Take Pride in Bogota!

A student leaving his thoughts clear for everyone to see in Bogota, Colombia

Bogota has so much going for it as a capital city in that it becomes so painfully frustrating to watch the slow pace of change. This is change that we crave. As a resident here I go through well documented moments of love and then utter hatred of the city. Presently the weather has been excellent, well, what were wonderful days of crisp clear high altitude vistas have given way to rainy afternoons and bruised skies over the Cerros Orientales. This is the season, nothing wrong with that.

And just as it is written that it has to rain on a Friday afternoon when everyone is looking for taxi I find myself feeling a sense of pride in Bogota. I am proud that Bogotanos were progressive thinking enough to elect former M19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro as mayor, I am proud that the people in charge have created a Centro de Atención Móvil para Drogodependientes (Camad) to attend to addicts in central Bogota, I was very happy to have seen some of the famous mime artists return to the streets the other day to ridicule poor drivers and promote the respect for zebra crossings and traffic lights. All of the aforementioned are wonderful examples of how this city can see a way forward.

I am not going to harp on about how badly Bogota needs a metro system and a complete overhaul of the collapsing Transmilennio bendy bus system. What I would like is the following, a little more polish to the city.

Not lustre from cash or gaudy celebrations of vulgar wealth. No, I would like for Bogota to return to her residents and that each and every person living here would feel a sense of belonging, which, I fear presently, is strikingly absent. So much is made of Bogota’s well educated citizenry and their polite nature, but I feel that frustrations have simmered over with the failures of the past administration and Bogotanos have forgotten their manners. The corruption that has paralysed the city is showing itself and there are some very basic actions that need to be taken to return Bogota to her inhabitants, foreigners and nationals alike.

My nine image collage is meant to reflect a few of the things I would like to see change in Bogota, and the sooner the better. (Order is from the top left clockwise)

  1. There is so much work needed on so many streets, Bogota’s roads are potholed and rutted and lead to drivers swerving dangerously to avoid irreparable damage to their vehicle’s shocks.  Don’t get me started on the city’s pavements.
  2.  Resiste: I am all for demonstrations, marches and so on so long as they are peaceful and respect public and private property. Why students feel the need to tear up the Carrera Septima every month is a mystery to me.
  3. The horse and cart culture need not change, but it does need to be made to obey traffic laws as well. There needs to be regulation.
  4. City Parks: Look closely under the tree and you’ll see a gentleman defecating within yards of where couples are seated in Lourdes Park, Chapinero. Interestingly this event is taking place all of 25m from a Police CAI.
  5. Pollution: At some point roughly three to four years ago there was talk about improving the fuel grade for public transport. This clearly has not happened. This needs to happen.
  6. Quality of driving. It’s just terrible. Nothing more to say. Pedestrians have no rights.
  7. Refuse: I have no problem with recycling, in fact I am overwhelmingly pro, but again, wouldn’t it more conducive to a civilized city if there were centers where the recicladores could go and find it all under one roof rather than leaving it strewn along every street?
  8. Demolitions for new build: In principle I have no issue with this but, why knock down beautiful old buildings (not like the one pictured) to throw up high rise, tiny apartments and then overcharge for them?
  9.  More culture less war: This speaks for itself, but I want to put it into a civic context where people are more patient and participative. Taxis would stop for pedestrians rather than speeding up, doormen would be courteous and beggars wouldn’t cuss you in English if you failed to give them some pesos.


Is this a pipe dream or something worth aiming for?

About Richard

Anglo-Canadian resident in Colombia. Journalist, Writer, Hotelier, Expedition Guide
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12 Responses to Take Pride in Bogota!

  1. Esben says:

    Well, it´s certainly true what you call out for. But I would be very interested in seeing a follow up post with suggestions on how to actually achieve those goals. As soon as we can imagine the change, we can work to get there.

    It seems like structural problems that could be solved to a large extent by exposing a root course and eliminate it. Case in point, the bad roads and the reckless driving.

    • Richard says:

      Thank you for you comment, I will certainly be working towards a follow up post at some point in the future when I have the suggestions to achieve these goals. We could list corruption as a root problem, and the absence of actual driving classes for drivers. For example, my wife is taking a course right now and there is very little actual practical educating going on. I don't know how to stop the students from periodically tearing up the streets or how to impress upon EcoPetrol to provide a better grade of fuel to the highly polluting and noisy buses. It's a tangle of problems, but one would help unravel the other and perhaps Bogotanos could once again have a sense of pride in their city.

      • Esben says:

        Hi Richard, (Sorry I haven't replied before, I didn't get notified on responses)
        It's true that it is a tangle of problems, that somehow will begin to dissolve as some of the major issues are addressed.
        My Bogotana girlfriend is very dismissive of the system to be able to improve anything by itself, but somehow I can't help but imagine (dream, wish, hope) that tighter laws on emission, or some kind of innovation in pedestrian uses of the streets – or actual education of drivers as you mention!!, could go a loong way.

        What I like most about democracy is the constraints of power use, but it also inhibits politicians to act and make the tough and necessary decisions. Mockus (as you refer to in the post to Maia) did make some tough decisions, that actually bent the way people thought of the city.
        But I believe somewhere, that actions like those Mockus initiated could be deployed by non-political parties as well. So I am really interested in what smaller agencies or grassroots could do.

        As an example, where my girlfriend lives, they don't really have a sense of community. Even if its only a couple of block, they don't seem to share a common understanding of the state of decay their surroundings are in.

        Have you heard about any citizen projects that has actually initiated change in locations in Bogota or Colombia at large?

        • Richard says:

          Esben, it's such an interesting situation, I just asked my Colombian wife if she knew of any grassroots apolitical groups working solely for the good of the city and she could think of none. I think you touch upon a very serious issue in that of the lack of community. It would be great to see the results of just a little solidarity between neighbours when it came to say cleanliness, order, reorganizing the pavement so that one could actually walk on it. There must be some project somewhere, I am certain that over time I may get to actually hear of one, but at the moment it feels very much a situation of every man for himself here. I guess like you suggest, one has to work at changing the way the people think of the city.

          • Esben says:

            Thanks for the quick reply Richard!
            Dare I presume you are American? You guys seem to have a great community-building-capacity in your culture, is that replicable in other places, or does it seem tied-up with other sets of values not available here? (Or there, actually, I'm not in Colombia at the moment)

          • Richard says:

            Anglo – Canadian! But all of my formative years spent in London. I have worked in a number of countries in social projects and think that community projects can work whatever the values…there just has to be an understanding and a will to work together. Pure unadulterated altruism!

          • Esben says:

            Woa, I am sorry for the implication then! 🙂
            Yes, altruism goes a long way! Tools are only necessary when the mutual will is not really present, as the situation we're talking about.

            But then with your experience, how do you see a starting point? And maybe more importantly, where?

  2. Maia says:

    Hi Richard, interesting post. I agree with you in most of the points. I also feel that Bogotanos have forgotten their manners. As a pedestrian I am suffering the lack of education people have in the streets. It seems that they really think they have the right to pass and the pedestrian have to wait. I would like to do something about it, so if you have any ideas, please let me know.


    • Richard says:

      Maia, thank you for your comment. Unfortunately I don't know what we can do without an effective Transit Police actually pulling over drivers for transit offenses. How many times do I watch cars speeding through red lights, how many times do we have to jump out of the way when a car screams round a corner? I do suggest that the mime artists of Mockus' era should return but there should also be a "mano dura" on transit offenses. I bet most drivers in Bogota are not aware of what the "Yield" sign is or the "yellow box" found at intersections.

  3. sfoswald says:

    It's hard to do. But we from more developed countries, find it hard to appreciate Colombia for what it is. Developing. I guess these things will come in time. Don't let it stress you.

    • Richard says:

      Yes, I should calm down a little, but after being here full time since 2007 I guess I kind of expect some change, after all, so much is promised. I'll head off to Mompos soon and my worries of being mowed down by a bus will be replaced by those of being stampeded by a donkey.

      • sfoswald says:

        I suppose being there for that amount of time would have an effect on anyone's optimism. Small things did grate on me when I was there too. Guess it's different when it inflicts itself upon you life as apposed to just being part of travelling. Enjoy Mompos.

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