Bogota’s Urban Happiness Movement

A few years ago, before Enrique Peñalosa became mayor of Colombia’s capital city of Bogota, it suffered from some of the worst urban problems of any city in the world: narco-terrorism, pollution and absurd levels of traffic congestion, to name a few. Peñalosa began introducing a series of reforms such as Dia Sin Carro (car-free day) designed to make the city more livable, all under the auspices of hedonics – economics based not on financial growth, but the happiness of people:

In the mid-1990s, Bogota was, citizens recall, un enfierno – a living hell. There were 3,363 murders in 1995 and nearly 1,400 traffic deaths. The city suffered from the cumulative effects of decades of civil war, but also from explosive population growth and a dearth of planning. Wealthy residents fenced off their local public parks. Drivers appropriated sidewalk space to park cars. The air rivalled Mexico City’s for pollution. Workers from the squalid shanties on the city’s south end spent as much as four hours every day commuting to and from Bogota’s wealthy north.

In 1997, a study by the Japanese International Co-operation Agency prescribed a vast network of elevated freeways to ease Bogota’s congestion. Like cities across the Third World, Bogota was looking to North American suburbs as a development model, even though only 20 per cent of people owned cars.

The tide changed with Mr. Peñalosa’s election in 1998.

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both,” the new mayor announced. He shelved the highway plans and poured the billions saved into parks, schools, libraries, bike routes and the world’s longest “pedestrian freeway.”

Bogota’s Urban Happiness Movement [The Globe and Mail]


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