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American Society of Landscape Architects


March 2005 Issue

Bogotá Dresses in Green
The transformation of a Latin American metropolis.

By Jimena Martignoni

Bogotá Dresses in Green Abdu Eljaiek

Between 1997 and 2003, Bogotá, Colombia’s capital city, invested in public space like never before. A legislated land use program, the Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (pot), which took effect in 1997, compelled all Colombian city councils to draft a public space renovation plan and put it into action within three years. In Bogotá, where poverty and crime had physically degraded many neighborhoods, the result was nothing less than a transformation, as three successive mayors created a sweeping overhaul of the city’s public spaces.

The POT seeks to work beyond the level of aesthetics, fostering social and environmental sustainability through urban design. Specifically, it focuses on community participation, restoring and preserving the natural environment, and improving the quality of built public space. The program’s criteria will be used to guide all new urban projects in Bogotá until 2010, especially those involving pedestrian areas, vehicular connections, and green space.

The inclusion of landscape architects in the multidisciplinary teams that planned and carried out the projects sounds a hopeful note for the profession in other Latin American cities, which have been slow to recognize landscape architecture’s value. In Bogotá’s planning phase, the main task of landscape architects was to outline master plans for the parks system and for the restoration of natural water systems throughout the city. These large schemes broke down into 30 short-term projects to be finished by 2004, 30 more to be completed by 2007, and 30 more (as well as the consolidation of the primary ecological network) to be done by 2010. Most of these project teams include landscape architects.

Reversing the Decline of a City

Partly as a result of the explosive growth that Bogotá experienced during the past 30 years—rising from a population of less than 1,000,000 to 7,000,000—this city became one of the most chaotic and insecure in Latin America. An environmental study conducted between 1993 and 1996 was an important turning point, exposing the city’s problems and the need for strong political action carried out by district authorities in conjunction with community residents.

Among other things, the study revealed the negative impacts of Bogotá’s rapid, unplanned expansion. Building urban and suburban settlements in environmentally vulnerable areas, for example, placed enormous pressure on the city’s natural resources, especially the watershed originating in the surrounding mountains. The study showed clear connections between the degraded natural environment and deteriorating conditions and quality of life throughout the city.

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