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Intro Post by Jose Antonio Ramirez

“Now is the time for politics of love”- proclaimed Gustavo Petro, the recently elected major of Bogota, after his decisive victory last Sunday, October the 30th, against the former major Enrique Peñaloza, and the emergent runner Gina Parody.

Prozenio project. Designed by Norman Foster. Located in Bogotá’s northern areas. It is the first project approved by the Planning Department.  Source: El Tiempo.com

Petro’s heraldic claim resounded throughout the length of his campaign calling to terms one of Bogotá’s most overwhelming challenges: the need to reduce processes creating social and spatial segregation. Among all his potential solutions to that question (ranging from the construction of a new subway system, to the dissipation of Bogotá’s existing stratification’ system), the role of urban renewal policies in downtown areas and its incidence in the land market deserve particular attention. In what follows, I will roughly depict the panorama that he will be facing in the following years. Looking particularly at urban upgrading and renewal strategies, I argue that Petro’s “Politics of Love”, face a difficult challenge as they need to tackle the predominant distrust that have already permeated all debates on urban redevelopment in the last years.

Petro’s proposals hint at the continuation of redevelopments projects conceived by previous governments in order to densify downtown areas. Contingent on this, he is emphasizing both the need to both include residents of these areas and discourage the existing and pronounced divide between the North and South of the city.  Firstly, we can agree with Petro’s claim with regard to the city’s levels of segregation.  Although, recent works have showed how social barriers in the city are more porous than the strict North-South divide citizens recurrently perceive, there are still strong processes of social and residential segregation that legitimize the general perception (UNDP 2008, Aliaga and Alvarez 2010)*.

However, we have to disagree with the novelty of his approach. The right of the residents to participate in the redevelopment projects and the objective to diminish social barriers in Bogotá’s downtown areas are not new to Petro’s approach but have been well-rooted since previous governments-at least on paper. The Urban Operation of Downtown decreed by the former left government in 2007 clearly states that regeneration processes should not imply traditional dwellers’ displacement. Although these are rhetorical strategies rather than institutionalized mechanisms of participation, they portray the latent tensionsemerging in Bogota’s urban governance.  We must point out however, that while Bogotá has had well- intentioned functionaries for the last decade, the question of how to implement these projects in a successful manner remains unsolved.

The panorama does not look favorable.  There are at least 24 projects -or partial plans as they are called- waiting for the approval of the Planning Department (it is an euphemism to say that they are stuck in the office). Most of the partial plans are based on aspirations of building a global city environment, on the use of public-private partnerships, and are based on the designs of renowned architects. Only one project of urban renewal has been partially approved, and it is located in the more affluent northeastern areas of the city.  The most advanced projects for central areas are public and are proposed for primarily institutional or transports land uses, not necessarily incorporating the residents of areas that have been expropriated. Although these isolated projects can provide collective benefits through surpluses and valorization retributions, the social costs are uncertain.

In addition, there is a generalized distrust among the different actors. Promoters and developers constantly complain about the lack of clear rules, institutional coordination, and political will from the local government. Although some of them publicly express that they are open to include the community in question in their proposal, there has not been a clear consensus, and thus, it seems very unlikely that residents can avoid being displaced. In this regard, some residents have organized in order to either defend their right to remain at the city’s core, or to gain more leverage and prepare for any expropriation notices that may arrive below their door. In this respect, the resident’s general perception is that redevelopment projects are a big scheme devised by the collusion of public officials and developers to displace them to the peripheries.

San Bernardo. Neighborhood in downtown Bogotá’s (southeastern areas). Walking around the neighborhood you see houses like this saying “this property is not on sale”. Source personal archive

However, it does not stop here: Governmental technicians also mistrust of both developers and social organizations. On the one hand, public officials are cautious with the speculative initiatives and dubious finances of some developers. On the other hand, residents associations, according to some officials I interviewed, are subjected to constant political manipulation. A more daunting mistrust is the one that exists among technicians from different agencies and their latent fear to be sued- something they should in face be worried about as the borders between public and private interests are extremely tenuous in these kinds of initiatives. This panorama is simplistic but shows the reigning mistrust and uncertainty that the new major will have to face.

Indeed, the “politics of love” that the new mayor is endorsing has caused both fear and expectations among the public. In this post I have laid out the general actors and positions with regard to urban regeneration projects in Bogota. Focusing on the downtown urban redevelopment projects, the next series of entries will analyze some of the particular projects that have been proposed, their impact on communities (both formal and informal), the possible alternatives emerging in the debate, and the manner in which urban renewal techniques have changed and impacted Bogotá’s development in the last years.

* Aliaga-Linares, Lissette and Álvarez-Rivadulla, María José. 2010 “Segregación residencial en Bogotá a través del tiempo y diferentes escalas”.  Lincoln Institute of Land Policy/ Working Paper; UNDP. 2008. ‘Bogotá: Una Apuesta Por Colombia’.

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