Sunday, October 23, 2016

Recycling a Bad Idea

Labeled recycling bins in Paloquemao Market. They all contain the same random trash.
Beginning next year, Bogotanos will be required to classify their trash for recycling. It's a great plan - and looks doomed to fail, just as Mayor Petro's similar plan failed before.

Why bother? It all goes to
the same place, anyway.
A visitor to Bogotá might be impressed by the receptacles in shops, parks and markets carefully Organic,' 'Inorganic' and 'Ordinario' trash. But look inside, and he'll probably see that all three bins contain the same miscelaneous garbage, and if he waits around he'll see that all the material goes into the same truck and heads to the same landfill.
labeled '

Recently, I talked to a young woman who teaches in a public high school. She spent a lot of time instructing the children how to separate recyclables from ordinary trash and place them in the correct bins. So, she was horrified one evening when she watched the janitor dump all the bins together.

"Don't do that!" she exclaimed.

"Why not?" the janitor replied. "All of it goes to the same place, anyway."

Classify this!
That's one big reason why recycling's doomed here. Another is the way garbage disposal works across much of the capital; You carry your sacks of garbage - classified or not - onto the sidewalk and leave them there for the truck to come around. Promptly, dogs or homeless people appear and rip the sacks open and dump the contents onto the sidewalk and sift thru them to something to eat or sell.

Fortunately, there's a much better way to reduce Bogotá's trash production and decrease its environmental impact, but unfortunately the city show's no willingness to employ it: Make producing garbage cost money. 
If these bags cost money, this guy would get a reusable one.

This is simple enough to do, by taxing things like throw-away plastic bags (which taxes have reduced
bag use by as much as 90% in places such as Ireland), and placing deposits on things like cans and tires. The consumer gets the most of the desposit back by delivering the used product to a recyling center and the rest of the deposit money finances the recycling. Such policies have succeeded in places in North America and Europe.

Instead, in yet another useless law, Bogotá intends to require those single use disposable bags to carry environmental messages. How nice.

The good news: These plastic bags may soon carry environmental messages.
A truck full of plastic bottles, soon headed for the landfill. A deposit law would encourage the soda companies to  adopt resusable bottles.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Friday, October 14, 2016

A New Landmark Rises - for Better or Worse

The Torre Bacatá dominates the skyline in this view from La Candelaria.
Calle 19, in front of the Bacatá,
is already congested and chaotic.
The new Torre Bacatá, in downtown, adds a new landmark - and new problems, which the city appears not to have prepared for. Generally, it's good to build downtown, which limits urban sprawl and its compounding traffic troubles. But the 260-meter tall Bacatá, which will be the tallest building in Colombia and the second-tallest in South America, will cause huge troubles in its neighborhood.

The adjoining streets are already chaotic and congested, and this new mini-city will compound that. The Bacatá will contain offices, luxury apartments, a hotel and a shopping mall. And there's little open space, and no green space nearby. How about the quality of life for the residents of this new superstructure and those living nearby?

20th Street, behind the Bacatá:
narrow and already busy.
If I were the unfortunate person in charge of this city, I'd have said: 'Sure, go ahead and build, but you also have to help fund light rail lines on Calle 19 and Carrera Septima, as well as a public park nearby.' Fortunately for me, I'm not in charge.

Carrera 5, on the tower's eastern side, is narrow and pepetually traffic-jammed.
What will cars and trucks entering and leaving this garage on 19th do to traffic?
The only nearby public area is Las Nieves Plaza, the haunt of prostitutes, alcoholics and drug addicts.
Bogotá's skyline, and the Bacatá, seen from near the Central Cemetery on 26th St.
Bacatá, with dramatic architecture.

In a nod toward public space, the Bacatá provided this wide sidewalk on Calle 19.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Will It Help?

Peace accord supporters march down Carrera Septima.
Lots of activities these days pushing for the peace agreement recently signed by the government and FARC guerrillas, but narrowly rejected by voters. 
Many of these demonstrators took a SI victory for granted, I suspect, and neglected to vote. If they'd only shown this same enthusiasm on Oct. 2, most likely the accord would have been approved. 
I'm not sure how much this enthusiasm in the streets will push forward the talks going on now between Pres. Santos and ex-presidents Uribe and Pastrana, who opposed the agreement. But, if they do reach an agreement, then perhaps this energy will contribute to its realization.

On Plaza Bolivar, activists have been camping out for the last week in support of the accord.

'Not one step back.'
Listing names of victims of rights violations.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Trumping Latin Democracies

Donald Trump, would-be strongman.
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Venezuelan Pres. Nicolas Maduro may
seem like polar opposites. One is a wealthy conservative, the other a leftist who started out as a bus driver.

The two, however, do have at least one characteristic in common: Authoritarianism.

At the last U.S. presidential debate, Trump told Democrat Hillary Clinton that if he were president, she'd "be in jail," because of her mishandling of government e-mails. Evidently, Trump had forgotten that imprisoning people is the job of judges and prosecutors, not of presidents - at least in a democracy.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela's
authoritarian president.
But Trump might find a model in Maduro, whose government has imprisoned numerous opponents, most prominently Leopoldo Lopez, an ex-mayor and potential presidential candidate, whose trial was called a farce by many human rights organizations. Lopez is serving a 14 year prison term for supposedly inciting protests using subliminal signals.

Not satisfied with jailing opponents, the deeply unpopular Maduro has also used his puppet Supreme Court to declare Parliament, where the opposition has a majority, 'unconstitutional' and unable to issue legislation. Maduro also announced that he will instruct the Supreme Court to approve the national budget, even tho the Constitution explicits gives this job to Parliament.

Among Maduro's long list of authoritan, anti-constitutional actions is also using his puppet Electoral Council to put obstacle after obstacle in the way of a recall referendum the opposition wants to organize against him - another right provided in Venezuela's Constitution. And Maduro's government recently said that it won't hold governor and regional legislative elections this year because it can't afford to - this in an oil-soaked nation which throws billions of dollars away each year on corruption and giving away gasoline.

"The priority isn't to hold elections," Maduro said. "What is the country's priority? Fulfill the whim of the oligarchy or recover the economy?"

Leopold Lopez,
Maduro's political prisoner.
Under Maduro's incompetent mishandling, Venezuela's economy is sinking, it has the world's highest inflation rate and shortages of basic goods like sugar, flour, toilet paper and medicines. It also has one of the world's highest homicide rates.

What Venezuela needs most are elections, to throw out Maduro and his allies and restore sanity. understandably, Maduro doesn't want to permit votes he knows he'd lose.

Sadly, the story is not so different in nations like Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, where leftist leaders have entrenched themselves and are trying to become presidents-for-life.

In that sense, Brazil and Guatemala, both embroiled in corruption scandals, should be admired. There, at least, the democratic institutions have had the resiliency to remove flawed presidents and investigate their alleged misdeeds.

Would the U.S.'s own institutions be strong enough to withstand a President Trump?

Hopefully, we'll never have to find out.

Check out the excellent NY Times story about this.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

What's Really Important Here

Men watch today's football along Jimenez Avenue in central Bogota.
Colombians - particularly male ones - turned out in droves today to watch the World Cup qualifying match. Colombian tied Uruguay 2 - 2.

If only people had shown half of this passion for the referendum on the peace agreement with the FARC, which happened to be the most important event in Colombia's recent history. Then, abstention wouldn't have been so high, and perhaps SI would have won.

A friend was just telling us about his trip to the Pacific Coast region, one of the areas hit hardest by Colombia's violence. In some places, he said, the threat of violence has lifted, and the people, most of them indigenous, turned to constructive projects. He described a fundamental change, which hopefully will last, despite the agreement's narrow loss at the polls. The politicians are still talking.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bogotá's Own High-Line*

Children play ball in the new Parque Bicentenario, with the Biblioteca Nacional in the background.
Five years late and undoubtedly way over budget, El Parque Bicentenario was inaugurated last Friday, giving Bogotanos a new place to hang out, if not more green space.

The park was envisioned for 2010, the bicentennial of Colombia's founding. However, design changes and a lawsuit by neighbors delayed the project until this year - when Colombia is 207 years old.

The concept of a public space above Calle 26 connecting Independence Park and to the Museum of Modern Art was originated by famed Colombian architect Rogelio Salmona, who died in 2008. The new park is supposed to right a historic wrong: Parque de la Independencia, created in 2010 to host the World's Fair, has suffered repeated amputations as avenues slashed thru its western and southern sides. Ironically, the new Parque Bicentenario took yet another bite out of Independence Park because its elevation required the construction of access ramps and stairways on its northern side. Building those meant eliminating
A romantic moment in the park.
grassy space and cutting down several trees, and prompted an unsuccesful lawsuit by residents of the Torres del Parque on Independence Park's other side. The new park's great cost also made me wonder whether the couldn't have better spent the money creating a conventional park in some other, disadvantaged part of the city.

But that's all in the past. Parque Bicentenario is now finished, and the city has created a pleasant area for relaxing, reading, and perhaps small concerts or theatre events. It's an area of stairways and winding paths bordered by small gardens. When I visited on Monday afternoon, the Bicentenario was active with couples and families sitting, tossing balls around and taking photos, while security guards warned people not to stand on the benches. But the popularity may just be novelty. I'm not sure what will draw people here, except the promise of a quiet spot to walk or sit and read or kiss. But you can find those same things a few meters away in Parque de la Independencia, wher you can also lie on the grass and let your dog run around.

The park's entrance on Carrera Septima.
I also wondered why the designers included so many stairways where wheelchair-friendlier ramps would have worked just as well (perhaps to discourage skateboarding and bicycle riding). And what will happen during rainstorms, when torrents of water will flow down into Parque de la Independencia, turning its grass into muddy pits. And Bicentenario's paucity of trash cans also seems strainge. Sure, it's best to pack out what you pack in, but that's not Colombian culture. Hope not to see this park littered with pop cans and cigarrette butts.

In a few months, will this new park be forgotten by most Bogotanos and taken over by potheads, beggars and skateboarders? Let's hope that city officials remember to fund activities here to keep this an active place.

*For anybody who doesn't follow New York urban developments, the High Line is popular new park their built on top of an old, raised trolley line.

Calle 26 traffic passing underneath the park.

A family in the park.
A rare sight: Trash cans.
A light festival at night.
The original Parque de la Independencia, now much reduced.
Learn about the park's and neighborhood's histories.
Crowds at the Parque Bicentenario´s Inauguration.

At night, the park's lights create a show against the hills.
Ramps and stairways sliced into neighboring Parque de la Independencia.

Lots of rules, as always.
Why stairs, instead of ramps?

Nearby, the iconic Torre Colpatria.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours