Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Skyscraper City?

High and higher? Central Bogotá's skyline, with the Cerros Orientales behind.
Quietly, last December, Mayor Petro issued Decree 562, permitting the construction of skyscrapers across much of Bogotá, as long as certain restrictions are observed.

If you didn't hear about the decree at the time, you weren't alone. It received little attention, despite its potentially fundamental impacts on Colombia's capital. Now, however, the decree IS receiving attention - almost all of it negative.

High rises along Carrera Septima.
"I don't know any urbanist, architect or civic leader...who believes (the decree) will produce a better Bogotá," wrote ex-Bogotá mayor and urban sustainability expert Enrique Peñalosa. "The citizens, who will suffer the most, haven't begun to understand how this decree will destroy the character and quality of their neighborhoods."

Journalist and novelist Enrique Santos Molano, who describes himself as usually an opponent of Peñalosa, instead agrees in this case. High-rises, Santos Molano writes, "produce visual contamination...and overcrowding...A city planted with skyscrapers resembles a hell."

Peñalosa and Santos may be overreacting. The decree's goal is to make the city more dense, and as they themselves admit, that's a valuable goal, since it makes transport and providing public services much cheaper. And, are Chicago, New York, Singapore and other skyscraper cities really 'hells' on Earth?

The Torre Bacatá being constructed on Calle 19
is to be Colombia's tallest building.
The decree does exclude high-rises from some neighborhoods, such as Bogotá's historical center, and
directs city officials to take into account the surrounding neighborhood, amount of open space and other factors when issuing building permits. However, such considerations, naturally, turn out to be extremely malleable when construction companies' huge profits come into play.

This decree will be very destructive if it permits the growth of urban jungles, in which residents feeling trapped, and neighborhoods become impersonal, anonymous places with little green space, where streets feel like dark chasms deep in urban canyons.

High-rise construction can be positive for cities, but it should be planned carefully, considering factors such as public space, transport and sunlight. Unfortunately, that isn't true in Bogotá now, and won't likely be under Decree 562.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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