A WhoWhatWhy Classic: Some “nutty” ideas tried years ago by “wild and crazy” Latin American mayors might offer inspiration for a world seeking urban reinvention. Watch this documentary.
It is estimated that by the year 2050, eighty percent of the world’s population will be living in cities. Unfortunately, modern-day cities are often crime-ridden, chaotic, and in some form of decay. The Torre de David, the world’s tallest squat, which has emerged in Caracas, could be a precursor of things to come if something isn’t done about expanding urban populations. One answer is to build brand new cities, such as Iskandar in Malaysia, soon to be home to 3 million people. However, if governments don’t have a few trillion dollars to spare, there is a slightly cheaper solution. Follow in the footsteps of others.
A series of films commissioned by the Danish Film Institute and national broadcaster DR, focusing on four mega-cities that faced extreme problems, sought out and gave recognition to inspired visions for an urban future. Of the four cities dealt with in Cities on Speed, the most incredible story of transformation comes from Colombia. Bogotà Change tells the tale of two unorthodox politicians, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, whose successive mayoralties transformed the Colombian capital from a city plagued by crime, poverty and corruption to one of social equality and relative harmony.
The political metamorphosis in the place once dubbed ‘the worst city on the planet’ was, bizarrely enough, when Mockus pulled down his trousers and mooned 2000 students who were booing and insulting him. He was chancellor of the university at the time and was soon forced to resign—though remarkably this action became a symbol of his candor, which was seen as part and parcel of a larger integrity. Within a few months he was running to become the first independent mayor in Bogotà’s history. Campaigning in spandex ‘super-citizen’ suits, he won.
Immediately, he put into action a behavioral philosophy that turned Bogotà into an experiment in political theory. His radical methods included a ‘vaccine against violence’, and firing all 3200 of the notoriously corrupt traffic police and rehiring 400 of them as mime artists to manage the city’s traffic. Slowly, his moral re-education of the citizens saw the city transform itself. His successor, Enrique Peñalosa, envisioned equality through urban design, turning private clubs into public parks and slums into urban spaces. By the end of their two tenures their complementary measures saw homicide drop by 50%, traffic by 25%, and traffic fatalities by 50%–and brought electricity, running water and a sewage system to all households. Twenty years later, their unique and extraordinary vision remains an inspiring model at a time when creative solutions are so desperately needed.