“Happiness itself is a commons to which everyone should have equal access.”
This is a quote from Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who now travels the world spreading a message about how to improve quality-of-life for everyone living in today’s cities.
Peñalosa spends a lot of his time dealing with Third World countries which even with their poverty and immense problems will absorb much of the world’s population growth over the next half-century. Based on his experiences in Bogotá, Peñalosa believes it’s a mistake to give up on these cities as good places to live.
“If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time,” declares Peñalosa. “So with our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success. This might mean that all kids have access to sports facilities, libraries, parks, schools, nurseries.”
Peñalosa uses phrases like “quality of life” or “social justice” rather than “commons-based society” to describe his aim of offering poor people first-rate government services and pleasant public places. He himself has an impressive track record during his three years as a mayor of Bogotá. Peñalosa’s Administration accomplished the following:
- Led a team that created the TransMilenio, a bus rapid transit system (BRT), which now carries a half-million passengers daily on special bus lanes that offer most of the advantages of a subway at a fraction of the cost.
- Built 52 new schools, refurbished 150 others and increased student enrollment by 34 percent.
- Established or improved 1200 parks and playgrounds throughout the city.
- Built three central and 10 neighborhood libraries.
- Built 100 nurseries for children under five.
- Improved life in the slums by providing water service to 100 percent of Bogotá households.
- Bought undeveloped land on the outskirts of the city to prevent real estate speculation and ensured that it will be developed as affordable housing with electrical, sewage, and telephone service as well as space reserved for parks, schools, and greenways.
- Established 300 kilometers of separated bikeways, the largest network in the developing world.
- Created the world’s longest pedestrian street, 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) crossing much of the city as well as a 45- kilometer (28 miles) greenway along a path that had been originally slated for an eight-lane highway.
- Reduced traffic by almost 40 percent by implementing a system where motorists must leave cars at home during rush hour two days a week. He also raised parking fees and local gas taxes, with half of the proceeds going to fund the new bus transit system.
- Inaugurated an annual car-free day, where everyone from CEOs to janitors commuted to work in some way other than a private automobile.
- Planted 100,000 trees.
These accomplishments boosted the quality of life for the citizens of a city characterized by vast disparities of wealth. Today, Bogotá is seen as an international benchmark for sustainable innovation, even for cities in the developing world.