Bogota, a Capital City in Beta Mode

According to reports published in Colombia’s national newspaper El Tiempo, the Copeton, an emblem, measuring but 14cm in length, of the capital city Bogota is fleeing for more tranquil climes. Noise levels, so harmful to the Zonotrichia capensis or Rufous-collared sparrow are soaring out of control into a cacophony of car horns, sirens and jackhammers. The price of progress.

And it’s not surprising really as Bogota has been up on bricks for over two years now with suspended and delayed essential road works, poorly planned constructions and cases of rampant corruption and political inefficiency compounding pre-existing headaches.  Trying to get anywhere in the city has become a time consuming, stressful and costly business not to mention at times unsafe.

Such ills that plague Bogota are well documented, delinquency, reduced sense of security, mass forced migrations or IDPs (Internally Displaced People) escaping the conflict in the countryside, pollution, and of course all of the aforementioned do not make for an ideal window on the country.

So maybe the Copeton has a point.

But to be so negative about Bogota is not to do this city justice. Homicides are down, the city has made a turnaround from the dark days of yesteryear in the 1980s and early 1990s when politicians here presided over what was effectively very nearly a failed state, controlled in its entirety by all powerful drug cartels and leftist guerrilla groups.

And in recent years despite the city’s best efforts, Colombia has been hammered by weather patterns that have left the country on its knees due to flooding and the resulting problems arising from high water levels and poor planning.  In short the capital city has suffered a miasma of suspect decisions and natural disasters.

That we are even discussing problems such as intrusive noise levels and pollution is a positive slant for Colombia for these can be deemed as first world problems. Bogota has progressed, as I mentioned before, the murder rate has dropped significantly and the city does not even appear in the top 50 most violent cities as evaluated by the Citizen Council for Public Safety.

So now, we can say that Bogota, with an ex M19 guerrilla in power in the form of Gustavo Petro as mayor, major increases in both domestic and foreign investment and in tourism, is finding its feet and flourishing.

I would say that an apt description for today’s Bogota is that of a city that is in Beta mode. There are clearly still bugs at present in the software and the cycle of phases of development ranging from the city’s initial development to its eventual release as a progressive and inclusive capital are still found wanting. Of course, my Bogota is a different reality to that of many others. I speak of a Bogota that extends north from the centro in the colonial Candelaria where the seat of Government and Congress are situated. To head south below the Calle de los Comuneros is to enter another world as yet untouched by such progress.

And while new efforts to modernize the city are applied, such as the recent decree to outlaw horse drawn carts or zorreros from Bogota’s streets by the end of 2012 – these humble hard working folk provide an excellent service in recycling and waste removal – progress comes at a price. It appears that southern Bogota, below the Plaza de Bolivar, and satellite barrios and zones such as Bosa, Soacha and Usme feel less integrated and less catered for as the rest of the city lurches forward with macro projects that include integrated transit plans and mega constructions such as the new Hilton and JW Marriott hotels in the well-healed and leafy barrio of Rosales.

So where is the happy medium and to where is our friendly feathered Rufous-collared Sparrow fleeing to? Certainly his flight is irreparable damage to Bogota’s environmental heritage but a city in progress represents something else, something recognized by the Spanish poet Luis Cernuda of the famed Generation of 1927 when his country was in the throes of the Civil War. I remember studying at university Cernuda’s verse that dealt almost exclusively with the unbridgeable gap between the harsh reality and a personal world of ideal aspirations. Bogota is this, for a city under construction that can visualize its future is far more interesting and beautiful than the finished article.

 

Hopefully the absence of the Copeton is but a brief sojourn in the moorlands of the nearby National Park of Sumapaz and a new Bogota, one that is environmentally friendly and socially inclusive can rise up from the tatters of what was left by the last administration. For Bogotanos, theirs is a discombobulated capital city, staggering to its feet and showing the green shoots of economic and social growth.

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