Bogota is Getting the Zoning Laws all Wrong

It seems odd to be writing this from my desk in Mompos, but, being here in a UNESCO World Heritage Site perhaps puts many architectural and urban catastrophes into context and while the issue of zoning and territorial planning is clearly a nationwide problem perhaps nowhere can it be better observed than in Bogota. How can Bogota possibly be regarded or considered as an ugly city? With the huge open green spaces of the Parque Simon Bolivar, the Cerros Orientales, the Humedales that run the length and breadth of the city and the leafy verdant barrios such as Parkway, Teusaquillo, Chico and Usaquen, Bogota is a South American capital with elegance and stature.

Pleasant residential streets in Chapinero Alto

Pleasant residential streets in Chapinero Alto

But, the constant and rapid growth of the city is pushing this element of beauty far from our neighbourhoods. Call it progress, call it a building boom, a construction bubble, call it the Venezuelan National Savings Account or call it money laundering and corruption…whatever it is, it’s spoiling the city beyond repair.

Is there are POT or Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial in place for the city? I am sure one exists but is poorly executed.

Take for example the barrio of Chapinero Alto between Calle 65 and Calle 62, there’s a small neighbourhood of low slung houses. This architecture, while nothing mind-blowing has created a community. Something that Bogota is so desperately crying out for. Only the other week I happened to be wandering through the area and admiring some renovations when I came across a huge monstrosity of an apartment building constructed on the site of what was a harmless and inoffensive residential property.

What was once a brick-built home is now a huge grey apartment block

What was once a brick-built home is now a huge grey apartment block

In one fell swoop of brutalistic modernity, what was a community has been scythed down to make way for a construction resembling a Casa de Bien de Interes Social or, as we would say in the UK 1960’s council housing. Grey, hulking and scandalously intrusive, I am sure this apartment block is home to a rabbit warren of tiny studios designed for students and young professionals.

I understand the mentality of getting the most from your hard earned peso, but at the same time, at what cost? I can envisage the Carrera Septima being akin to the Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo at some point in the future, and this is not something to which I am averse. But, we need these “pocket communities” intact here in Bogota. It is here than one breeds and cultivates a sense of belonging and local pride.

This home is soon to be demolished to make way for apartments.

This home is soon to be demolished to make way for apartments.

For so long I have harped on about transport problems, pollution and more profoundly Bogota’s search for an identity. It strikes me as incredibly important that Bogota remains an esthetically elegant place to live. But without territorial and zoning laws in place how can we protect the city? Building continues to scrape away at the hillsides creating environmental problems and dangers to those living nearby.

The ever rising Carrera Septima corridor in Bogota

The ever rising Carrera Septima corridor in Bogota

There are buildings that are clearly of importance to the city and her history, there are those which require restoration and refurbishing and of course those which must be demolished. But, without a community feel there’s little left. Daily reports on the national news channels terrify us with images of violent robberies and general delinquency, and there’s a powerful argument that a community will care for itself through careful policing and adherence to laws.

So, without a community in place I ask of you, where is the social fabric of the city?





About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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2 Responses to Bogota is Getting the Zoning Laws all Wrong

  1. Jason says:

    Zoning and development will always come down to generational preference.

    Generation X & older tends to prefer larger properties away from the city center, they are also more likely to buy and live in the same home for the majority of their lives.
    Generation Y & younger prefers the concept of inner city, modern living and given that they are quickly becoming the generation who is making up a significant portion of the real estate market, it makes sense that the city development is following that trend with high rise, modern apartments.

    • Richard says:

      Jason, thank you for your comment and everything you state makes perfect sense. But, if Generation Y cannot afford these tiny cubicles and continue to pushed to the suburbs and remain living it at home, what will be the resulting effect. The area about which I write here in Bogota is far from inner city and many of my peers would far sooner rent in a town house shared between various friends and with outdoor space than be pushed into multi-rise living units.

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