Search This Blog

Monday, November 4, 2013

The secrets of the world's happiest cities | The Guardian

City illustration
'City life is as much about moving through landscapes as it is about being in them.' Illustration: Francesco Bongiorni for the Guardian
Two bodyguards trotted behind Enrique Peñalosa, their pistols jostling in holsters. There was nothing remarkable about that, given his profession – and his locale. Peñalosa was a politician on yet another campaign, and this was Bogotá, a city with a reputation for kidnapping and assassination. What was unusual was this: Peñalosa didn't climb into the armoured SUV. Instead, he hopped on a mountain bike. His bodyguards and I pedalled madly behind, like a throng of teenagers in the wake of a rock star.
A few years earlier, this ride would have been a radical and – in the opinion of many Bogotáns – suicidal act. If you wanted to be assaulted, asphyxiated by exhaust fumes or run over, the city's streets were the place to be. But Peñalosa insisted that things had changed. "We're living an experiment," he yelled back at me. "We might not be able to fix the economy. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them feel rich. The city can make them happier."
I first saw the Mayor of Happiness work his rhetorical magic back in the spring of 2006. The United Nations had just announced that some day in the following months, one more child would be born in an urban hospital or a migrant would stumble into a metropolitan shantytown, and from that moment on, more than half the world's people would be living in cities. By 2030, almost 5 billion of us will be urban.
Peñalosa insisted that, like most cities, Bogotá had been left deeply wounded by the 20th century's dual urban legacy: first, the city had been gradually reoriented around cars. Second, public spaces and resources had largely been privatised. This reorganisation was both unfair – only one in five families even owned a car – and cruel: urban residents had been denied the opportunity to enjoy the city's simplest daily pleasures: walking on convivial streets, sitting around in public. And playing: children had largely disappeared from Bogotá's streets, not because of the fear of gunfire or abduction, but because the streets had been rendered dangerous by sheer speed. Peñalosa's first and most defining act as mayor was to declare war: not on crime or drugs or poverty, but on cars.

0 comments:

Post a Comment