Why is Cebras por la Vida so important for Bogotá?
by German Sarmiento
In 2014 exactly 322 pedestrians died in the streets of Bogota; 52 more than in 2013. Both culturally and infrastructure-wise the city systematically has endangered and mistreated people that walk. For most bogotanos, especially the poorest, walking is a must, not a choice. It is a reality that sadly reveals a lack of regard for human life. This said, guaranteeing safe streets as well as excellent and beautiful public spaces is a matter of democracy, equality and above all things prioritizing human life over cars and machines.
There was a time not long ago (1995-2003) when bogotanos saw great strides and decisive action on behalf of pedestrians and public spaces. The mayors Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa were responsible for a change of paradigm and vision for city life. During those years, traffic related deaths felt almost 50 %; hundreds of lives were saved and bogotanos were proud citizens. Enforcement was key to meet these results as well as recuperated and new walkable public spaces; a war against cars that historically parked on sidewalks was undertaken.
But most impressive and memorable was the use of creative civic education through art to change hearts and minds. Mimes were used to educate drivers and pedestrians; interactive friendly games to build trust between citizens became part of daily life. Unfortunately very little of that is left nowadays. A series of mediocre consecutive governments –including a colossal corruption scandal- in addition to weak civic leadership have resulted in a general backslide of city quality. Today, 60% of Bogotanos are pessimists with respect to their city’s future.
Bogota’s experience underscores that visionary leadership is necessary, but not sufficient to sustain positive urban change. Society has to build capacity and be centrally involved in bringing about and sustaining change.
Cebras por la Vida is therefore an energetic and citizen driven call for action to act upon a tragedy that costs lives. The truth is, that designing and building a city thought the eyes of pedestrians´ needs brings dignity and quality to city life.
In the face of great pessimism and apathy, Cebras por la Vida is an effort to bring back the fun and the seriousness to the process of reclaiming our city by fighting through art and citizen engagement for a cause that involves us all. We are all pedestrians.