Thursday, May 31, 2007

Notes on Bogotá vs Curitiba

Curitiba, Brazil
Bogotá is interesting and important for many reasons but I write only to draw some quick comparisons between it and the Latin American success story probably best known by U.S. planners: Curitiba, Brazil. We mostly know Curitiba for its visionary mayor, Jaime Lerner, who made as much progress as anyone in a metropolitan city in promoting transit over car use for commuting, among several other impressive accomplishments. (PBS even has a web site on the city's planning history.) Lerner went on to become a multi-term mayor and then governor of that state -- and an international spokesperson for rational, economical, "smart" urban development -- and has even longer led a planning/architecture firm that remains extremely influential in Curitiba development and policy circles.

The New York Times Sunday Magazine published a provocative May 20 piece on Curitiba. (This is available online for the right price, or you can read it without the pictures in Matt Kahn's blog here.) It emphasized two points made in recent years: That Lerner's initial great successes were due in no small part to the existence of a military dictatorship at the national level at the time, and that many positive planning indicators have begun to slip lately, especially in the face of a growing low-income population at the urban periphery. Even the transit mode share is dropping.

Meanwhile, I visited Bogotá for the first time last week for a Lincoln seminar (all presentations are here) and, in addition to soaking up what I could of the urban colonial milieu in el centro, met Arturo Ardila-Gómez, a professor at the University of the Andes. His MIT urban studies dissertation, supervised by Ralph Gakenheimer, compared the transit planning processes of Bogotá and Curitiba during many of their formative transit years. He summarized his argument and evidence, as best I remember, as disputing the first part of the NYT article; namely, Lerner was effective mainly because he was a coalition builder, even when the system was not particularly democratic. Another point made in this presentation is that both bus systems were successful, in various respects, because they managed to balance the authority and expertise of both the transit operators and the municipal government. (He also has a nice essay on Bogotá, mostly from a planner's perspective, here in the Harvard Review of Latin America, circa 2003.)

I do not really know much about either city, or country, and hope the accidental reader can offer useful comparative information.

Bogotá, Colombia
A densely sprawling city of 7 million plus, I can tell you that Bogotá is substantially safer and more pleasant than I imagined, owing apparently to a series of quite visionary and effective mayors over the past decade and a half. And the country is far more compelling than the casual observer might guess: The ambassador to the U.S. Carolina Barco is a city planner (MCP, Harvard; SPURS, MIT) and the foreign minister Fernando Araujo was appointed to that position in February, just 7 weeks after escaping from the leftist FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels, active in Colombia for 40 something years, after being held prisoner in the rain forest the previous 6 years. If you happened to catch him on Charlie Rose two months ago, available here, it was quite a tale. Then there is the extraordinary rising star of 34 year old Senator Gina Parody, the sponsor of our meeting in the National Congress. (Significantly, the president of the Colombian congress is also female.)

President Uribe, another controversial yet extremely popular center-right figure -- snubbed recently by Al Gore due to rumored past connections with right wing paramilitary groups, and who has the additional baggage of a good relationship with our President Bush (in return for $700+ million/year in U.S. aid, that we know of) -- is pushing for a NAFTA-like Latin American free trade agreement while prioritizing a domestic crack down on rebel violence. (The Washington Post has audio interviews from his recent visit to D.C., where his lobbying to the new Democratic leadership in Congress was widely reported as having received little sympathy.)

That said, a highlight of the trip for me was when Uribe spoke to our seminar and took questions in the National Congress building. A former mayor and governor, he impressed even political opponents with his detailed knowledge of municipal finance and land taxation policy wrinkles, and his openness to debate on these issues. Since lots of heavily armed people would like him dead, security was high. (His father was assassinated by the FARC in 1983 and he has survived several such attempts.)

I also enjoyed meeting two past mayors, one now running for reelection: the bold, innovative, and engaging Enrique Peñalosa, largely responsible for the successful Curitiba-like bus rapid transit, the TransMilenio. As Mexico still does, Colombia only permitted mayors to serve one 3-year term in a row until recently. This is crazy, especially for planning purposes, but at least Colombian mayoral terms have recently been extended to 4 years. Allowing a second consecutive term seems wise. (And the Colombian president can now serve two 4-year terms; Uribe is the first two-term president in the country's modern history, with approval ratings in the 60s and 70s.)

(I was introduced to Professor Ardila by my former student, Professor Eduardo Behrentz, an air quality expert now directing the Environmental Engineering Research Center at the University of the Andes. This photo has him pointing to an announcement of that day's march protesting the pending trade agreement. Like many Colombian academics, he actively advises the government and writes op-eds, such as on the issue of the exhaust of the diesel TransMilenio buses. It is quite unhealthy as diesel particulates are bad enough, but Colombian diesel is particularly high sulfur. Efforts to change this at the refinery stage have sputtered. He advised importing cleaner diesel until better domestic supplies are refined.)

Every Colombian politician I've mentioned here is astoundingly well informed, a lot smarter than most smart people I know, and -- as influential pivots in contentious, risky settings -- somewhat polarizing. Their attention to fundamental planning issues and interest in the related scholarship is especially refreshing. I dearly hope to learn more about these cities, their planning processes, their results, and not least their lessons for elsewhere.


iván s. said...

Are you aware of the riots in Santiago de Chile over their similar Transantiago system?

I hope you continue to write about Bogota. It seems like such a useful case for many Latin American cities.

Dario Hidalgo said...

An effort to learn on these and other bus systems in developing cities can be checked at
Most bus systems implemented brough important improvements to their cities, but they also share some planning, implementation and operational problems that is useful to look at to avoid repeating them elsewhere.

Mazlin said...

I've downloaded the World Bank report and its good reading material. Sure, there's a lot wrong when there is no planning and things are decided by dictators or the free market. But there is no certainty that well intentioned public intervention will work.
And even when they worked well, as in Curitiba, they are not without problems now.

candace said...

Community Design, Access to Public Transportation, and Recreational Opportunites:
Associatons with Physical Activity and Quality of Life in Bogotá, Colombia
Background: In Bogotá chronic diseases and conditions such as heart attack, stroke, and high blood
pressure are the leading causes of death. A recent review estimates that 20.1% of the deaths due to
chronic diseases in the city may be attributable to physical inactivity. Despite the widely recognized
health benefits of physical activity, the majority of Bogotá adults are inactive (55.3%) and only 8.6 %
engage regularly in physical activity during leisure time.
In North American, Europe and Australia there is growing scientific evidence on how community
design (CD) can influence physical activity and quality of life , but studies exploring these associations
in developing countries are limited. In order to better understand these links in the context of Latin
American cities, an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the disciplines of health and urban
design conducted this study.
Over the last 15 years influential politicians and civic leaders in Bogotá, have promoted significant
policy and community design changes that have implications for physical activity and quality of life. In
this study objective measures of community design and transportation infrastructure are compared to
levels of walking, cycling and quality of life. A qualitative analysis explored opinion leaders’
rationales and methods of policy change as well as the public’s response to these changes .
Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 1315 adults from Bogotá, measured PA using a standarized
questionaire that was validated with accelerometers. Community design characteristics were obtained
from respondents’ perceptions of their environment and an objective Geographic Information System
measured density, diversity, design, and distance to public transportation. Hierarchical linear modeling
was used in the analysis.
Ciclovia/ Recreovia: On Sundays and Holidays, 118 Km of the city’s main streets are reserved for
recreational and sports activities from 7a.m. to 2 p.m. In addition, aerobics classes are provided at 19
different locations in the city.
• Physical activity in leisure time: A perception of security and having parks in the neighborhoods
are associated with more leisure time physical activity, while steep terrain reduces participation in leisure
time physical activity.
• Ciclovia: Participation in Ciclovia is associated with social support and access to the roads used for
the Ciclovia. Adults that have a car in the household or live in a neighborhood with larger parks reported
less use of Ciclovia.
• Walking for transport: Walking for transport is associated with community design, including street
density, connectivity and distance to bus stops.
• Use of a bicycle as a means of transport. Neighborhood pedestrian accidents rates, steep terrain and
having a car in the household are negatively associated with bicycle use.
• Quality of life: A higher density of parks and a moderate diversity of land uses (residential and
commercial) are associated with better quality of life. Adults that participate in Ciclovia, engage in leisure
time PA and who bike for transport report higher quality of life.
• Women were less likely to participate in Ciclovia, bike for transport, and meet recommendations
for PA during leisure time.
To maintain and promote higher levels of physical activity, future community investments should
insure access to efficient public transit, parks and cycling paths.
Communities with highly connected street networks, and safe walking and cycling routes will
promote health enhancing physical activity.
To increase transportation related physical activity, policy actions should be taken to reduce traffic
accidents and improve public safety.
Communities with a mix of housing work, shopping and parks will increase quality of life.
The city should institute policies and actions to reduce the gender and environmental inequalities in
physical activity and quality of life.
Historical and qualitative policy analyses are in progress
Recovery of public spaces:
Reclaiming space lost to cars and
street vendors, redeveloping and
connecting public plazas,
sidewalks and parks for pedestrians
has been a priority.
Cicloruta: Network of 291
km. of dedicated bike paths,
designed to reduce vehicular
congestion and air pollution.
Transmilenio: Rapid transit
system consisting of a network
of buses that use dedicated
lanes and fixed stations.
*Partner institutions: Fundación FES Social, Universidad de los Andes, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
International Union for Health Promotion and Education, Pan American Health Organization, Corporación de Universidades del
Centro de la Ciudad, Departamento de Catastro de Bogotá.
*Research Team: Luis Fernando Gómez, Robert Cervero, Enrique Jacoby, Olga Sarmiento, Andrea Neiman, Janeth Mosquera,
Thomas Schmid, Michael Pratt, Mauricio Ardila, Diana Parra, José David Pinzón, Candance Rutt, John Duperly.


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