Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City
Education Excerpt 2:25 min
Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City
PDF Documentation

As few as 10 years ago Bogotá, Colombia, was characterized by drug cartels, senseless violence and a 30-year civil war. Every three hours someone was kidnapped. Every 15 minutes someone was murdered. At one point there was not an upper- or middle-class Colombian family that did not know somebody who had been abducted.

As you move around the city today, you will see mega-libraries, greenways, 1,000 parks, over 70,000 trees and a state-of-the art transportation system called the TransMilenio, meaning "transcending the millennium." The TransMilenio is an alternative to the chaotic, independently operated bus service that dominated the city in the past. Along with this infrastructure, you'll see people from all walks of life who are out of their cars and enjoying the city: parents strolling with kids, co-workers eating lunch outside, neighbors meeting and talking with one another.

How did this remarkable transition happen to Bogotá? It came out of the vision that Enrique Peñalosa, Bogotá's mayor from 1997 through 2000, had for his city. He wanted to reverse the decades-long norm of poverty, drug cartels and violence, and make citizens proud of the metropolis in which they lived. Peñalosa believed that cities should encourage walking and biking, which would in turn promote community and make the streets safer for children. With these ideas in mind he reformed public transportation, added greenways, built mega-libraries and created the longest stretch of bike-only lanes in the world. Peñalosa's commitment to reducing automobile usage even led to a program called the "pico y placa" ("peak times and license plates"), which greatly restricts the use of private automobiles at peak times.

This episode highlights the story of how one man's vision transformed one of the most chaotic cities in the world into a shining model of urban planning, community development and public transportation. Although by Peñalosa's own admission there is more work to be done, the transformation thus far is remarkable and has been lauded as an example for the world to follow.


1. What types of public spaces exist in your town (e.g., bike paths, parks, public transportation)? Are they being used? If so, by who primarily? Are they safe? Clean?

2. What issues do designers need to address when thinking about urban planning?   Where do interest groups and policymakers come into the picture? What influence do they have on designers and urban planners?

Link to resources to conduct research on these topics.


1. How did the reforms made by Peñalosa unite the poorer and more affluent citizens of Bogotá?

2. What risks did Peñalosa take in regards to public interest and policy?

3. What was the link Peñalosa made between creating walking and biking lanes and fighting violence?

4. Do you think your community and policymakers would be happy to build more walking and biking lanes in your town/city? Do you think they would support policies to regulate cars on certain streets during certain times? Why?



Engineering Education
Standard 14.4: Understands how societal interests, economics, ergonomics, and environmental considerations influence a solution.

Standard 17.6: Understands tradeoffs among characteristics such as safety, function, cost, ease of operation, quality of post-purchase support, and environmental impact when selecting systems for specific purposes.


Standard 4.6: Knows that a design involves different design factors (e.g., ergonomics, maintenance and repair, environmental concerns) and design principles (e.g., flexibility, proportion, function).


Standard 9.2: Knows how human mobility and city/region interdependence can be increased and regional integration can be facilitated by improved transportation systems (e.g., the national interstate highway system in the United States, the network of global air routes).

Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City

Education Excerpt 2:25 min

Bogotá: Building a Sustainable City
PDF Documentation