Car-Free and Carefree in Colombia

Bogota, Colombia, has turned itself around by focusing on using the public realm to promote the greatest amount of happiness. First stop? Car-free days.

Read Time: 2 minutes

June 27, 2007, 5:00 AM PDT

By Michael Dudley


"Ever since citizens voted to make it an annual affair in 2000, private cars have been banned entirely from this city of nearly eight million every Feb. 1. On Dia Sin Carro, Car Free Day, the roar of traffic subsides and the toxic haze thins. Buses are jam-packed and taxis hard to come by, but hundreds of thousands of people have followed [the] example [of Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota] and hit the streets under their own steam.

Car Free Day is just one of the ways that Mr. Peñalosa helped to transform a city once infamous for narco-terrorism, pollution and chaos into a globally lauded model of livability and urban renewal. His ideas are being adopted in cities across the developing world. They are also being championed by planners and politicians in North America, where Mr. Peñalosa has reinvigorated the debate about public space once championed by Jane Jacobs.

His policies may resemble environmentalism, but they are no such thing. Rather, they were driven by his conversion to hedonics, an economic philosophy whose proponents focus on fostering not economic growth but human happiness.

And what makes people most unhappy? Not work, but commuting to work.

By linking the economics of happiness to urban design, Mr. Peñalosa really does seem to have made Bogotans happier. The murder rate fell by an astounding 40 per cent during his term and has continued to fall ever since. So have the number of traffic deaths. Traffic moves three times faster now during rush hour. And the changes seem to have transformed how people feel."

Saturday, June 23, 2007 in The Globe and Mail

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