urban happiness

I hope you caught last week's article in the Globe and Mail covering Bogota's Urban Happiness Movement. It's been covered by other blogs (caveat: a few splogs on that list) but it hasn't hit any of the pinoy blogs, I think.

It features, of course, Enrique Peñalosa -one of my favorite ex-mayors of any city. He visited the Philippines early this year to address the League of Cities.

Some the nuggets of goodness from the article:

On a clear, cloudless afternoon, Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, leaves his office early in order to pick up his 10-year-old son from school. As usual, he wears his black leather shoes and pinstriped trousers. As usual, he is joined by his two pistol-packing bodyguards. And, as usual, he travels not in the armoured SUV typical of most public figures in Colombia, but on a knobby-tired mountain bike.

...On most days, this would be a radical and perhaps suicidal act. But today is special.

Ever since citizens voted to make it an annual affair in 2000, private cars have been banned entirely from this city of nearly eight million every Feb. 1. On Dia Sin Carro, Car Free Day, the roar of traffic subsides and the toxic haze thins. Buses are jam-packed and taxis hard to come by, but hundreds of thousands of people have followed Mr. Peñalosa's example and hit the streets under their own steam.

Hey! Two things I'd like to see in Metro Manila: Car Free Day and a Mayor riding a bike to and from work.
Car Free Day is just one of the ways that Mr. Peñalosa helped to transform a city once infamous for narco-terrorism, pollution and chaos into a globally lauded model of livability and urban renewal. His ideas are being adopted in cities across the developing world...

His policies may resemble environmentalism, but they are no such thing. Rather, they were driven by his conversion to hedonics, an economic philosophy whose proponents focus on fostering not economic growth but human happiness.

So Makati has again regained pole position in tax collection, but I wonder which of our cities would top a happiness index?

“There are a few things we can agree on about happiness,” (Peñalosa) says. “You need to fulfill your potential as a human being. You need to walk. You need to be with other people. Most of all, you need to not feel inferior. When you talk about these things, designing a city can be a very powerful means to generate happiness.”
Can we shape our cities so we generate happiness? By some counts, we already rank 7th in the world for happiness, how much higher can we get if our cities were designed "to generate happiness"?

And if you think our cities are too far gone, chew on this:
In the mid-1990s, Bogota was, citizens recall, un enfierno – a living hell. There were 3,363 murders in 1995 and nearly 1,400 traffic deaths. The city suffered from the cumulative effects of decades of civil war, but also from explosive population growth and a dearth of planning. Wealthy residents fenced off their local public parks. Drivers appropriated sidewalk space to park cars. The air rivalled Mexico City's for pollution. Workers from the squalid shanties on the city's south end spent as much as four hours every day commuting to and from Bogota's wealthy north.


Like cities across the Third World, Bogota was looking to North American suburbs as a development model, even though only 20 per cent of people owned cars.

The tide changed with Mr. Peñalosa's election in 1998.

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can't be both,” the new mayor announced. He shelved the highway plans and poured the billions saved into parks, schools, libraries, bike routes and the world's longest “pedestrian freeway.”

He increased gas taxes and prohibited car owners from driving during rush hour more than three times per week. He also handed over prime space on the city's main arteries to the Transmilenio, a bus rapid-transit system based on that of Curitiba, Brazil.

Bogotans almost impeached their new mayor. Business owners were outraged. Yet by the end of his three-year term, Mr. Peñalosa was immensely popular and his reforms were being lauded for making Bogota remarkably fairer, more tolerable and more efficient.

Moreover, by shifting the budget away from private cars, Mr. Peñalosa was able to boost school enrolment by 30 per cent, build 1,200 parks, revitalize the core of the city and provide running water to hundreds of thousands of poor. (emphasis mine -udc)

In under a decade, Bogota went from a "living hell to living well" all because of a "radical campaign to return streets from cars to people" that is "now a model for the world."


Eugene said...

Wow. They almost impeached their mayor but fortunately they didn't. I can't say the same for Metro Manila's 17 mayors. The MMDA chair is unimpeachable but his executive powers are too weak to make any widespread difference, hence, Bayani's many nice-intentioned urban solutions that don't address the real problems.

One thing I can say though about Fernando's programs is that traffic is not quite as bad as should've been expected given the metro's growth. Yeah, yeah, I know that solving traffic does not solve the general population transportation problem but it makes me believe that Bayani Fernando at least has some good urban planning ideas. His bike lanes system in Marikina back when he was mayor of that city has been lauded many times and it shows that he realizes that pedestrian traffic is important too.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

i think BF has some good urban management instincts. And he's prioritized traffic because that's what he has control over -and that's what people complain most about.

The moves though, are short sighted. Faster intersections give no quarter to the street level commerce. Making car traffic faster means making it more attractive vs. using PUVs.

Again, my sirang plaka theme is, no one really speaks out for the pedestrian or the public transport commuter.

No one talks about land use and how to leverage our transportation investments.

Lim tears down the pedestrian mall in Avenida and there is hardly a peep from our friends in the Heritage Society, nothing from our architects and nary a comment from any NGO.

We have a ways to go.

Quick Links

Notable posts on the metro