I just attended a lecture series featuring Enrique Peñalosa, a former Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. He is considered a visionary for his work in Bogotá that included major enhancements to quality of life through investments in bike/pedestrian infrastructure, construction of a groundbreaking bus rapid transit system (BRT) and introduction of unique community events like Ciclovia.
It was an enthusiastic presentation and I was fairly intrigued by a number of his ideas. Certainly there are contextual differences between Colombia and the United States that make some of what he has accomplished difficult to apply here, but a number of his principles seem universal and I think they are worth sharing. These notes are not all exact quotes, but are a mix of quotes and paraphrasing.
What is a Good City?
Quoted Jan Gehl, “A Good City is one where people want to be out of their houses!”
A Good City:
- is not malls, but public space and parks.
- has places for people to walk and to be with other people.
- gives people needed spaces to play
- does not make some people feel inferior
A Good City looks out for the most vulnerable citizens: elderly, children, disabled. He recommended that public officials should be required to navigate the city one day a year in a wheel chair.
A child on a bicycle can go safely anywhere in the Good City!
Cars = Monsters? No, but…
While cars are great thing and provide a great service, the poor design of our cities has turned them into monsters. If you say to a child, “Watch out, a car is coming.” They will likely jump out of fright. And for good reason: over 200,000 children are killed each year by automobiles. The answer is not more separated infrastructure for cars, but integrated infrastructure that values all persons equally independent of their mode of travel.
How to Measure of a Proposed Intervention: Does IT make the city more pleasant to walk in?
Comparison of space usage by cars, buses, and bikes. Münster, Germany was one city mentioned by the Mayor that provides excellent bike infrastructure.
On Public Spaces: sidewalks, parks, bike lanes, etc
Sidewalks are not relatives of streets – they are not paths simply for moving. Sidewalks are more closely related to parks and plazas. They are places to play and congregate.
The allocation of space between streets and sidewalk for any given area should be based on maximizing happiness.
When shopping malls replace public space it is the result of a sick city with poorly performing public spaces. People are not stupid, they go to the shopping malls because it offers a pedestrian environment they can’t find anywhere else.
Human like hard surfaces. We have to understand that there are places for parks and places for plazas. Ultimately cities are a human habitat and sometimes hard surfaces are appropriate.
Synthetic soccer fields are better at reducing crime in poor neighborhoods than extra police stations. If you don’t provide space for teens to play, then they will find other things to do with their time.
With limited resources, there are always questions as to what comes first. For instance, when we have to decide between paving a street or installing a skate park, we will choose to build the skate park. Cars will be okay on the mud roads, but the skate park enhances the quality of life to a greater degree per dollar spent.
Adding nice bike lanes not only makes biking easier, but changes the social status of bicyclist by sending a signal to everyone that they are important.
Parking is not a constitutional right!
Twenty percent of Bogotá car-owners ride public transportation to work.
Transport and Bus Rapid Transit
You CANNOT design transport without first knowing the type of city you want! Transport is a political decision: How much space do we want to give to cars and how much to people? Engineers will tell you how many cars can travel on a given road, but you have to decide as a community how many cars you want to have. If they made more space for cars in New York City or London, there would be more cars. So ultimately it boils down to politics and the will of the community.
To have a good BRT system you should plan on spending between $8 – 16 million per mile.
Suburbs provide something urban areas need: good schools, open space, etc.
The best density that is most often seen throughout the world is buildings between four and six stories tall.
Coming Up Next Week
Okay, I know the notes are a little disorganized, but I thought they were worth posting. I will have the next section on Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal up by Monday. We will take a look at the current and historical context of the site and surrounding areas. We are going to work through this “re-visioning” process one step at a time. It may go a bit slow at first, but I think it will provide a better solution in the end.