Last week David and I travelled to Bogotá for the second time to collaborate with the World Bank on a scoping workshop. Throughout the four-day process, we meet and worked with various secretariats, including habitat, planning and mobility on imagining the future of the ‘7a’ avenue, one of the most prominent and historic arteries of the city.
The ‘7a’ project is being lead by the Secretariat of Habitat, under the wing of their ‘Taller de la Ciudad’ or ‘City Lab’. Their aim is to revitalise parts of the city centre beginning by enhancing public life, easing movement and increasing security. The ‘Taller de la Ciudad’ has identified 15 nodes along the 7a where they plan to trial pilot projects. Later this year, they will launch an international ideas competition to help gather innovative ideas for the 15 nodes.
The ‘City Lab’ team has already begun their first pilot between the 19th and 26th streets of the ‘7a’ – cars have been re-routed and the road re-distributed to include space for pedestrians, cyclists and service vehicles. Although it is being pitched to users as a pedestrian street, it seems like the opportunity is much bigger and linked to the current mayor’s slogan – Bogotá Humana (Human Bogotá). The planned initiatives along the ‘7a’ translate into projects that are about making an already incredible and inspiring city into a place that exhilarates our senses by smartly transforming them into destinations, experiences, hubs, and magnetic centers that offer the best of city life to every citizen.
Standing and observing the altered flows between the 19th and 26th we were struck by the lack of clarity and conflict between users despite the delineated spaces. There appeared to be very little natural propensity to follow the painted lanes and no alliance between pedestrians and cyclists. It left us wondering how Bogotanos can be moved towards and inspired to respond to something that is entirely new? Does this type of lane segregation and order suit the culture? It seems like an incredible opportunity for both the secretariats and the citizens to investitage city-goer behaviour and to trial innovative urban solutions.
The exponential and ambitious transformations of Bogotá, such as Transmilenio BRT program and associated ‘hardware’ restructuring projects by Enrique Peñalosa, socially experimental and unorthodox ‘software’ approach by Antanas Mockus, have yet to be surpassed in fame or efficiency by successive administrations. These projects were, in thinking and finance a product of their time. Now it seems like a new, more dispersed and open city agenda is surfacing. One in which bottom up processes of small change that inspire participation, social connection and trust are developing, needing an understanding of the inter-play between the hard, and the soft infrastructures of the city. The pilot project shows that one size doesn’t fit all and that intelligent design must come from user and cultural understanding.