18 Jan 2016
Bogotá Humana – a personal experience and perspective

Former Intern and Cities Programme Research Associate, Shai Diner, shares his experience and perspective of Bogotá based on his recent three month study trip in the capital. It is a city he describes as inspiring.

Bogotá, Colombia consists of 20 municipalities, over 8 million people and a land mass area of 1,587 km². The city has a complicated layout upon arriving, but once understood, it is an exceptionally logical way to map the streets. Traffic is always congested, with peak hour lasting for hours. The weather is very temperamental with rainstorms coming sporadically. However, amongst all the chaos there is an incredibly vibrant culture. There is a place for everyone in Bogotá, a niche for many different subcultures to enjoy. The people are incredibly nice and helpful, and are known to go above and beyond for their fellow man.

Bogotá Humana (Humane Bogotá) is Bogota’s local government urban development plan, outlining policies to address a holistic urban landscape. The policy provides strategies to tackle: inequality (socio-economic, violence, discrimination and class) and environmental concerns (climate concerns, pollution, transport, waste disposal and more). Upon reading the document for the first time, it appeared to be an incredibly ambitious development plan that would be incredibly hard to achieve.

One of the most striking findings from the development plan is the emphasis that the policy has on the people of Bogotá. Many of the policies presented within Bogotá Humana are centred around the people of Bogotá and improving the quality of life of its citizens – which is inclusive of their environmental policies.

Whilst there may be room for improvement with Bogotá Humana plan as it does not address all development issues associated with the city.  However as a first step, the Government has taken an big leap forward in trying to address social inequalities and environmental concerns within the city.

I was in Bogotá conducting fieldwork between January – May, 2015 , taking an auto-ethnographic approach to my research I utilised observation and interviews as the main form of data collection.

Early in the fieldwork, the breadth and reach of Bogotá Humana became increasingly apparent.
The Bogotá Humana logo could be seen on a daily basis, in different forms, on vehicles, posters, clothes and buildings. Although Bogotá Humana is a development plan, it is also much more. It is a vibrant policy that can be felt throughout Bogotá, which is being enacted by the government.

The Bogotá city government is a signatory to the UN Global Compact committing to advance the Ten Principles of the Compact in the areas of human rights, labour, the environment and anti-corruption. My time in Bogotá gave me the opportunity to reflect on these Principles and consider the ways in which the Bogotá government is addressing these goals.

Dia Sin Carro / Day without Car

Principle Number 8, of the Global Compact Ten Principles, is an environmental goal to “undertake initiatives to promote greater environmental responsibility.” One such way the government is promoting environmental responsibility is through the ‘Dia Sin Carro’ initiative, a day free of cars on the roads of Bogotá. Once a year, since the year 2000, the city has a day free of cars with extra bike paths set up throughout the city, public transport at capacity and events throughout the area.

Alcalde Gustavo Pedro, increased the frequency of Dia Sin Carro, with two days occurring during the fieldwork, and another occurring later on in 2015.

‘Dia Sin Carro’ has multiple objectives with the main being tackling and reducing pollution from cars. The smoke pollution produced by cars is exceptionally noticeable to outsiders, but also to locals who constantly comment on the pollution. It can be incredibly hard to breathe on the streets of Bogotá some days. Another reason is to reduce traffic for a day, allowing bike riders to roam the city with ease.

Throughout the day, they host concerts and different cultural events throughout the city. One concert witness during the fieldwork was on a bike route in the north. A few hundred bike riders had left their bikes to go and dance to a self-proclaimed Vallento fusion band. The crowd was going crazy, dancing and cheering for their entire set. The riders were dancing around, some even with their bikes. There was a strong feeling of community and comradeship within the crowds.

There were mixed reactions to Dia Sin Carro from the people encountered. Some were very supportive of this day, believing it did curb emissions whilst also providing a cultural space for bike riders. Others felt that this day had no place and was simply an inconvenience to those who could afford cars.

This policy is very representative of the government’s ideology behind Bogota Humana, to tackle environmental issues with a focus on its citizens. In the process of trying to reduce smoke produced in the city, although only for one day, they incorporated elements of culture to promote the day, to aid in the cultural life of the city. At every point, Bogota Humana was there.

Although this is only one small example of how the government is promoting environmental responsibility, it shows their commitment to the cause as Dia Sin Carro affects all citizens of Bogota and is therefore raising awareness to all people, regardless of their circumstances.

LGBT Centres

‘Support(ing) and respect(ing) the protection of internationally proclaimed human rights;’ is another UN Global Compact principle which the Government of Bogotá is acting upon. This is through the establishment of a government department dedicated to the protection of LGBT persons in Bogotá: Subdirección para Asuntos LGBT  (Sub department for LGBT Issues) as part of the Secretaría Distrital de Integración Social (District Secretary for Social Integration).

One of the ways in which the Sub department supports and respects the LGBT population is through two LGBT centres. LGBT centres have been in Bogotá for approximately 7 years and have changed locations throughout this period. Whilst my research was being conducted, two centres were operating; one in the suburb of Teusaquillo, and the other in the suburb of Santa Fe. Each centre has different functions based on the community surrounding the centre.

The Teusaquillo centre provides an outlet for cultural enrichment and belonging, running various activities throughout the week promoting a sense of community and belonging, alongside providing counselling to the LGBTIQ population. These services can enrich individuals’ lives and can play a pivotal role in their wellbeing. With discrimination still existent within Bogota, this provides a safe environment for individuals to be themselves.

The Santa Fe centre is situated in what many locals consider to be a dangerous area, riddled with drugs and prostitution. Many GBT person who have been displaced due to the ongoing war in Colombia, have ended up in this neighbourhood. The location of the centre appears to be purposeful, as it is in the centre of this neighbourhood with easy access for locals. This centre acts more as an education and wellbeing centre; providing daily meals to the community, running workshops about health, safe sex and employment as well as providing counselling services. This centre has a very different atmosphere than the Teusaquillo centre. The atmosphere is not as light, feeling rougher around the edges however there is a sense that a purpose is being met within the centre. The people that were observed within the centre, coming and going, portrayed a feeling of belonging, as if this centre was there place. In a suburb where crime is high, drugs use is rampant and money is everything, the ability to feel at home somewhere, in priceless.

These centres service very different purposes, but exist for the same reason, to promote, protect and respect the human rights of a vulnerable population. This is just one example of where the government is trying to protect and respect the human rights of the citizens of Bogotá, with many more examples where this can be seen.

The Bogotá government developed a very ambitious development plan, Bogotá Humana, to change the culture of the city in support of its citizens and the environment. There are many areas where the policy could be improved however the affects of the plan can be seen throughout the city and they are working towards meeting these Principles.

One final note: Bogotá Humana, the name itself, appears to be one of the most important aspects of the policy. The citizens of Bogotá are saturated with name and logo of Bogotá Humana, infiltrating many aspects of their life. It is a constant reminder to the citizens that the government cares and is trying to improve their quality of life. From a city, which has had such a politically intensive 20th century, plagued by war and violence, the idea that the government cares for the people, is very important in ensuring that the past is not repeated and even more so, in attempting to regain the trust of the people in democracy and governance.

Report Author: Shai Diner


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