A Discussion with Jaime Lerner: Unpacking Urban Acupuncture

Former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil, and visionary urbanist Jaime Lerner joined GSD students, faculty, and the Harvard community for a lively discussion on “urban acupuncture.” Lerner was accompanied by Stephen Goldsmith, a Loeb Fellow from 2000 with a varied background as an urban planner, housing developer and artist. Goldsmith is currently the director of the Center for the Living City, the organization responsible for bringing Lerner’s vision to the United States. During the month of October the “Urban Acupuncture” tour across 9 cities celebrated the publication of Lerner’s book of the same title by sharing his vision for the “pinpricks of change that enrich city life.”

The discussion was facilitated by Luis Valenzuela (GSD lecturer and director of the Center for Territorial Intelligence in Santiago, Chile) and Onesimo Dewey-Flores (lecturer and lead researcher for Transforming Urban Transport) who introduced Lerner as a “planner and a politician, a thinker and a do-er.”

Lerner used his unique perspective on urbanism, punctuated by his humor, to emphasize key points about the planning, politics, thinking and doing of a city. Lerner speaks in sound bites, meant to capture the attention, reframe the conversation and inspire steps forward. Lerner is perhaps best known for the success of the bus rapid transit–the BRT system that was developed during his tenure in Curitiba. “What is a subway?” he asked during the discussion, describing the motivations behind the development of the BRT. With limitations, he explained, comes the inspiration needed to drive creativity, build for flexibility and prioritize the identity of a city in planning. Identity is important to Lerner, and he both cautioned and encouraged his audience, “All you have to know is your city.” The discussion was met with great enthusiasm by students, inspired and amused by Lerner’s lifelong commitment to innovation, rooted in his training as an architect, as well as his easygoing wisdom. “I have good news,” Lerner declared with a smile, “if you have an idea…you can change your city.”

Learn more about Jaime Lerner and the Urban Acupuncture tour.
Learn more about Stephen Goldsmith’s Center for the Living City.

Photos courtesy of Transforming Urban Transport.
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