International
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Learnings on leadership from Bogotá

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá: How to change a society where violence, corruption and fear have become an embodied analogy for urban public life?

Bogotá (and Colombia) is facing many problems, primarily due to the level of poverty and the consequences following crime and corruption at all societal levels. It requires a remarkable courage and strong cooperation between politicians and civil servants to battle this and create a better city.

Violence as context
Violence and terror form the everyday geography of Bogotá. People encapsulated in their securitised private cars; the public space perceived as dangerous; visible armed police everywhere; and retellings of dreadful stories. This leaves a low trust among citizens and a highly privatised, securitised city.     

Before María Fernanda Rojas became the managing director at the Planning Institute for Bogotá (IDU) she was one of the key persons uncovering the corruption scandal of the former mayor Samuel Moreno. Corruption diminishes people’s confidence, not only in the authorities but also in others. ‘We could measure an increase of the perceived insecurity among the citizens after the exposure of Moreno’s corruption’, Rojas tells.

Constructing equality through public space and transport
The more unequal a society is, the more crime it can count. Therefore it’s crucial to minimize the distinction between rich and poor. Crime related to poverty often derives out of necessity. Reducing the actual criminal actions is something, changing the perceived fear and trust among others is something else.

Antanas Mockus promoted co-existence and citizen culture to improve the respect for human life through communication and humour.  Enrique Peñalosa enhanced equality through the built environment by improving public space and mobility for the poorest. Together they wanted to raise the dignity and quality of urban space and life for everyone.

Enhancing equality is a core motive for the current planning department; something they are going to promote through improving and building high quality public transport. It’s about creating a system attracting both the rich, the middleclass and the poor.

Enrique Peñalosa in Kennedy, Bogotá

Enrique Peñalosa in Kennedy, Bogotá

Enrique Peñalosa in Kennedy, Bogotá

Enrique Peñalosa in Kennedy, Bogotá

Believe that people can change
Mockus and Peñalosa did a tremendous work; the city might not be perfect or ‘finished’, but they initiated a change and most importantly; los Bogotanos began to imagine that the city could be different. Stunned by the speed of change, we asked how it was possible and the question we got: “We all believed change was possible”.

Peñalosa was a ‘doer’ and a very good city manager who created a very united team with the same goals. “Compared with other administrations, we almost didn’t have internal conflicts,” says Cecilia María Vélez, who was Peñalosa’s secretary of education. “Peñalosa might not have been a good politician but he made things happen,” she continues. 

Cecilia María Vélez

Cecilia María Vélez

Long-term planning vs. political ego
The ongoing dilemma for every planner is the shifting visions and ambitions related to mayor’s short electoral periods. Implementing large-scale urban projects takes time. The agreement between Mockus and Peñalosa to continue the projects of each other and the fact that Mockus in his second period almost kept Peñalosa’s team entirely, made long-term planning stronger.

The overall goal for both of them was to create a better city for citizens and not satisfying their personal ego even though their job might require one. They practiced what they preached, just as the current administration are fighting to gain back peoples trust by making processes transparent and choosing projects for their visions and not their money.

Alicia Eugenia Silva, secretary of governance during Mockus’ first period, battled corruption by being even stricter and more rigid with her principles. She only lunched with her son and daughter; never received a present and in meetings always had a witness. “I never had my own agenda. My only ambition and plan was to change society,” she says. A principle she didn’t believe she could meet if she accepted the job she was offered as a minister. Consequently, she rejected the ministerial post.

Alicia Eugenia Silva

Alicia Eugenia Silva

Read also:
>> Mobility in Bogotá
>> Community house promoting positive gentrification
>> Knowledge as a change maker

>> How cities are born
>> Doism in Bogotá: Río de colores
>> Colombia - social stratification by law
>> Bogotá – city of change
>> The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá