Zanahoria Capital

This post was written by Andrea Paoletti

What does fun have to do with social change? How can mimes, super hero costumes, and artistic interventions help to transform a city?

Bogotá Change (Andreas Møl Dalsgaard, Denmark, 2009, Digibeta, 58′), is a movie/documentary that tells the story of how Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa reshaped an entire city through creativity and an incredible commitment to being human.  

During the early 1990’s Bogotá was the capital city of Colombia and by far the “worst city in the world”. Doomed by corruption, chaos, poverty and violence, Bogotá was at urban decay. At the midst of collapse two creative politicians with radically new methods changed the city at a speed never imagined. They created citizenship, culture and democracy in a rotted city.

In 1995, the traffic in Bogotá, Colombia, was so chaotic that drivers had long since given up obeying the rules of the road, resulting in a disorderly free-for-all that was a major impediment to the city’s economy. The recently elected mayor of the city, who came to prominence after dropping his trousers to silence a hall of rioting students, decided on a creative solution to this similarly vexing problem: a troop of mimes.

Antanas Mockus realised that the people of Bogotá were more concerned about social disapproval than traffic fines, and so hired mimes to playfully reproach drivers that crossed red lights, blocked junctions and ignored pedestrian crossings. One cannot police by mimes alone and in a further measure to address driving behavior, the mayor’s office brought in flashcards to allow social feedback. Each citizen was given a red card to signal to someone that their driving was poor and a white card to signal that the person who been particularly courteous or considerate.

On the other hand Peñalosa oversaw the creation of bicycle paths, leafy parks, sports fields, playgrounds, libraries, and the ambitious public transport project Transmillennium.

And so in few years Bogotà became what they called Zanahoria capital, that it takes the name from the Law of the Carrot (“Zanahoria,” which in Colombian slang is a nickname for those people who are “healthy”). Nowadays, Bogotá’s metamorphosis is seen as a shining example of human urban renewal.

Cities everywhere are in crisis. Change can happen but maybe it takes more action and imagination than we realize. The film is nonetheless an inspiration to see how integrity and creativity can transform cities.

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