Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Bogotá Reaches for the Sky - But What About the Ground?

An artist's conception of the BD Bacatá towers.
It's planned to be the tallest building in Colombia and the second-tallest in South America upon completion in 2014, and is intended to be an iconic addition to Bogotá's skyline.

And the 66-floor, 240-meter BD Bacatá hotel/apartment/retail complex, being built on the north side of 19th St. and Carrera 5, even has an iconic name: Bacata was the local Muisca Indians' name for this area, which the Spanish and Colombians distorted into 'Bogotá'.

Certainly, having such a tall building will become a point of pride to the city, and hopefully draw positive attention, tourism and investment. And, if handled well, it could revitalize what is now a somewhat run-down and chaotic avenue. In general, building up is good for cities, since it increases density, enlivens city centers and enables more efficiency in supplying services, collecting garbage and in transit.

Bogotá's skyline, seen from Concordia, will be changing.
But city transit officials better start thinking now about how to handle traffic around the site, which will become much heavier and more congested - no matter what the Bacata builders claim.

19th St. is chronically congested, polluted and chaotic. Carrera 5 is narrow, and barely moves during the evening rush hour. 20th St., on the building's north side is narrow but has light traffic but many student pedestrians who attend the university located there. That will change.

This new building, almost a neighborhood in itself with 700 parking spaces, will bring lots of traffic - and the least efficient, unmanageable type - delivery trucks which stop and start; taxis holding up traffic to pick up passengers. Not only that, but expect fancy shops and restaurants to sprout up nearby. That inevitable secondary development will generate still more traffic.

What's the solution?

Carrera 5, east of the Bacatá's site, jammed with traffic.
The city will reap a huge benefit if it makes 19th St. and 7th Ave. safe and sane enough so that at least some of the high-income residents of the BD Bacatá - not exactly the sort of people inclined to hop on buses - feel comfortable walking to nearby destinations in La Candelaria and on Seventh Ave. In fact, this is another reason for the Petro administration to implement a trolley line on Seventh Ave. (and why not a trolley or TransMilenio line on 19th?), to carry people from the Bacata south to La Candelaria and the government buildings and north to the National Museum, the Zona G, the Zona Rosa, etc., as well as the airport.

This space on 19th St. will be filled by the Bacatá.
Potentially complimenting this are the plans to turn the blocks between 19th and 26th Streets, still a bit seedy in places, into a cultural and educational district. This will mean solving the area's terrible traffic jams and making it pleasanter and safer to walk about, perhaps by adding public art, pedestrian zones, bike-ways and green spaces. Hopefully, in not too long, residents and visitors will find it attractive to walk from the historic center north past the Bacata to the Modern Art Museum, Independence Park, the Plaza de Toros and La Macarena. 

But that will require lots of planning and investment, in particular in controlling traffic. Implementing a congestion charge and encouraging cycling will help.

An artist's drawing of Bogotá's future skyline. 
By increasing the area's density, the Bacatá tower also adds yet another reason to turn at least part of the empty lot at 7th and 19th into a green area. Adding a supermarket and perhaps movie theatres on the site will reduce the vehicle trips and resulting traffic congestion and pollution in the area, while also adding life and liveability.

If the Spanish-Colombian Cultural Center (or some other institution) is ever actually built at 19th's east end, then this avenue will become one of the city's more important corridors. But if it remains chaotic and polluted, then instead of a pride of the city, it'll be an embarrasment. But solutions will require real holistic planning.

The Torre Bicentenario 

The Torre Bicentenario going up beside the Hotel Continental.

An artist's conception of the Torre Bicentenario.

Under construction just a few blocks south, on the Plaza del Periodista, is the more modest Torre Bicentenario, across from the historic Hotel Continental. The Bicentenario will also contain hotel suites and apartments, but will fortunately be located quite near transit and in a very walkable area. 

Plaza del Periodista, with the Bicentenario going up in the background. 

The Torre Colpatria, now Colombia's tallest building, seen from Ave. Septima. 

Bogotá's skyline at night. 

Central Bogotá seen against the hills. 
The Torres del Parque, behind the Plaza de Toros, were designed by Rogelio Salmona. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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