Intelligent Communities & Development


(This is a follow up to the previous article listed below entitled “Cities of Joy” about Bogata, Columbia’s Urban Development for the good of the citizens living there. These excerpts are from the article in TREND entitled "Winka's World." See bottom for link.)

…she (Winka Dubbeldam) has been tapped as lead architect and team-builder on a crowd funding project to revive urban Bogata, Columbia. The work derives from a Columbian developer’s recent success in sourcing $200 million from 3200 donors for a new downtown high-rise. The money raised would seem to reflect residents’ furious appetite to play a part as citizens in reshaping their city.

To begin work, Dubbeldam drew in the New York media consultancy and “bespoke event” marketing firm PSFK (pronounced “piece of K”). The firm asked Bogata residents to answer 3,000 questions about their preferences on the website As of August 2013, nearly 3500 suggestions had already been submitted.

…There are 33 colleges or universities in Bogata, so the student population is expected to be at the front line of its downtown renewal, much in the way that SCI-Arc students helped revitalize their Los Angeles neighborhood.

…In Latin America, the architect stresses, unstable currencies have engendered stable real estate markets, unlike in the United States, where so many bad mortgages burst the housing bubble.

“Traditionally, the West thought it would save the Third World, but Latin America is fast growing a middle class that is educated and ready to build cities,” Dubbledam says.

… She cites redirecting the Bogata River from a concrete bed to a more natural sluiceway. Using the dilapidated galerias (interior shopping corridors) of the historic La Candelaria neighborhood to envision new shopping squares absent any global big-box brands is another attractor in progress. Artists also live and work there. Twenty of them already inhabit houses that a Columbian art collector has purchased. They pay rent in art, and the public comes downtown for events that constellate around the budding colony.”

For the entire article:   Ellen Berkovitch: Trend Magazine

(Winka Dubbeldam is known as an architect who utilizes state-of-the-art ecological principles in her designs. It seems Bogata citizens want sustainability, while clients in Manhattan limit her use of ecological directives. This mindset could be one of the many reasons the United States is falling behind many bright, creative minds in Asia, Africa, Central and South America and the Middle East. Americans have stopped planning for the future and only look to immediate gain.)
Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, believes that cities of the 'Third of the World' can offer us lessons about urban quality of life.

ENRIQUE PEÑALOSA'S ideas stand as beacons of hope for cities of the non-industrialised world, which will absorb much of the planet's population growth over the next half-century. These are places with the usual complications of rapid urban expansion aggravated by deep poverty. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, however, Peñalosa believes it's a major mistake to give up on these places, no matter how out of control their problems appear.

"If we in the Third of the World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time," declares Peñalosa, a tall man with salt-and-pepper hair and trim beard. "With our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success. This might mean that all kids have access to sports facilities, libraries, parks, schools or nurseries."

This is exactly what Peñalosa set out to do as mayor of Colombia's capital city. And the results were impressive enough that Colombia finally got international press about something other than drug trafficking, guerrilla kidnappings and civil war. Indeed, some observers claim that this city of 6.6 million offers practical lessons, not just for helping poor cities, but for upgrading the quality of life in cities of the industrialised world.

In just three years 1998-2001 (term limits prevented him from seeking a second term) Peñalosa's Administration:

created the   Trans-Milenio, a bus rapid transit system (BRT), which now carries half a   million passengers daily on
special bus lanes that offer most of the advantages of a metro at a fraction of the cost;

built   fifty-two new schools, refurbished 150 others and increased student enrolment   by 34%;

established or refurbished 1,200 parks and playgrounds;  

built thirteen libraries;  

built 100   nurseries for children under five, and found permanent sources of funding;

improved life in the slums by bringing water to all households and buying land on the   outskirts of the city to prevent
real-estate speculation and ensure that affordable housing will be built;  

saw the murder rate fall by two-thirds;

reclaimed the sidewalks from motorists, who traditionally saw them as either a passing   lane or a parking lot;

established 300 kilometres of cycleways;

created the   world's longest pedestrian street (17 kilometres);

reduced   traffic by 40% with a system where motorists must leave cars at home during   rush hour two days a week;

inaugurated an annual car-free day; and

planted 100,000 trees.
NO-ONE CAN accuse Peñalosa of thinking small. As we sit in a room at New York University's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies, looking out on the bustle of Greenwich Village below, he muses about the day when cities of the Third of the World might surpass New York or Paris in terms of sheer joyfulness in urban living. As he confides this, his reserved manner gives way to a broad and infectious grin, which I assume has proved very useful through the years in helping him get things done.

"You must remember that Third of the World cities are still two-thirds unbuilt," he tells me, explaining that by 2050 most of these cities will be three times larger than  today, which means there is still a lot of city planning to do. "We can take  advantage of the mistakes and successes of other cities."

Opening the window and gazing down at sidewalks filled with people, he says, "I love New York. I feel so much energy here. But there is so much more that you could do: pedestrian streets, more parks, bikeways, open up the waterfronts. The old sections of European cities are very beautiful, but even they could be improved. They need a network of pedestrian streets through the whole city, not just the  centre, and they need more sports facilities and parks and green space.

"In Spanish we have this saying that it doesn't cost anything to dream," he notes. "So I say, let's dream! Let's just imagine how you want your home to be. How you want your kids to live. Do you want to walk or drive to get bread? That's the basis  of thinking about cities."

A more serious look now crosses his face. "Ninety-nine per cent of Third of the World people have never seen a Dutch or Danish city, where you see people on bikes everywhere. A city full of cars is not a good model for us. The images we get  from the US are a very damaging model," he continues. "We need to avoid  undesirable developments such as urban sprawl. People in the US now recognise  there are problems with building cities for cars and not for people. Pedestrians  and bicyclists should be given as much importance as motor vehicles; even more so in Third of the World cities, where most households don't own cars."

It's not that Peñalosa hates cars. It's that he loves lively public places where people of all backgrounds gather to enjoy themselves and each other - places that barely exist in cities where the car is king. These places are even more important in poor cities than in wealthy ones, he says, because poor people have nowhere else to go.

"We all need to see other people. We need to see green. Wealthy people can do that at clubs and private facilities. But most people can only do it in public squares,  parks, libraries, sidewalks, greenways, public transit," he declares, turning back for another look out of the window.

GROWING UP IN the 1960s, when revolutionary fervour in South America was strong, Peñalosa became an ardent advocate of social justice and income redistribution at an early age. He studied economics and history and later moved to Paris to earn a doctoral degree in management and public administration. He returned home with  aspirations of bringing European-style city comforts to the working-class people of Bogotá. The experience of his early years out of school working in an investment banking firm and dabbling in politics redefined his political views, as seen by the title of his first book, Capitalism: The Best Option. But this  does not mean, he hastens to tell me, that he abandoned the quest for social  justice.

"We live in the post-Communism period, in which many have assumed equality as a social goal is obsolete," he explains. "Although income equality as a concept does not jibe with market economy, we can seek to achieve quality-of-life equality. Urban policy can be a powerful means to achieve equality in quality of life."

So over the last twenty years Peñalosa has been looking for new ways to level the playing field between poor citizens and wealthier ones. "The least a democratic society should do", he says, "is to offer people wonderful public spaces. Public spaces are not a frivolity. They are just as important as hospitals and schools. They create a sense of belonging. This creates a different type of society- a society where people of all income levels meet in public space is a more integrated, socially healthier one."

"In Bogotá, our goal was to make a city for all the children. The measure of a good city is one where a child on a tricycle or bicycle can safely go anywhere. If a city is  good for children, it will be good for everybody else."

Peñalosa has been taking this message throughout the world in lecture tours sponsored by the World Bank, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP - a New York-based group promoting sustainable transportation in the Third of the World), and Interface for Cycling Expertise (I-CE), a group based in Utrecht, the Netherlands promoting bike transportation.

"You cannot overestimate the impact Peñalosa has had, on a personal level, in ten or twelve countries," notes Walter Hook, director of ITDP. "He takes these ideas, which can be rather dry, and speaks emotionally about the ways they affect people's lives. He has the ability to change how people think about cities."

Bogotá's BRT system is of particular interest to public officials in the Third of the  World, who want to defuse traffic jams but don't have funds to build a metro or tram system. Hook gives Peñalosa major credit for the decision to build a new busway in Jakarta, Indonesia. He also played a role in getting things rolling for busways in Beijing, Delhi, Cape Town, Lima and Dar es Salaam, as well as ambitious cycleway projects in Mexico City, Cape Town and Dakar.

AFTER SEVERAL HOURS of conversation, interrupted once by university maintenance men coming in to fix the loose window that Peñalosa favours for surveying the city below - a moment in which I saw the mayor's charm and persuasiveness in full blossom as he enquired whether they were going to seal it permanently shut - it is now time for lunch. Peñalosa tentatively suggests we could go to the faculty club, a presumably swank spot. I counter-offer that Washington Square Park is only two blocks away, and see a smile light up his face. We swing by a local deli, where Peñalosa holds his own in simultaneous Spanish conversations with two employees from the Dominican Republic while continuing to answer my  questions in English, and then stroll over to Washington Square to enjoy a lovely summer afternoon.

The park, the hub of Greenwich Village, was saved from plans to run a highway right through it by protests from the neighbourhood. As Peñalosa and I sit down on a bench with our sandwiches, we stop talking for the first time all day and just  watch the show. Children play. Mothers chat. Students read. Construction workers  sip coffee. Business executives nap. Street people sing. When a young woman  glides by on her bike, Peñalosa nods his head and laughs. "Bikes are a wonderful thing in cities. You can watch all the other people on their bikes, meet your friends, stop to talk."

"All these issues we're talking about are from the soul," he adds. "Economics, urban planning, ecology are only the means. Happiness is the goal. Places like this make people happy. We have a word in Spanish, ganas, which means 'a burning desire'. I have ganas about public life…"

Just then a young couple walk by pushing their bikes.

He looks over at me, his brown eyes shining. "Have you seen all the bikes in Copenhagen?"

In preparing this article, our editorial team discussed the use of the term  'Third World', which in some cases can seem derogatory. From research we were  interested to find that the term is actually a translation error: "The term was coined in French as Tiers Monde ('Third of the World'), but it has since been mistranslated to mean 'third in order'. No order is implied by Tiers Monde (if so, it would have been Troisième Monde). The term was used during the Cold War and the originator of the term noted simply that about a third of the countries of the world were neither capitalist nor communist in their political commitment. They were mostly the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America." As a mark of respect for the Third of the World countries who are still able to choose a more sustainable political future, from now on we will use the term as it was originally envisaged.

Jay Walljasper is Associate Editor of Ode.

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. . . By 2050, the United States can expect to add as many as 200 million people. Demographers predict that they'll require 90 million houses and 140 billion square feet of office and other nonresidential space-the equivalent of replacing all the country's existing buildings. If we keep building in the way we do now, suburbs will gobble up a New Mexico-size amount of open space in the next 40 years. More suburbs mean more freeways and more cars, which means that by mid - century, Americans will clock 7 trillion miles per year-twice as much mileage as we do now. The alternative to this metastasizing, car-dependent sprawl is population density. And that means squeezing more people into cities and inner suburbs like Alameda. According to the Greenbelt Alliance, the Bay Area could absorb another 2 million residents by 2035 without expanding its physical footprint.

Cities are also essential to stemming climate change. As Kaid Benfield, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Smart Growth program explains, "The city is inherently energy efficient. Even the greenest household in an outlying location can't match an ordinary household downtown." Heating an apartment uses as much as 20 percent less energy than heating a single - family home of the same size. Promoting infill development-the practice of filling empty urban space or replacing older buildings with bigger ones-instead of building more subdivisions could effectively conserve the amount of energy produced by 2,800 power plants and could prevent some 26 trillion miles of driving. All told, if the United States focuses on increasing urban density, our greenhouse gas emissions in 2050 could be as much as 20 percent lower than they'd be in the sprawl scenario.
Determined to make cities more livable, environmentalists have promoted parks and public transit, fought freeways and factories, and portrayed developers as the ultimate bad guys. But these well - intentioned efforts to curb the Robert Moses-style excesses of urban development had unintended consequences. Strict limits on building height and attempts to squeeze ever-larger concessions from urban developers (but not suburban ones) drove up the cost of housing in many cities-sending builders and home buyers looking for open space. "It's a situation that has unfairly favored sprawl," says NRDC's Benfield. SunCal developer Pat Keliher says that many of his colleagues simply avoid the cost of battling urban skeptics by building on out-of-town farmland: "It's the old adage-cows don't talk."

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