Move! You have the right to remain mobile!

March 30, 2011

Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia is home to around 8.5 million people, 80% of whom do not own a car. In 1998, Enrique Penalosa was elected as mayor and in his compulsorily single, three year term, completely changed the way that the citizens negotiated the city. He instigated a bus rapid transit (BRT) system and began building a comprehensive bicycle network throughout Bogotá that enabled the aforementioned 80% to start moving and commuting freely and equitably with the 20% that could afford car ownership. Footpaths were constructed where they didn’t exist and where they did, were returned to the domain of the pedestrian, rather than for the purposes of car parking.

In Bogota, there was a massive shift in power; it was given to the majority of people who didn’t have it by someone who did. And it was taken from the minority of people who seemingly, held most of it. Of particular interest to this essay is the concept of power in urban spaces; who is in possession of it, what ways it is manifest and how it is used.

There are two major variables that are intertwined and essential to this argument. In modern, democratic, market driven societies, money is a universal tool that can buy (or at least clear the path to) power and freedom. And within a populated, urbanised area, it also buys space. The more private and exclusive the space, the more expensive it becomes. The other variable is to consider is mobility. The ability to move freely throughout space (or a city) is also of major importance.

The freedom that one can achieve and the power one can possess by merging the two together is immense. Moving freely and privately through space is empowering and the way that it is most popularly achieved (and aspired to) is by the motor car. It might be described as ‘mobile property ownership’. Like a house or ‘stationary property,’ permission to enter that space is at the discretion of the owner and the skin of the car is recognised as the boundary between a public and private space. The privacy that one has in their home or in a car is the ability to exclude.

In this essay, I will look at the relationships and hierarchies of power that exist in urban areas and how they relate to freedom of movement. Moreover, how they are transformed when such a massive urban project occurs such as that in Bogota.


Preliminary bibliography

Davis, Mike, (2006), Planet of slums, Verso, London

Montgomery, Charles, (2007), Bogota’s urban happiness movement, The Globe and Mail, 25th June 2007, Phillip Crawley, Toronto

Mercier, Jean (2009), Equity, Social Justice, and Sustainable Urban Transportation in the Twenty-First Century, from Administrative Theory & Praxis / June 2009, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 145–163,

Harvey, David (2008), Right to the city, from New Left Review, September/October 2008, Susan Watkins (ed), London

De Cauter, Lieven, (2004), The capsule and the network; Notes for a general theory, from The Capsular Civilisation; On the city in the age of fear, Nai publishers, Rotterdam


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