Saturday, February 18, 2012

A Space for a New Park in Downtown?

A billboard promises wonders at the site. But the website is blank. 
I've long wondered about the block of empty land on the southwest corner of 7th Ave. and Calle 19. This prime piece of real estate in downtown Bogotá has been empty and abandoned since I moved here. More than a year ago, someone raised a billboard there, announcing the impending construction of a shopping center. But, after a few weeks of preliminary work there, the place has been silent again.

Vendors sell ties at the lot's entrance. 
But perhaps that's a good thing. El Tiempo opinion columnist Enrique Santos Molano researched the history of the empty lot and uncovered a legal battle which has activity there paralyzed. Molano proposes that the lot be turned into a public park, comparable - in size, at least - to the well-known Parque de la 93 in ritzy north Bogotá.
This brilliantly-restored b
uilding is across the street. 

Besides size, however, a new public park at
this busy intersection would have little in common with Parque 93, which is surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in Colombia and Latin America. Parque 93 is bordered by quiet streets and upscale cafes, restaurants and multi-start hotels. The intersection of 7th and 19th, in contrast, is populated by blue-collar clothing shops, eyeglass shops and health food stores. Just a few blocks away, prostitutes prance along the sidewalks. And the avenues are chronically chaotic and congested.

Inside, grass and trash. 
But a park would be a nice addition to the neighborhood, just as long as the city made sure that it didn't become a campground for the neighborhood's street vendors and homeless. While there is a small green patch not too far away in the Plaza del Periodista, this would be the only park on Seventh Ave. south of Parque de la Independencia at 26th St.

The walls provide great space for graffiti. 
Cultural events in the park could add life to what's now a gritty and run-down district. But would the city plan events there, if few such events are held in Independence Park or the Plaza del Periodista?

The neighborhood's a bit seedy and run-down.
Other good uses for the property could be housing, a movie theatre complex (which would bring more activity into the area) - or several of these; the space is large enough.

While Bogotá has created new parks, both large and small, in recent decades, central Bogotá has few of them.

Looking into the future, the city is building TransMilenio express bus lines on the nearby carreras 3 and 10. A few hundred meters east on 19th St., they're building what is to be the tallest building in Colombia. Hopefully, one day in the near future the city will bring also transit sanity to the chaotic and polluted 19th St. and 7th Ave, where Mayor Petro has proposed building a light rail line. When that happens, this corner property could be crucial for transit stations. 

But almost anything they put on this site - short of a parking lot - would be an improvement. This is a pressing case for the city to use eminent domain laws to end the legal wrangling and put this property to use.

A mentally-ill homeless man amidst trash nearby. 

Rat street art. 

The surrounding sidewalks provide great space for shoeshiners and vendors. 

A man takes a leak. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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