The Recuperation of Public Space: A Closer Look at Bogotá, Colombia

“The Recuperation of Public Space: A Closer Look at Bogotá” est un projet de recherche Cresson sur la transformation des espaces publics de Bogotá. Ce projet a été lauréat de la Grants for Research in Architecture Awarded – Rafael Vinoly Architect – New-York, en 2009.

Equipe de recherche : Ida Assefa, Camilo Cifuentes, Sandra Fiori, Jul McOisans, Céline Rouchy et Nicolas Tixier (dir.).

Parc Tercer Milenio


At the 2006 Venice Biennale, the jury awarded the “Golden Lion Award for cities” to Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia. The city of Bogotá was competing with sixteen other international cities—including Barcelona, Berlin, Caracas, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Shanghai, and New York, for the award—which honors communities for their efforts to improve residents’ quality of life. All of these cities presented various solutions to the growing challenges facing their communities. Bogotá was honored with the award based on its successful recovery of public space, its network of cultural facilities, and its advanced public transportation system. The jury wrote compellingly that the Colombian capital might serve as a model for other communities and as an example of ideal consistency between urban space and society. According to Richard Burdett, director of the Biennale, the prize was given to “the most intelligent city, a city which thoughtfully considers its future in a developing country affected by poverty and criminality and, thanks to a few inspired politicians, manages to look forward.”

In addition to the developments in public infrastructure, Bogotá has shown important progress in areas such as poverty reduction, security, education, service provision, and social inclusion. Although the city still faces serious challenges, these changes had a significant impact on the city’s social dynamic. Recently the most visible projects developed in the city have gained substantial media attention, and due to these transformations the Colombian capital has become an international model in circles of urban planning and an example of good governance and development.

It is therefore essential to examine the ongoing processes taking place in this South American metropolis. Bogotá today is a perfect illustration of changes in the urban environment that reflect deep and complex political, social, and cultural processes—processes rooted in transformations that began in the early 1990s when important sociopolitical changes took place and engaged administrations decided to take responsibility for urban problems that had been neglected for years.

Such a transformative process of urban development raises many questions about the origins of the entire process, the discourses that have directed the development plans, the policies proposed by the city authorities, the scope of these policies, and their consequences. Finally, do the results achieved, and their impacts on the everyday life of citizens, confirm the theories and predictions of the experts?

This research is based on investigative methods and ideas developed by the CRESSON Laboratory (Center for Research on Sonic Space and Urban Environment), part of the French National Scientific Research Institute (CNRS) located at the Graduate School of Architecture in Grenoble. At CRESSON, we focus on interdisciplinary studies of perceptible environment and architectural and urban “atmospheres.” Our research embodies a qualitative approach capable of supporting and influencing design strategies and processes. These notions directly concern our study of Bogotá, whose main goal has been to describe the complex articulations among urban, political, and experiential projects. Our approach implies a sensible and sensual relation to the physical world, and it places the inhabitant at the center of the urban configuration.

Two Approaches: The Global and the Local

In order to observe the transformation of Bogotá, we carried out interdisciplinary research that aimed to understand the complexity of the city’s development and its implications for urban phenomena at different scales. We focused on two main aspects: first, the large-scale (or global) factors that made the changes possible, and second, the impact of paradigmatic projects on particular parts of the city. Concerning the large-scale, we analyzed the most important sociopolitical issues behind the transformation process. Turning to the local, we observed the impact of urban interventions in three particular zones of the city that were the subject of important physical transformations.

The Large Scale: A Global Approach

The first goal of the global approach was to build from the general context a cognitive tool that would allow us to examine the problematic of the city before and after interventions at the metropolitan scale. The work consisted of research and analysis of a selected bibliography including geography, history, economy, politics, and town planning as they bear on the sociopolitical dimensions of the process as experienced in Bogotá. This tool has proved useful in understanding the objective causes of the changes of Bogotá, identifying the discourses, hypotheses, and principles that have directed the city’s development, recognizing the development strategies (political, economic, urbanistic) carried out by successive administrations, and analyzing both the city’s planning strategies and the discourses applied to them by urban experts.

To comprehend Bogotá’s situation today, it was indispensable to take account of two aspects that have shaped the city. On the one hand are the concrete causes of transformation. On the other are the experts’ discourses that, along with the media’s representations, present the city as an outstanding example of urban development. In this work we juxtapose the two, subjecting both to critical analysis.

During a “street walk” in Patio Bonito (close to El Tintal)

The Small Scale: Local Approaches

Three zones of study were selected to test our research methods at the meeting point between human and social science, between architecture and engineering science. These paradigmatic examples of urban intervention include the Avenida Jiménez de Quesada (Jiménez Avenue), a comprehensive urban project including construction of a new public transportion line on a strategic downtown axis, its integration into a context of historical heritage, and the recovery of public spaces; the Parque Tercer Milenio (Tercer Milenio Park), a controversial project in which a large district of the historical center was demolished to make way for a new metropolitan park; and the renovation of the Tintal zone, a conjunction of emerging urban and architectural projects that are generating a new urban configuration in a peripheral sector of the city that formerly lacked public services and cultural facilities. Each intervention has had significant consequences for mobility and the physical connections between distant parts of the city, the transformation and revaluation of social and built heritage, the restoration of public spaces and the emergence of new conceptions of the urban sphere, gentrification and displacement, and even the inhabitants’ mental representations of urban change.

Street scene along Avenue Jimenez

To understand how these three sites are experienced following profound urban transformations, we have used not only classic cartographical and typo-morphological analysis but also a set of methods designed to get as close as possible to the urban “ambiances” as experienced by the inhabitants, including direct observation, field notes, recordings (sound, photographic, and videographic), interviews, and commented walks with inhabitants. The entire work is synthesized through an original form of multimedia presentation that we call urban transects: these take the reader through the city as well as through our research. Thus the total research work comprises not only this report but also the full transcripts of our commented walks and interviews, a DVD with fifty sound sequences, a second DVD with fifty-five videographic sequences, and a CD-ROM to navigate the multimedia transects.


Le rapport de recherche (251 p. + 3 DVD) est disponible au Cresson.

Pour une promenade sonore à Bogotá (50 séquences audio), c’est ici.

L’ouvrage “Pressures and Distortions. City Dwellers as Builders and Critics: Four Views” (Ned Kaufman Ed., RVA, New York, 2011) incluant la quasi intégralité de la recherche sur Bogotá et un DVD audio et vidéo est disponible ici.

How are residents adapting to rapid and stressful changes in the world’s growing cities? This is the question posed by four international teams of researchers in Pressures and Distortions, the culmination of a three-year research process organized and funded by the Research Program.

Présentation de l’ouvrage : RVATR_PD_Flyer_2012

Citer ce billet
Nicolas Tixier (2012, 28 août). The Recuperation of Public Space: A Closer Look at Bogotá, Colombia. Le Cresson veille et recherche…. Consulté le 14 avril 2024, à l’adresse

Nicolas Tixier

Nicolas Tixier est chercheur au laboratoire Cresson. Il enseigne à l’École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Grenoble et à l’École Supérieure d'Art de l'Agglomération d'Annecy. Au sein du collectif BazarUrbain, il expérimente, dans le cadre de projets urbains, différentes formes de récits du lieu et de traversées du territoire. Depuis 2009, il est président de la Cinémathèque de Grenoble.

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1 réponse

  1. Françoise Acquier dit :

    En écho à cette parution, vous trouverez 3 petits articles dans la revue Urbanisme :
    consacrés à Bogota. Ces articles traitent du choix original fait par la ville en matière de transport en commun. Nommé le “Transmilenio”, ce bus rapide en site propre est aussi complété par un système de vélo-taxi qui comble les carences de desserte du bus.

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