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Bogotà Workshop

by Giovanni Caudo

This topics was born following a trip to the City of Bogotá, on the occasion of a seminar on the relationship between “the University and the City” promoted by the Universidad Nacional de Columbia (Bogotá Campus) and the Universidad Central de Venezuela.

In preparing for a trip to a Latin American metropolis, one is aware of travelling inside a complex reality where the social polarisation brings to the forefront the extremes of poverty and wealth. The security of individuals and society is the dominant theme that emerges, in a variety of circumstances, in the day-to-lives of both residents and visitors who stay for short periods of time. Columbia is the site of internal conflicts that have dragged on for more than forty years, which have gradually lost their motive and reason for being, but not their military importance and sovereignty over the region. With its more than 7 million inhabitants, Bogotá is symbolic of Columbia’s contradictions, as well as of the country’s numerous indigenous groups, which, while not exactly integrated, carry on a peaceful coexistence that constitutes a unique situation in the reality of Latin American.

No matter how important these factors may be, none have lead to the creation of this topics: not the poverty of its large cities, not the insecurity and not even the multicultural and multiethnic nature of the country. The meaning of and the reason for the theme of this topics is more tangible and circumscribed. The objective is to open a window, perhaps all the way or maybe only a crack, in order to document the construction of four new libraries in the City of Bogotá, together with an effective approach to public transportation: the transmilenio. The libraries constitute a widespread, ever-present network that connects the main library with a series of metropolitan libraries, and these with local neighbourhood libraries (bibliotecas del barrio), in a similar fashion to the network taking shape under the transmilenio public transport system.

As many observers have noted over the last ten years (for some the last five), the city has changed significantly. The material gathered in this topics is meant to illustrate this change. Documenting it with the urban projects being carried out, while encouraging, with the contribution of the readers of Planum, reflection on the wider array of dynamics at work in the construction of Latin American metropolises. The construction of libraries in large urban parks next to heavily populated neighbourhoods, together with the efforts of facilitating the mobility of residents, struck us an important sign that should be observed and acknowledged. What lies behind these projects is an urban policy that aims at constructing a city with a greater sense of solidarity. Where education and knowledge are recognised as essential tools of upward mobility. The initiatives I describe do not annul the political, social and economic disparities of a country that is still highly unstable. It is these very conditions, I believe, that make the importance of the activities all the more significant. As I see it, the key notions that emerged from the Bogotá workshop are as follows:
1. In settings such as these major metropolises, it is possible to address and pursue the challenge of integrating the many different “islands” that make up today’s big cities;
2. Solutions should be local in nature and should not be taken from the standard approach utilized in the economic globalisation of urban transformations.

The materials for this topics were collected in most part by Eduardo Alfonso Parra Chavarro, who compiled the background materials on both the libraries and the transmilenio. Karen Gonzalez contributed a number of images of some library models. Marco Negron gave us the permission to publish an interview he had with the Mayor of Bogotà. I thank all these individuals for their cooperation and help.


Topics is a space meant to be enriched by the contributions of its readers, which is why I take this opportunity to request that you send us your comments and critiques, or even your contributions to add to the theme presented. This is in no way just a pat formality but a real and practical invitation!