places on earth may well lack basic infrastructure like schools and hospitals. Having transferred purchasing power onto recipients, families can decide what to buy themselves, rather than having arms-length donors guessing on their behalf. Findings show that the money is mainly spent on food and home improvements (such as installing weather-proof tin roofs) but is also used to pay off historic debts, invest in local businesses (from agriculture to clothing), or put into savings.
Pilot studies - funded by Unicef and supported by the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) - gave more than 6000 Indians a modest monthly income grant, set at a third of subsistence level. One 18-month project in eight villages in Madhya Pradesh saw every woman and man initially receive 200 rupees each month and every child 100 rupees, paid through their mother or guardian. This was raised to 300 and 150 rupees respectively, paid in cash at first, then as a transfer into a bank or co-operative account. The effects of providing universal unconditional grants to these villages include improvements in child nutrition and sanitation, school attendance and performance; better outcomes for women, people designated as ‘lower-caste’, elderly and disabled people; reduced debt and increased labour.
An artist social enterprise in the Rwandan capital Kigali seeks to tackle stigma and misinformation around HIV through public art. “Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga” (to create, to see, to learn) works with government, local business, NGOs and health workers to raise awareness and help young people living with HIV to express themselves through public art and promote ‘positive living’ for everyone. Rather than culture being confined to galleries or studio space, the initiative encourages often self-taught artists to create murals on public steps or government buildings like the Ministry of Health, in addition to holding well-being workshops, lectures and competitions in schools.
In 2001, Chateauroux Mayor Jean-Francois Mayet made the city’s public transport completely free. Other parts of France had toyed with a ‘social tariff’ system originating in Dunkerque in the 1990s - in Grenoble, for example, the poorest residents are given 95 percent off fares - yet Chateauroux was the first substantial city to fully demonetise its transport network. This led to an increase in rides by 81 percent in the first year, lowering traffic, reducing emissions, and eliminating much of the city’s staffing and ticketing costs. Through increasing a transit tax on local large businesses, the city actually turned a profit on its transit system, with citizens in a time of austerity able to spend their money elsewhere
The ‘Walking School Bus’ programme in Auckland sees groups of children and adults accompany each other the whole way to school on foot, in a shared journey that builds strong ties within the community. Like at real bus stops, children are able to ‘board’ at allotted times from points situated near their homes, with neighbourhood adults (mostly volunteer parents) acting as ‘drivers’ of the ‘bus’. Starting in 1999, the scheme saw over 300 routes operate across Auckland within ten years with the full support of the local transportation authority - over 5000 pupils choose it as their preferred mode of transport to school every day, increasing children’s independence and allowing parents to get to know one another and school staff better, whilst easing traffic congestion during peak hours.
In Lisbon, which has a shortage of medical professionals, migrants who trained as doctors but find themselves in non-medical professions are supported in their transition back to healthcare work by the Professional Integration of Immigrant Doctors project. Those in jobs that did not reflect their specialist training often found their degrees failed to automatically qualify for recognition in Portugal, and this NGO-backed scheme helps to overcome the financial and administrative barriers that sees medics undertake menial work instead of following their professional careers. Between 2002 and 2005, 120 individuals were helped with official registration, training, and examination - by the end of the project, over 90% of the doctors selected were practicing medicine once again, and now with the support of the national Ministry of Health, hundreds more are expected to integrate into the Portuguese healthcare system.
The Himalayan kingdom has pledged to reduce its fossil fuel imports by 70 percent by 2020. Having no oil or gas reserves, Bhutan has an abundance of hydropower to supply citizens with electricity, exporting much of the surplus to its larger neighbour, India. Almost three quarters of the nation is forest and its 700,000 citizens produce around three times less CO2 than is absorbed by its trees (Bhutan seeks further reforestation and in 2015 broke the world record for number of trees planted in one hour – nearly 50,000). Other initiatives include gradually replacing government cars and taxis with electric vehicles (recharging is estimated to be around an eightieth of the cost of petrol); the Gross National Happiness index - measuring policies and progress in terms of environmental sustainability and psychological wellbeing rather than purely economic - and aiming to be the first country to have an agriculture system that is 100% organic.
Germany’s second-largest city held a referendum in 2013 which led to Hamburg buying back its power supply from the multinational energy giants Vattenfall and E.On. The Hamburg Unser Netz (Our Hamburg Our Grid) coalition of environmental, anti-poverty, and consumer rights groups – launched in 2010 - successfully argued that the city’s energy grid be brought under local ownership after its contracts with private companies had expired. Germany has pledged to move away from reliance on fossil fuels towards providing renewable energy sources for citizens (a plan known as Energiewende). This has led hundreds of neighbourhoods, in response to what they consider to be the inefficiencies of privatisation, seeking a “re-municipalisation” of public utilities and a transition to renewables.
All intellectually disabled people in Sweden can choose where they would like to live and the type of support they receive in the community after the closing down of all former institutions. The de-institutionalisation process began in the 1970s (in the face of some parental opposition), as community-based services gradually came to replace institutionalised care provision in full. Group homes – often where five-or-so people live in individual small apartments - and supported living offers people with complex needs the freedom of their own space and ability to make their own choices – from housing to shopping and cultural activities. To aid this, the Swedish Government funds over three hundred ‘Personal Ombuds’ - representatives independent of healthcare services and family - who support people to assert their legal rights and make major life decisions.
Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in apartments built by the state Housing and Development Board (HDB), while 90 per cent own their home. In 1959, less than one in ten citizens owned their homes and it was clear that there was an acute shortage of sanitary housing. Post-independence, the Government established the HDB, which within five years built over 50,000 flats and encouraged citizens to use funds from a social security savings scheme to work towards owning their homes. Since then, the board has been able to provide publicly-built housing to a growing number of citizens and, with a staff of 5000, manages nearly a million housing units.
Estonia has pioneered e-democracy in the 21st century - internet voting has been in place since 2005, with around a third of ballots cast online for the 2015 General Elections. In a country with more mobile phone contracts than residents, basic internet access is seen as a human right. A free e-participation tool, TOM, (the acronym for “Today I Decide” in Estonian) is used as a forum for citizens to discuss political issues such as voter registration and allocating municipal budgets, and present collaborative ideas for new laws online, some of which have been adopted by parliament.
In Ethiopia's capital, police officers' relationships with the city’s ‘street children’ are improved through participating in arts workshops alongside the Adugna Community Dance Theatre. The project offers young people from deprived backgrounds - many of whom historically feel victimised by the police – a safe space to question their attitudes towards violence and authority, learn about constructive policing strategies, and educate officers about their day-to-day experiences in the hope that future confrontations may be avoided.
Following Iceland’s banking crisis in 2008, comedian Jón Gnarr set up the Best Party in order to satirise his country’s political system. Campaigning on policies including introducing a polar bear to the local zoo, building a Disneyland at the airport and offering free towels in public swimming pools, the self-described ‘anarcho-surrealist’ was elected Mayor of Reykjavik in 2010, winning fans from Noam Chomsky to Lady Gaga.
In 2008, thousands of young people in Newcastle had a say in how the city’s £2.25 million Children’s Fund is spent. Part of a city-wide participatory budgeting programme called ‘UDecide’, young people who attended a voting conference would influence the allocation of funds by ranking project ideas in order of preference.
The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has opened up 5% of the city’s investment to a participatory budgeting scheme named ‘Madame Mayor, I have an idea’. It aims to allocate nearly €500 million to projects proposed by citizens, including the building of school gardens, ‘pop-up’ swimming pools and recycle stations.
50% of Seville’s local government budget is decided by participatory budgeting and the process is open to all those living in the city. Citizens can submit project ideas in person or online, and volunteer neighbourhood organisers are in place to collect proposals from community groups and individual residents.