PLAN:s diskussionsartikel nr 1 år 2014: "Symbols and rituals of democracy in urban spaces"

Föreningen för samhällspanering (FFS) ger ut tidsskriften PLAN sex gånger per år. Tidsskriften går enbart till de som är medlemmar i FFS. För att öka interaktivteten mellan PLAN och föreningens digitala medier kommer vi att välja ut en artikel per nummer som även kommer att publiceras här. Det möjliggör en snabbare diskussion än vad fallet varit tidigare. Diskussionen är också självklart öppen för de som inte är medlemmar. Förhoppningen är också att publiceringen av en artikel per nummer kommer att väcka intresse av att bli medlem i FFS för de som ännu inte är det och på så sätt kunna ta del av alla de intressanta artiklar som publiceras i PLAN. PLAN:s diskussionsartikel i nummer 1 år 2014 har skirvits Enrique Penalosa, Colombiansk politiker som var borgmästare i staden Bogota under perioden 1998-2001.

"Symbols and rituals of democracy in urban spaces"

Att planera städer är en politisk handling som får sociala konsekvenser på detaljerad nivå. Stadsutvecklaren och politikern Enrique Penalosa berättar om sina erfarenheter från arbetet som borgmästare i Bogota, Colombia, där bussens framkomlighet, skolornas goda arkitektur, trottoarernas kontinuitet och staketens genomsiktlighet är värda att kämpa för, även i större samhälliga perspektiv.

A city reflects the values and behaviors of a society, but it forges them as well. As one approaches a European town, from kilometers away the spires of churches and cathedrals make it evident what mattered to societies which built such towns: Christian religion. Such majestic churches reflected a society´s religiosity; but they created religiosity as well. If today we are still awed by the beauty and magnificence of such churches, it is possible to imagine how someone felt upon seen them or entering them, in an age when there was no electricity and nature still dominated.

San Cayetanao juan rey

San Cayetano, Juan rey

Inequality is the predominant characteristic of the developing country city and its gated communities, shopping malls where low income people feel unwelcome, country clubs, lack of sidewalks and cars parked on those which exist reflect that.

We have accepted private property and the market as the best way to manage most of society´s resources and thus the impossibility of income equality; yet a city can do much to create equality of quality of life and inclusion.

During our administration in Bogota we struggled to construct equality through many means, amongst them urbanism, architecture; and some rituals. We were able to get an annual Car Free Day the first Thursday of every February approved by means of popular vote. It is a ritual where cars are tamed, making clear it is a human habitat. Also, every week we close more than 100 kilometers of main arteries, for more than 1 million people to come out and ride bicycles, jog or walk. It is a ritual, a ceremonies in our 8 million inhabitant city which remind us the city is for people, that people are more important than cars. It is a ceremony in which people reconquer, at least for a few hours, the city spaces taken by cars.

We turned the polo fields of the most exclusive country club in the city into a public park, process which beyond its functional benefits had symbolic democratic connotations: democracy implies that public good prevails over private interest.

We built dozens of beautiful nurseries and schools with good architecture in the poorest slums. We also built 4 formidable libraries, and a dozen small ones, mostly in very poor areas. Such buildings served their obvious purposes, but also aimed at constructing values: they were symbols which showed that children and education were important. It is not evident that children are important in societies where 1 out of 4 children born are not desired even at birth; and where up to 20% of children in very poor neighborhoods do not even know who their father is.

Bellavista La Ribera 2004 (7)

Belleavista, La Riberia

We had the possibility to build several smaller libraries instead of each of the large, more monumental ones. But we wanted to create icons, temples, which showed, even those who did not enter the library, that education and knowledge is important. A library more beautiful than the shopping mall shows a teacher is more important than wealthy drug dealer or corrupt politician. It expresses our contempt for the vulgar materialistic values of the corrupt and our respect and admiration for those who have knowledge or create art. Our hope is that the neighborhood hero is not the youngster who arrives in an expensive car wearing jewels, but the one who rides an old bicycle, reads and does sports.

We waged a war to get cars off sidewalks and build sidewalks and other pedestrian infrastructure. In a society where only a minority own cars, removing cars from pedestrian spaces and building quality pedestrian infrastructure shows respect for human dignity and constructs equality. Few things are as difficult in a developing country city as taking space away from parked cars in order to improve pedestrian spaces. I was almost impeached in the process. We provided several justifications for our actions, also reminding citizens that parking was not a constitutional right.

We also built hundreds of kilometers of protected bikeways, years before they became vogue in Paris, London or New York. They were at least as important because they raised the status of bicyclists, as for the protection they provided bicyclists. A quality protected bikeway is a symbol which shows that a citizen on a $ 30 bicycle is as important as one on a $ 30.000 car.

Based on the democratic principle that all citizens are equal and thus a bus with 100 passengers has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with one, we created a bus based mass transit system called TransMilenio. Passengers pay when they enter stations where they can dozens can alight and board buses in seconds. And such buses have exclusive lanes. The sight of the red buses moving swiftly along a bus-only lane as expensive cars stand still in traffic is a symbol of democracy in action.

As symbols and ceremonies are, they convey messages in a non-verbal, non-rational, almost subconscious way. But they can be effective and powerful, for example constructing legitimacy, which is as well a subjective perception. As citizens perceive more legitimacy in their society they are more likely to obey the Law and even to denounce those who don´t. Moreover, they feel more included, more respected and happier.

Even advanced, very egalitarian societies such as Sweden have recently withstood conflicts stemming from feelings of exclusion of some of their immigrant population. There again, urban design the way of life it fosters, as well as urban symbols and rituals, can contribute to the construction of a more harmonious integration.