Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Enrique Penalosa: Urban Visionary

The December issue of Utne Reader magazine features 50 Visionaries Who Changed the World.

Among the obvious - the Dalai Lama, global AIDS pioneer Wafaa El-Sadr - is Enrique Penalosa. His vision encapsulates some recent blogs: Stolkholm's piano stairways, Indianapolis' community-garden cemeteries and Portland's Dignity Village for the homeless.

Enrique Penalosa is an urban planner and from 1998-2001, Mayor of Bogota, Columbia - a city of 6-10 million (depending who you ask). In 1975 his father was Secretary General of the inaugural UN Habitat conference in Vancouver, a successful UN program that continues today. Bogota is a city many associate with drug cartels and crime. Today it is a different place. It is a place from which we can learn important lessons on urban safety and vitality.

"The essence of the conflict today is really cars and people. That is the essence of the whole discussion. We can have a city that is very friendly to cars, or a city that is very friendly to people. We cannot have both."

During his tenure Penalosa made radical improvements in Bogota: housing the poor, reclaiming public spaces, planting more than 100,000 trees and transforming a dismal downtown roadway into a dynamic public space for pedestrians.

He cut rush hour traffic 40% by enhancing public transit, restricting private cars in the central city, pollution abatement, creating the world's largest pedestrian street, building hundreds of kilometers of bike paths and greenways and rehabbing 1,200 parks. Bicycling quadrupled to 400,000 people per day. He encouraged bollards to restrict sidewalk parking and introduced the idea of a global Car Free Day. The Project for Public Spaces says Penalosa helped "transform the city's attitude from one of negative hopelessness to one of pride and hope."

Of special note to SafeGrowthers, he managed to get citizens in marginal neighborhoods involved in rebuilding their streets and neighborhoods.

Bogota today

PeƱalosa is now a visiting professor at New York University. He is researching and writing a book on urban development. Of special interest to CPTED/DOCA folks is his contention:

"There is no absolute distinction between public and private spaces, or a smooth scale from one state to the other. Rather there are inversions and paradoxes. Almost all spaces of a city are in fact impure... [they are] hybrids of public and private.

I am convinced of the power of good urban design and architecture. People will use it if it has quality. Every detail in the city should show respect for human dignity and reflect that everything human is sacred. And I do believe that if people have to walk in the street, avoiding parked cars, or next to some horrible surface parking lot, or they are mistreated by poor quality transportation systems, it's very difficult to ask them to be good citizens, to keep the streets clean, or even pay taxes."

If you want to know more about this remarkable pioneer, watch this interview with Enrique Penalosa.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

His father was in 1975 Secretary General of the inaugural UN Habitat conference in Vancouver, not him.

GSaville said...

Thanks for that correction.

Fascinating. Apparently Penalosa's commitment is a family affair!