Thursday, January 30, 2014

Mayor of Happiness


“Peñalosa insisted that, like most cities, Bogotá had been left deeply wounded by the 20th century’s dual urban legacy: first, the city had been gradually reoriented around cars. Second, public spaces and resources had largely been privatised. This reorganisation was both unfair – only one in five families even owned a car – and cruel: urban residents had been denied the opportunity to enjoy the city’s simplest daily pleasures: walking on convivial streets, sitting around in public. And playing: children had largely disappeared from Bogotá’s streets, not because of the fear of gunfire or abduction, but because the streets had been rendered dangerous by sheer speed. Peñalosa’s first and most defining act as mayor was to declare war: not on crime or drugs or poverty, but on cars.


He threw out the ambitious highway expansion plan and instead poured his budget into hundreds of miles of cycle paths; a vast new chain of parks and pedestrian plazas; and the city’s first rapid transit system (the TransMilenio), using buses instead of trains. He banned drivers from commuting by car more than three times a week. This programme redesigned the experience of city living for millions of people, and it was an utter rejection of the philosophies that have guided city planners around the world for more than half a century.


In the third year of his term, Peñalosa challenged Bogotáns to participate in an experiment. As of dawn on 24 February 2000, cars were banned from streets for the day. It was the first day in four years that nobody was killed in traffic. Hospital admissions fell by almost a third. The toxic haze over the city thinned. People told pollsters that they were more optimistic about city life than they had been in years.” via The Guardian


Unfortunately, there is no happy ending..


“The city experienced a spike in feelings of optimism. People believed that life was good and getting better, a feeling they had not shared in decades.


Bogotá’s fortunes have since declined. The TransMilenio system is plagued by desperate crowding as its private operators fail to add more capacity – yet more proof that robust public transport needs sustained public investment. Optimism has withered.”


Local towns in the UK could be very well served by looking to this model of non car-centric planning, but the weather means only the hardcore bike riders would be interested I think. I like no-car day though.


No comments: