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IT’S TURNABOUT of the best kind: A charming little toy car is helping to reforest an area destroyed by highway expansion. The toy is Zécar. The reforestation is Mil Folhas Project along a Rio de Janeiro state highway. A trio of environmentally minded Brazilians and an innovative American company are key to the on-going success of Zécar and the Mil Folhas Project.
Vale Florido, Petrópolis, is in Rio de Janeiro state, about 40 miles north of Rio de Janeiro on highway BR-040. Petrópolis, “city of Peter” in Greek, is named for Brazil’s last Emperor, Dom Pedro II. Vale Florido, valley of flowers, is one of the region’s popular attractions.
In the mid-1970s, portions of the highway were upgraded, though this destroyed stands of native Atlantic Forest. Deprived of its original cover, the area became subject to erosion and fire.
In 1996, Guga Casari, Chico Bicalho and Cesar Marcarenhas set themselves a goal of reforesting 50 acres along BR-040, between km 71 and km 73.
The trio’s initial efforts were noble enough, but suffered from lack of funds and experience. By 2000, they had established a working relationship with a local public school, the events focused on environmental awareness, trash cleanup and planting of 1500 trees.
In 2001, Casari and Bicalho designed Zécar, a minimalist toy car propelled by flywheel drive. What’s more, this engaged the interest of Kikkerland Design, Inc, a New York City firm that specializes in clever, quirky products (see http://www.kikkerland.com).
Bicalho designs were already known to Kikkerland because of The Critter, a wire-legged gizmo that popularized the wind-up genre in 1997. Zécar joined the Kikkerland lineup in 2002.
Kikkerland Design, Inc, includes philanthropy as a significant aspect of its corporate mission. Benefiting from this are Mil Folhas Project, Help USA (aiding the homeless), Center for Biological Diversity, 826NYC (supporting student writing skills), WriteGirl (workshops run by professional woman writers) and Publicolor (encouraging at-risk kids in design-oriented revitalization of civic spaces).
All funds from Zécar royalties go to the Mil Folhas Project; in addition, Kikkerland matches these funds.
Thus far, more than 180,000 trees of 150 native species have been planted along BR-040. What’s more, two specialists in bromeliads are preparing to contribute more than 500 rare indigenous species to the project.
The goal set for 2016 is 300,000 trees.
Hence, Zécar does more than entertain as it bounces over obstacles, pushes other things out of its way—or even runs upside down on drive wheels and flywheel. Toddlers chase it; physics students analyze its kinetic energy. And, all the while, it’s helping a native Atlantic Forest. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2014
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