Towards the Human City – Colombia Part II

First Stop: Colombia – Part II

Identifying transformative initiatives in Bogotá was easy in light of the vast richness of initiatives and a well-organised civil society, a large swathe of whom feel highly committed to contributing to better societies. In the weeks that followed, we had the opportunity to document initiatives such as 100en1Día, led by young active minds that promote one hundred city interventions in one day to raise awareness around urban culture and engage citizens in the design and management of cities. Since its creation in 2012, the initiative has been replicated in more than 20 other cities (including places like Cape Town in South Africa, Kaluga in Russia and Vancouver in Canada). Lia Valero, one of the initiative’s founders, told us that she seeks to create a network of 100 cities rolling out one-day community-based interventions to send a strong message of what can be achieved when individuals get organised around one core goal.

colombia part 2

We also got to spend time with Mónica Villegas and documented the initiative she is directing, Bogotá cómo Vamos. It is a network of citizens engaged in monitoring public policies and how they are exerting an impact on Bogotá’s quality of life. Bogotá Cómo Vamos was set up in 1997 during the municipal elections to ensure effective and transparent government, more informed and participatory citizenship and a network of organisations and citizens around the quality of urban life. Since its creation, it has yielded impressive results, producing more than 50 publications related to urban quality of life, training 150 social leaders on urban monitoring and creating an open-data platform with city indicators. Bogotá Cómo Vamos has also been replicated in other cities (both within Colombia and internationally) and now has more than 60 different chapters in South America.

Another interesting initiative was Mejor en Bici, an initiative promoting bicycle use as a regular means of transportation in Bogotá. The initiative engages companies such as Unilever and Diageo, which provide bicycles to their employees so they can commute between home and work by bicycle as a means of sustainable transportation and a healthy lifestyle. In a city with more than 1.5 million cars that spend an average of 24 days a year in traffic jams, the promotion of cycling to work is imperative.

Furthermore, two of the most inspiring initiatives we got to document were, without a doubt, Cebras por la Vida and Mutualitos y Mutualitas. Cebras por la Vida, an initiative led by the charismatic German Sarmiento, advocates respect for and the safety of pedestrians so they can walk safely in the city. The initiative started painting new pedestrian crossings with colourful designs in places where pedestrians had been run over by cars. They were initially illegal but then collaboration began with public authorities as they recognised the importance of raising such awareness. Today, the initiative is being replicated in Mexican cities by Derive Lab (we also documented them in Mexico City; their story will be told in an upcoming post).

Finally, we met Doña Rosita, founder of the initiative Mutualitos y Mutualitas. Doña Rosita is a victim of the violence of her country. Kidnapped as a kid, internally displaced with three kids due to paramilitary operations, her son was murdered during the period known in Colombia as la violencia. After Doña Rosita arrived in Bogotá, she found a landfill and started recycling its contents (mostly metal and wood). Today, that space is the biggest urban garden in the district of La Perseverancia and Doña Rosita provides capacity building to low-income households on food sovereignty promoting a closer relation to nature and the environment.

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Inspired by all these stories and urban activists that devote their time and, in many cases, risk their own safety to tackle urban challenges in Bogotá, we left the city with one confirmation: we had initiated a project that was broader and wider than what we had thought, and felt humbled and enthusiastic, on account of all the knowledge and inspiration we were receiving from the people we were interviewing.

Next stop: Medellín. Known as the City of Eternal Spring, as mentioned previously, it went from being the city with the highest number of homicides in the world to the most innovative one in terms of social development in barely 15 years. A great deal to learn once again. So, we boarded the plane at El Dorado International Airport with two overriding goals in mind: to listen and to observe.