Thoughts from an Urban Visionary – Enrique Peñalosa

Thoughts from an Urban Visionary – Enrique Peñalosa

“A premise of the new city is that we want a society to be as egalitarian as possible. For this purpose, quality-of-life distribution is more important than income distribution. [And quality of life includes] a living environment as free of motor vehicles as possible.” – Enrique Peñalosa

I stumbled onto the website of the Project for Public Spaces the other day and was revisiting the work of Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia whose ideas have been very influential to my own. When I decided to start planning a Carfree Day in Washington, DC in 2007, I had stars in my eyes and was imagining a city-wide stoppage of car usage such as happened in Bogotá in February 2000 for the first Carfree Day under the leadership of Enrique Peñalosa.

Over 600,000 residents left their cars at home and walked, cycled, or took the bus in Bogotá, this is what I was hoping to see happen in Washington, DC. According to the BBC, “The empty streets marked a tremendous change for Bogota. Usually, the morning and evening rush hours bring paralysis to the city streets, and every year more than 1,000 people are killed in road accidents in Bogotá.”

The change faced some resistance initially but was popular enough that people voted for a referendum to adopt a “yearly car free day and decided that from the year 2015 onwards, there would be no cars during rush hours, from 6 AM to 9 AM and from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM.”

This radical change in regulation and perspective on the part of the government and residents show a dedication to re-creating their city with a focus on people rather than cars. Here are some notable quotes from Peñalosa on his building cities with children in mind, creating cities that are “marvelous”! (Thanks to the Project for Public Spaces for compiling).

  • “We had to build a city not for businesses or automobiles, but for children and thus for people. Instead of building highways, we restricted car use. … We invested in high-quality sidewalks, pedestrian streets, parks, bicycle paths, libraries; we got rid of thousands of cluttering commercial signs and planted trees. … All our everyday efforts have one objective: Happiness.”
  • “Over the past 80 years we have been building cities for cars much more than for people. If only children had as much public space as cars, most cities in the world would become marvelous.”
  • “The importance of pedestrian public spaces cannot be measured, but most other important things in life cannot be measured either: Friendship, beauty, love and loyalty are examples. Parks and other pedestrian places are essential to a city’s happiness.”

We need to follow his example in the United States to eliminate the horrendous congestion that is dominating our landscape.

If you’ve got several minutes, check out this interview with Mr. Peñalosa by Streetfilms:

For more on Enrique Peñalosa’s other accomplishments and background, visit the Project for Public Space.

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