8 Market Enablement and the Reconfiguration of Urban Structure in Colombia – Market Economy and Urban Change

Chapter 8

Market Enablement and the
Reconfiguration of Urban Structure
in Colombia

Andrés Ortiz-Gómez and Roger Zetter


Neo-liberal political and economic tendencies promoted during the last two decades in many countries around the world have, as one of their principal goals, the reduction of government intervention in the processes of development and the strengthening of the free market at global, national and local levels. Urban development patterns have not escaped the effects of this paradigm, especially given the marked impact of vigorously promoted deregulation of public control over land use and planning instruments and the privatization of urban infrastructure. Given the accelerated growth of big cities in institutionally weak developing countries, these effects have been particularly visible. To date, however, these transformations have largely been explored at a macro level, while local impacts have tended to be overlooked. The purpose of this chapter is to redress this imbalance by providing a micro-level study and analysis of the reconfiguration of these types of cities – using Bogotá as the exemplar. It elaborates the impact that market forces, the increasingly free movement of international capital investment and the liberalization of commercial development interests in the urban sector have produced on the pattern and distribution of urban services, especially at the intermediate level – the neighbourhood.

The chapter demonstrates the progressive ‘disappearance’ of the neighbourhood as a viable element in the urban hierarchy of Bogotá. On the one hand, the chapter shows that the spatial deconstruction and reconfiguration is caused by the atomization of some urban land uses and services, which are currently being offered at the micro level, and the simultaneous fusion of others that are now offered at a metropolitan scale. The chapter argues that these urban transformations are one of the most dramatic effects caused by the antagonistic interests between urban planning and neo-liberal development policies. On the other hand, the chapter also argues that this process of deconstruction and reconfiguration is also the outcome of the privatization of some services, accompanied by the deregulation of many of them. These policies have reinforced and accelerated the process of ‘dilution’ of the intra-urban hierarchies. The urgency of such an investigation at this micro level arises because the process of urban reconfiguration is bringing about the disintegration of existing social and community structures. At the same time, the new disaggregated pattern of urban development is becoming unsustainable.

Based upon earlier work, which analysed data generated from four case studies of land-use transformation in Bogotá (Ortiz-Gómez, 2002a), this chapter elaborates these conclusions more precisely within a market enablement paradigm. Land uses – residential development, schools, shopping centres, parks and urban recreational areas – have traditionally been developed at a neighbourhood or intermediate level in the urban hierarchy of Bogotá, as in most other cities. But, over the last decade and a half, they have been subject to a process of fragmentation and reconfiguration in the urban structure of the city, which highlights the impact of market enablement policies.

Until a few decades ago, the typical distribution of urban functions found that the most specialized services with a metropolitan coverage were located in a concentrated manner in the downtown areas of the cities, while the daily requirements of citizens would be located at the neighbourhood sub-centre level. Both urban theorists and professionals attempted to defend this spatial/functional distribution, despite the pressures of rapid urbanization in the developing world. Strategies such as the creation of satellite cities or the consolidation of land uses within city sub-centres were characteristic of these aspirations. But the level of urban and functional autonomy achieved by these sub-centres in Latin American cities has been quite low. This crucial weakness is one reason, among others, why the neo-liberal and deregulated urban development policies and processes have so effectively marginalized the model of metropolitan urban hierarchy found in the past.

Thus, both the new locations for, and specific characteristics of, these four uses in the contemporary spatial configuration of Bogotá have forcefully contributed to the disappearance of the urban neighbourhood level. The urban planning authorities have been unable to counteract these processes and outcomes because of their essentially weak institutional capacity, the lack of adequate policy instruments, and very limited understanding of the behaviour of the urban land and property development market – characteristics accentuated by the neo-liberal process of deregulation.

At present, it is uncertain whether these trends can be reversed and the neighbourhood resuscitated as a vibrant functional and spatial component of Bogotá’s urban hierarchy. Neither is it clear, in this era of ‘de-spatialized’ communications, that the traditional association between community and place can be maintained as the basis of urban society. What is essential is the recovery of quality of life for citizens and the sustainability of big urban agglomerations. For these outcomes to be achieved, a much deeper understanding of the phenomenon of urban spatial reconfiguration under conditions of market enablement is essential so that the process of restructuring that is currently taking place can be effectively managed within an appropriate urban planning framework.

The general contention is that the experience of Bogotá is little different from what is happening in other cities in the rest of the country, or, indeed, in the rest of the continent, although local conditions and the speed of reconfiguration vary with local conditions. In short, it could be said that in Bogotá, as in many other cities in developing countries, ‘urban planning has been “de-territorialised” and “de-spatialised” by neo-liberal theory’ (Burgess et al, 1997, p123). The chapter demonstrates how this has occurred at the micro level.


The critical backdrop to these changes is the institutional structure and regulatory framework for urban planning. Colombia, like the great majority of Latin American countries, has undergone the process of the transfer of power from central government to local governments. During recent years, these reforms have ensured that state governors, the city mayors, city councils and ediles (local councillors) have been elected democratically. However, this decentralization and democratization of government from the national level has not descended to the metropolitan level where, in the case of Bogotá, the power of the city mayor over urban development and planning is virtually absolute. Yet, paradoxically, the electoral autonomy and independence held by the mayor has become a substantial obstacle for the effective planning of conurbadas (the suburbs lying outside of the metropolitan authority boundaries) and the surrounding sub-region.

There are several factors at play here. In Colombia, there currently exists no legal framework, either to promote regional strategic planning or, within the cities, to promote local planning in which the communities can participate effectively. Second, compounding this problem is the fact that local government reform has tended to fragment interests, rather than introduce a cohesive metropolitan structure. Superficially, governance and the participation of citizens in the decisions of local administrations have improved since a number of statutory instruments have been enacted to this end. In 1986, 20 local municipalities (alcaldias menores), or junta administration local (JALs), were created within Bogotá. The objective was to develop a structure of local administration that would be closer to the community. The statute enabled them to manage and implement local development plans; but these authorities do not have the power to participate effectively in the preparation and elaboration of the future urban plan, the Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (POT) of the city as a whole. Moreover, the decisions they make must conform to the POT. Nor do these authorities have sufficient resources or budgetary autonomy to make them viable agencies to represent local pubic interest: for example, only 20 per cent of the city budget is delegated to these councils. After 17 years in existence, less than 10 per cent of residents vote in the elections for these community councils (JALs). Low voter motivation is a clear indication that the electorate does not consider that the JALs have substantial capacity or authority to manage the urban development process and regulate the urban transformation that has been occurring. Indeed, some researchers suggest that the JALs, instead of enhancing participatory government, have merely become co-opted by the traditional political structures and interests of the city and that their decisions are pragmatic rather than integrated within city-wide requirements and objectives (Garcia and Zamudio, 1997). Finally, the JALs were created to develop a structure of local municipalities to complement the presence of municipalities lying outside of the city boundaries. But, as a result of this decentralization, the problem remains that the latter grouping has vigorously retained its independence from the wider task of planning and coordinating the development of the metropolitan region as a whole, contending that integration would lead to a loss of autonomy.

Thus, the outcome of administrative reforms that have accompanied market enablement have, indeed, shifted the balance of interests. This vacuum at local and regional levels provides the private sector with the space to oscillate between different municipalities within the greater metropolitan region of Bogotá and between different localities within the city boundaries, ensuring that development opportunities and locations (examined later) are basically governed by market forces, rather than planning policies and instruments.

With regard to the urban planning process and instruments in Bogotá, this has been a typical top-down process based more on technocratic principles and precepts than on an effective participatory model of local and community representation. In addition, for many years, the city planning authorities focused a vast majority of their staff and time on the bureaucratic tasks of issuing development permits and construction licences, leaving little time for the challenging task of preparing urban planning strategies for managing the future growth of the city (Londoño, 1992). For this reason, during the mid 1990s, semi-private institutions called curadurias urbanas were created and responsibility for issuing development permits based on the city's POT was transferred to them – incidentally, another example of privatizing services. Since then, the planning office (Departmento Administrativo de Planeacion Distrital, or DAPD) has been better able to concentrate its resources on the fundamental objective of preparing development plans. Nevertheless, the planning process has still been insufficiently participative and, in practice, continues to be top down.

Finally, it is also important to note that the planning authorities have been ineffective in controlling illegal developments or barrios: large areas of the city, especially in low-income residential areas, have been chaotically developed by illegal or ‘pirate’ developers. Given the impunity with which this city building occurs, these processes are no longer confined to just the poor areas of Bogotá, but are mirrored in prosperous parts of the city as well, although their impact is less substantial and visible. In the so-called formal sector, small shops, office and industrial establishments and, as we shall see below, schools, as well, are illegally developed (lacking a development permit).

Turning to urban services, in conformity with the market enablement paradigm, Bogotá is a city where more and more utility companies have been privatized. This includes, for example, the electricity company, some telephone companies, waste collection, public transportation and development control machinery. A large proportion of the educational system is now also private. The only utility service that continues to be in public ownership in Bogotá is the water and sewage system; ironically, these work with commendable efficiently. In 2003, all of the almost 7 million inhabitants in the city received running water suitable for human consumption. Even though Bogotá has an excess of potable water, which it could sell to neighbouring towns and cities and which would enhance its financial profitability, it has been unable to offer this service to the other municipalities, many of whom suffer severe shortages of drinking water, because of legal restrictions and fragmentation between companies. The more significant point, in the present context, is that all these separate companies have their own pricing, growth and development strategies, which, certainly in the case of private companies, do not tend to follow the strategic spatial guidelines of the planning authorities. With privatization of water utilities set to expand, the problems of coordinating urban development plans with the different strategies of autonomous water companies will undoubtedly increase – not to mention the destabilizing impact of new pricing regimes on the urban poor as has occurred in Bolivia (Crespo Flores, 2002). Conversely, in the case of some of the public water companies, their strategies do not always coincide with the development proposals of the private sector and this leads to problems of synchronizing development and infrastructure.

In short, as this review has highlighted, insofar as Bogotá is concerned, the urban-sector agenda that has accompanied market enablement – decentralization of government, reform of the planning machinery, privatization of services – has produced a complex and often contradictory set of outcomes. Far from enhancing management and coordination of the city's growth, it has reinforced the strength of private development interests and unplanned development, which, in turn, have led to the deconstruction and reconfiguration of the city's spatial structure. These tendencies are examined below.


Some indication of the limitations of the urban planning instruments has already been discussed. The role of the urban plans, or rather their inability to confront the spatial reconfiguration of Bogotá, is now examined in more detail. During the last 20 years the planning of Bogotá has been based on master plans (Acuerdo 7 de 1979 and Acuerdo 6 de 1990). In outline, these statutory instruments provided for the designation of areas where development would be permitted, a primary street and highway plan, a set of construction regulations, and a zoning plan of permitted and prohibited uses. The system was a typical master plan approach, which ‘takes the form of a series of interrelated policy statements, with some maps showing areas of generally preferred uses’ (Jones, 1990).

The initiative to develop land, with few exceptions, was left totally to the private sector, which, as in much of Latin America, has always driven the decision-making process of where and when development in the city takes place. It is for these reasons that Bogotá has experienced such enormous peripheral expansion, far in excess of demand, while at the same time many of the already urbanized parts of the metropolitan area remain vacant or undeveloped. With regard to the neighbourhood level, which is the main concern here, development and planning at this and at the micro level has consistently been enacted through a project-by-project, plot-by-plot process according to the interests of individual landowners and developers with little if any attempt to integrate or coordinate neighbouring developments.

In 1990 (under Acuerdo 6 de 1990), in an attempt to bring the unregulated peripheral expansion of the city within a more rational development framework, a new dynamic was introduced with the concept of ‘areas of urban incorporation’ for the development of new land or for the legalization of existing informal developments. With regard to the formal-sector land development, the initiative continued to be exclusively private sector and was led in a fractured and incoherent fashion. In the case of the barrios, by the second half of the 1990s pirate developers in Bogotá were subdividing land at the rate of more than 180 hectares per annum, which represented 42 per cent of the city's then annual supply of new housing land (Gilbert, 1996). The dynamic intervention of 1990 simply legitimized the traditional processes – illegal subdivision of land, informal housing construction and the ‘de-marginalization’ or upgrading of urban neighbourhoods by ex-post facto construction of public service infrastructure at a high cost for the city.

In 1997, therefore, the national government issued Law 388 (Ley de Ordenamiento Territorial), which obliged all municipalities in Colombia to develop and approve a city ordinance plan (Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial, or POT) before the year 2000. In compliance with this law, Bogotá approved its POT for a ten-year period in 2000. POT introduced the concept of partial (that is, local) plans for public or private initiative, with which the government intends to eliminate the property-by-property development process and, instead, create an integrated approach to the planning of localities. As well as their physical planning objectives, the local plans set out the distribution of development responsibilities and benefits between the different landowners and the local authority, including partnership between the sectors where appropriate. In addition, the POT proposed, in theory at least, a densification of the city by encouraging the development of vacant land within the already urbanized fabric of the city and, conversely, restricting new development opportunities towards the northern part of the city. To this end, POT drastically reduced plot ratio indices for development land outside designated development areas within the city in order to curb increases in land market values and, thus, speculative development pressure.

Although, initially, these policies in Bogotá’s POT offered a major advance on previous planning intervention, and held out the potential both for redirecting the city's spatial development and for reasserting the neighbourhood as a key element in the city's spatial hierarchy, the results after three years of implementation are not as optimistic as expected. There are two interrelated factors at play here. In the first place, the lack of improved institutional capacity of the city planning authorities and the excessive regulatory character of POT have meant that the local plans have not emerged as the anticipated arena to promote partnership and coordination, either between private-sector developers themselves or between the private sector, the public-sector agencies and the local communities. The aims – that the different stakeholders would each present proposals and options for use; provide densities and indices for specific parcels of land; present their aspirations and interests; and that an urban planning strategy could be agreed which might adapt to the changing circumstances of the market and the city – have not been fulfilled. Instead, the lack of institutional capacity and the fear that local plans negotiated and agreed upon between the public and private sectors would become vehicles for corruption, produced an excessively regulated POT that has not permitted the local plans to fulfil their intended functions.

In the second place, and related to the failure to coordinate the interests of the competing stakeholders, the preparation and the approval of the local plans have been very slow. This has generated price speculation, especially for smaller plots that can be developed immediately without necessarily going through the full machinery of the local plans. Ironically, the new instruments have thus increased the fragmentation of the city's spatial structure.


The cocktail of weak planning instruments, poorly conceived institutional reform for metropolitan and municipal government, and privatization – formulated within the framework of a market enablement paradigm – has, in effect, substantially enhanced the already entrenched interests of private stakeholders, who have long been a feature of urban development processes in Bogotá as in much of Latin America. This provides the context in which to explore the spatial reconfiguration of the city that has occurred during the last decade and a half.

Residential development, the privatization of security, and
the fragmentation and segregation of neighbourhoods

Bogotá has a reputation as a city with one of the highest levels of crime and insecurity in Latin American, due among other factors to very low detection rates. The poor levels of security and protection provided by the military and police authorities, and the high rate of kidnappings, burglaries, armed robbery from commercial establishments and so forth, have generated an unprecedented growth in private security arrangements. Approximately 30,000 to 40,000 security guards operate in Bogotá to protect shopping malls, private homes, offices and government buildings. Even though crime statistics during the last few years show an improvement, the culture of private security has become totally assimilated within the society and it will take many years of public order for this to disappear, if at all. More dangerously, within the context of privatizing most of the services – once the responsibility of the government (including security and protection) – it is increasingly forgotten that peace and security are defining characteristics of state legitimacy and should not be commodified as individual goods.

Nevertheless, this ‘cultural change’ in Colombia and the acceptance of the marketization of security, in this instance, alongside many other public goods, has had significant consequences for the urban morphology of Bogotá and the patterns of urban development and architectural design. The obvious evidence is the development of enclosed condominiums. Provision of this form of residential development has spiralled and, in effect, publicizes the state of affairs that:

... the city is not a liveable place ... [we] live in the interior of our own world... The increase of violence, insecurity and fear comes with a series of transformations, as citizens adopt new strategies of protection. These strategies are changing the city's landscape, patterns of circulation, everyday trajectories, habits, and gestures related to the use of streets and public transportation (Caldeira, 1996, p60).

The everyday life of residents in Bogotá is deeply affected by the fear of crime and the changes in lifestyles that this provokes. This phenomenon has stimulated, within the housing market, commercial competition between residential ‘ghettos’ that can offer the maximum range of internal services to ‘defend’ residents and minimize the need to enter the city. It is now extremely difficult for housing projects developed in open neighbourhoods to be commercially successful. Indeed, this new lifestyle, which originally commenced as the privilege of the upper-income bracket, has transcended to the middle- and lower-income housing neighbourhoods, where these communities also now close off the public streets to control and protect their localities.

Since urban planning and building regulations have been utilized mainly to define land uses, construction indices, and occupation and plot ratios, these closed condominiums have not been subject to any form of planning intervention and control. What regulation has been used has generally been limited to controlling the type and height of the surrounding enclosure of the condominiums and the maximum size of the land areas that can be developed. The critical relationship that should exist between private and public space within a neighbourhood or the city, as a whole, has not been considered in any depth by the planning authorities and, in any case, could not be adequately regulated within the current legal framework. Moreover, in the climate of insecurity and market-led processes that exists, it would not be well received by Colombians if the government attempted to control the type of housing that individuals could build, or to limit the type of development that the housing market appears to be demanding.

The widespread growth of enclosed condominiums is the principal factor in the fragmentation or atomization of local neighbourhoods. In effect, these areas have ceased to be open parts of the city, with the conventional urban characteristics of social plurality, a heterogeneous community, and a mix of uses and activity patterns. On the contrary, it is increasingly impossible to promote mixed uses and to create an urban design that facilitates an integrated community within these enclosed condominiums. Pedestrian movement, as an element of urban life, is losing importance since the moment the enclosed condominium is exited, the residents enter a city ‘that has to be avoided’: it is thought safer to reach the destination of another security protected environment, such as a shopping mall or office condominium, by car. These projects – now dominating the housing market, but widely characteristic of commercial and retail development in Bogotá as well – are the market's response to perceptions of insecurity that are turning the public city into a no man's land. It appears that when urban services and public goods, which should be a monopoly of the government, are privatized, the impacts can be very negative in many different ways – not least on the fragmentation of the traditional structure of urban areas and their social rationale. The privatization of security in Colombia, caused, in part, by the government's incapacity to respond effectively to high levels of criminality, may paradoxically be one of the major factors that is actually accentuating insecurity in the city, since these ghettos diminish further the sense in which citizens feels in control of public areas and streets.

The street, plaza and park and, in general, the public areas of a city are a metaphorical representation of democratic ways of life. But the combined effects of a housing market that only builds enclosed condominiums and the privatization of security simultaneously both promote and provide evidence of the fragmented and atomized cities. As a result, the urban landscape has certainly come to acquire an almost feudal character (Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, 1996). The segmented urban morphology that these patterns and processes generate, is creating a form of urban development which is unsustainable.

Fusion of commercial uses and the large multinationals

The concentration of a large variety of commercial retailing uses within an enclosed structure, often on the urban periphery and only accessible by motor car, developed as a prototype in the suburbs of North American and European cities during the middle of the last century. These contemporary shopping centres are now, of course, found in many countries across the world. This model was imported to Colombia during the 1970s; since then, these centres have been built all over Bogotá. However, Bogotá, like a number of cities in Latin America, is essentially a dense and compact city, due more to the lack of adequate road infrastructure and the economic impoverishment of a majority of the population who do not own cars than to any premeditated urban plan. For this reason, the shopping centre model was adapted in Bogotá as a form of development not located in the city suburbs, but in the most densely populated areas within the city. Additionally, and against the conventional assumption that ‘most of these activities are sensitive more to the purchasing power rather than to mere mass of people, so they are much more likely to be found in the richer areas than in the poorer ones’ (Mohan, 1994), in Bogotá they were also developed in middle- and lower-income areas.

During the 1990s, big multinational retail companies began to develop in Colombia; stores such as Carrefour, Makro and Home Center joined the national chain Éxito in the development of the superstore format, with more than 10,500 square metres of retailing space each. In the first stage many individual stores moved away from a street location and fused together and into one large centre. Now these stores themselves fuse together in only one building. Needing a large catchment area to ensure commercial success, their market is no longer at a local neighbourhood level, but a metropolitan level. In Bogotá, where the average income is about US$2000 per annum, it is estimated that each of these superstores requires a catchment population close to 200,000 inhabitants. For this reason, and to facilitate access, they are always located on main throughways of the city where there is public transportation. A diversity of complementary activities concentrates around the superstores taking advantage of the large inflow of consumers, whom the centres attract. Thus, their commercial reach and the diversity of services makes it very difficult for the neighbourhood stores to compete in price and service, their only advantage being that they are conveniently near residential areas.

These trends replicate the pattern of retailing in Europe and North America; but they are a radically new form of commercial urban development in Bogotá. Crucially, what is different from this earlier prototype is that the development of these new centres is being driven by the combined effects of the free movement of capital under conditions of market enablement and the globalization of commercial activity, rather than by the needs of local communities. The sector is dominated by multinational corporations. And, characteristic of all the land uses examined in this chapter, the planning system has been powerless to regulate it.

This destruction of neighbourhoods and the consolidation of a new urban form appears set to continue under the neo-liberal principles of an open market and the rolling back of the regulatory powers available to planning authorities. Clearly, what is needed is a reconfiguration of the planning strategies and instrument so that the negative impacts of this new urban structure of metropolitan-serving retailing centres can be adequately mitigated, while at the same time taking advantage of the opportunities that they offer to city life. It is not simply a matter of regulating where these stores should not be developed, but also to plan proactively in which areas of the city they can best be located – for example, in areas of urban renovation and redevelopment where they could effectively underpin these wider objectives.

Atomized parks and privatized recreation

In the majority of cities around the world, parks and plazas have traditionally been localities for social and family recreation and interchange. Bogotá was no exception. The city's growth throughout the 19th century was marked by the concept of shared space and this pattern was reinforced when the city expanded very substantially during the 1950s and 1960s. Planning policies required integrated development of parks and recreational facilities in residential areas. Until the 1970s, all the formally developed neighbourhoods had their parks. Since these newer parts of the city were developed at rather low densities, the residential neighbourhoods were extensive in size and the parks were proportional to them.

By the 1970s, the city began to develop with higher densities, and the construction of apartment buildings became the norm. Because these developments occupied smaller lots, provision of space for urban parks was, accordingly, reduced by developers – an excellent example of the weakness of plot-by-plot planning and development, rather than strategic spatial planning. Urban regulations have since been revised and require a standard open space/park provision from developers of between 17 and 25 per cent of the area of the lot, rather than proportional to the density of the housing proposed.

However, these adjustments have had marginal impact because, as we have seen, during the last decades enclosed communities have become the norm and the majority of the small parks are no longer accessible as part of the city's public realm. Instead, they are illegally closed off within the condominiums, making these middle- and upper-class ghettos more attractive to the market, while rendering the city devoid of public space. In addition, mainly as a consequence of high bank interest rates and the high costs of land, the tendency now is for condominium developments to be smaller scale and multi-phased in order to ensure feasibility and to minimize financial risks. This, in turn, has effectively accentuated the reduction in park and open-space provision and introduced even more piecemeal provision. Since high interest bank loans fund 60 per cent of residential development in the city, a small reduction in development costs can make dramatic savings. Reducing open-space provision overall, or phasing development that, among other impacts, atomizes open space, are common ways in which developers respond to financing pressures. Given the prevalence of the condominium form of development, the city is growing while open-space provision is contracting: open-space provision is largely the residual after plot densities have been maximized. This outcome is not a reflection of the lack of demand for open space, but the devaluation of public goods in a market-driven urban development model. Little more than the sum of uncoordinated segments, the disaggregated supply of open space diminishes the quality of urban design and the ‘architecture’ of the city.

The growing lack of public open space in the city and the demise of public recreational facilities as a result of government policies – which, under conditions of market enablement, have divested the local municipalities of these assets – have together stimulated a huge unmet demand. This demand is now being satisfied by private-sector entrepreneurs. Numerous private clubs and cooperative recreational centres (cajas de compensacion familiar) have appeared. The former facilities are characterized by socio-economic level, the latter by employees of affiliated companies and industries.

These two parallel processes are having a profound and dramatic impact upon the spatial structure of the city and the concept of neighbourhood. In the past, open space and recreational facilities were articulated, as we have seen, into the social and spatial fabric of the city. Now, recreation provision is being both socially sectoralized and spatially disaggregated. This has severe consequences for urban segregation and spatial inequality. On one hand, private recreational facilities are mostly located on large tracts of low-cost land on the city's periphery; in effect, they are becoming a metropolitan serving function (rather than a neighbourhood function), competing in a free market and only viable where development and infrastructure costs are low and where facilities are accessible to clearly differentiated sectors of society. On the other hand, parks have been atomized by the condominium form of development in such a way that they have ceased to be the centre of the neighbourhood; instead, ‘private’ green areas are hidden from the city.

In short, what is at play here is the marketization or privatization of public open space and recreation facilities, which planning instruments have been powerless to resist. This outcome is both an adjunct to the wider forces of ‘market-enabled’ city-building in the residential and retailing sectors discussed above, and an inevitable response to the losses incurred in the public realm of the city. The marketization of recreation has added an extra dynamic to the already powerful processes inherent in residential and retailing development, which have atomized the neighbourhood level and reconstructed it at a metropolitan level, but ‘de-territorialized’ from its social and spatial rationale. It has compounded the already severe impacts on the urban structure of Bogotá, which weak planning machinery has been unable to counter.

As a footnote, it is important to observe that while the formally developed urban areas do not have sufficient recreational space, the illegal developments that comprise much of the city have no open space or recreational facilities at all. Ironically, it is the new regional shopping centres that are becoming the recreational areas for those who have no other option.

Peripheral and metropolitan schools

Like the former example of open space and recreation, school location and provision is another example of public goods provision undergoing the process of atomization and spatial reconfiguration in Bogotá.

Controls on public expenditure, as part of the wider agenda of neo-liberalism, have created a situation where the availability of public schools has become problematic and the quality of education that they offer in Bogotá is perceived to be poor – a perception sadly confirmed by government data (SED, 1998). These combined effects have generated an accelerated process of school privatization. As Gilbert pointed out: ‘Unfortunately, even if education standards in the public (state) sector are better in Bogotá than in the rest of Colombia, the quality is still rather low’ (Gilbert, 1996). Of the almost 1.5 million children of school age living in the city, practically half attend private schools. What is even more dramatic is the volume of provision – four-fifths of the total number of schools are private. Currently, in Bogotá, children of all social classes, even the poorest, attend private schooling. The concept of a neighbourhood school is no longer attractive or functional in Bogotá where education is now dominated by a marketized model of provision.

The impact of these trends, in the present context, is to further reinforce the spatial fragmentation of the city and the loss of the neighbourhood as the traditional location for community services, of which schools are perhaps the classic example. Within a free-market paradigm and with weak planning powers, private schools now choose locations most suitable to commercial priorities and maximizing catchment areas, rather than according to planning policies that favour a neighbourhood location. The new locational pattern of educational provision, like retailing and recreation, has clearly followed a process of peripheralization and metropolitanization.

In the main, it is the free-market provision in response to the shortfall in providing state educational facilities that is driving this new locational distribution. But this process is compounded by other factors.

In the first place, there is the lack of a clear planning strategy across the city for the location of private schools: there is no concept of school catchment areas in the planning framework. These shortcomings are replicated in the enduring weakness of powers of intervention to regulate these developments, which, as we have seen with other land uses, is consonant with the requirements of market enablement in the urban sector. Thus, there are no requirements for residential developers to provide complementary land for school provision, nor are the planning authorities able to prevent peripheral school development despite the fact that there is no zoning to permit it to take place.

Also driving the displacement of the schools to the outskirts of Bogotá is the high cost of land. Like the transformation in the locational distribution of recreational and retailing land uses, school location demonstrates how, as in all cities, ‘land pricing has had a key role in shaping urban development, the effectiveness of public intervention, and the pattern and location of economic activity’ (Harris and Fabricius, 1996, p7). In the case of Bogotá, this is evident in two respects.

First, a speculative development process commenced during the early 1990s whereby the great majority of already established private schools located in central areas and in the more affluent residential neighbourhoods where land prices were high, capitalized their assets by selling their existing sites for the development of office complexes, specialist shopping centres or condominium/apartment developments. With the capital receipts, they have bought land on the periphery of the city where development and infrastructure costs are low and they have been able to build schools endowed with modern installations, allowing them to better compete in the open market for a fraction of the capital returns from selling former sites. Similarly, newly established private schools, filling the void in the state sector, have inevitably located on the urban periphery for the same reasons.

Second, also evident in the changing character of private education and the competitiveness of the sector, there is a trend to provide more and more specialist education and other facilities that appeal to the increasing socio-economic segmentation of the market for private education. At the same time, a tendency for schools to concentrate on the same or adjoining sites enables them to reduce costs and maximize use.

Providers recognize that the market is demand driven and, thus, no matter how inconvenient for consumers, a metropolitan catchment – accessible by the city's main highway network – ensures that market area is maximized and costs are minimized; this reinforces the peripheralization of provision. Accordingly, there are parts of the city with insufficient school provision, and others where there is over-concentration. One example is on the prosperous northern outskirts of the city where more than 100 schools are concentrated in a small area (Montenegro, 1999). Students come from all over the city, enduring an average bus journey time of two hours’ duration, not to mention the high levels of congestion caused by private vehicles, as well. Unfortunately, this process is being replicated under identical circumstances in other Colombian cities such as Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla and Bucaramanga.

In a free market for education provision, since families now choose schools on the basis of financial affordability and the quality and specialist appeal of the particular education provided by a private school, there no longer exist spatial ties that integrate a school with its neighbourhood or local community. On the contrary, an a-spatial framework has emerged. In Bogotá, the process of free-market education is creating the paradox of bringing together new but smaller communities with specific educational interests and levels of affordability, but from neighbourhoods widely dispersed across the metropolitan area. As a result, the distribution of education services within the city is neither appropriate as an urban function underpinning the neighbourhood as a community unit, nor efficient in terms of the city's urban structure and transportation systems.


In Bogotá, the reconfiguration of these four land-use activity patterns echoes the experience that other researchers have observed, that ‘neo-liberal policy-makers argued that it was unwise to disturb the market determination of the relationship between location and economic activity by government regulation’ (Burgess et al, 1997). Enhanced market forces have produced the fusion and atomization of urban uses and services, a process essentially driven by the interests of private landowners and a powerful development industry. As a result, the intermediate-level neighbourhoods in Bogotá have all but disappeared as a viable element in the urban hierarchy. The city is losing its well-established internal structure and the mixed, but integrated, land-use patterns that were found at the neighbourhood level and with which people identified. Instead, it is becoming an enormous and disconnected urban conglomeration, lacking spatial coherence other than the aggregate of small ghettos of differing land uses. These outcomes have invalidated the concepts of both an urban spatial strategy at the macro scale, and territorial hierarchies displayed essentially through the neighbourhoods as coherent social, physical and functional units. Bogotá is now characterized by the atomization of land uses and sporadic development (Pérgolis, 1998), in which the concept of the spatially defined community is becoming weaker because the residents have a decreasingly strong relationship with the specific neighbourhoods in which they live.

The planning authorities have lacked clear strategic objectives and effective and adaptive planning instruments that would allow them to accommodate the new development paradigm. Instead, to the extent that it has happened at all, the city has been planned and managed with a series of technocratic regulations that are increasingly inflexible and irrelevant to the current circumstances. They lack the capacity to address urban development processes that are increasingly global in origin. At the same time, the market enablement paradigm has inhibited the development of more appropriate regulatory instruments and strategies by which the public authorities in Bogotá might mediate a strengthening free-market urban development process. Privatization of urban services has further weakened the capacity of public-sector stakeholders to coordinate their activities in order to provide a more coherent spatial patterning of the city's development. In short, displacement of essentially communitarian uses and services such as schools, open spaces and recreational uses towards the periphery is promoting an uncontrolled and unsustainable growth of Bogotá. The supremacy of ‘market planning’ over urban planning has generated numerous communities who are no longer spatially aggregated at the neighbourhood level. These are spatially disaggregated communities of users, rather than uses, whereas in the past users and uses were coherent constituents of the urban neighbourhood.

This new paradigm of urban development weakens the sense of cohesion and belonging by the residents, and their sense of social control over communal activities, public goods and the public realm. While more empirical evidence and analysis are needed to develop this contention, we can already detect some trends in Bogotá. From a political viewpoint, the decline in a spatially based communitarian structure and the lack of fully accountable and empowered local authorities weaken public interest in the democratic institutions that represent them. This interest is further eroded if the public agencies appear powerless to prevent socially divisive development trends of the kind happening in Bogotá. Privatization of security in condominium and retailing developments, in a real sense, further undermines the trust people have in government and community. Accordingly, if the neighbourhood no longer exists, the residents’ sense of belonging to the city is eroded and they see less value in being represented by metropolitan authorities. Partially, at least, this complex mix may explain the failure of the local councils (JALs) in Bogotá to make an impact upon development trends and outcomes. Paradoxically, one intention of the market enablement reform programme has been to enhance urban governance and increase democratic accountability by decentralization and enhancing community empowerment; but this appears to be undermined in Bogotá by the fragmentation of communities as spatially defined.

From a social viewpoint, privatization and disaggregation of urban services and functions, and the reconfiguration of the residential neighbourhood in the form of small, disconnected condominiums, have generated a major segregation of the city and have accentuated problems of inequality. When schools, recreation and shopping areas are located outside neighbourhoods, and when neighbourhoods themselves become a patchwork of detached small ghettos of protected condominiums, residents increasingly lose the opportunity to create and sustain communities – a fundamental basis of the city's social structure. Rather than schools, parks and open spaces functioning as the ‘vital centre of local life, a means of expanding the aspirations of an entire community, and a foundation for integrated development’ (Bartlett et al, 1999, pp165), in Bogotá, they have become ‘privileged and exclusive territory’. Increasingly, the city is clearly divided between the private and the public realms. Social and environmental sustainability depends largely upon the balance between these two elements of urban spatiality. Even though the local administration of Bogotá has made an enormous effort to recover public spaces for its citizens since the late 1980s, and the advances have been really remarkable, efforts of this kind must be ceaselessly sustained. But the capacity, resources and powers of the public authorities cannot keep pace with the demands for strategic and local-level interventions of this kind.

From an environmental viewpoint, the elimination of the neighbourhood as a key element in the urban hierarchy, and its replacement with a high degree of atomized development, radically modifies patterns of mobility. The fusion and metropolitanization of important uses, such as education, recreation and commercial uses, and their disaggregation from residential neighbourhoods, increases journey times and distances and the overall volume of journeys that have to be made in the city. This process brings with it traffic congestion, environmental pollution and urban dis-economics, such as the diminishing quality of life and dysfunctional use of time. In the case of Bogotá, as elsewhere, the new land-use pattern of the city ‘requires longer journeys for most daily activities, [and] it has become increasingly difficult to serve by energy-efficient modes of transport’ (Breheny, 1992, p86).

Finally, the proliferation of enclosed condominiums and the fragmentation of the city's open space impacts upon the morphology, character and landscape of Bogotá. Most of the green areas of the city cannot now be seen or enjoyed by the public from the street. The equilibrium that should exist, in good urban design, between hard and soft public areas is completely severed by this process of urban transformation.

In summary, ‘the environmental rationale demands the reassertion of a territorial basis for planning based on a close and detailed integration of social, economic and environmental parameters at various spatial scales’ (Burgess et al, 1997, p81).


Using four of the key land-use components in Bogotá’s urban structure, this chapter has tried to demonstrate the link between micro-level change and a macro-level explanation of the reconfiguration of the city's spatial structure in which the parallel processes of metropolitanization, peripheralization and atomization are occurring. Focusing particularly on the neighbourhood, the chapter has argued that its physical disaggregation reflects more than just the loss of a significant component in the city's urban structure. At another level, the atomization of the neighbourhood and development processes that have relocated to the urban periphery land uses typically found in the neighbourhoods of Bogotá reflect wider processes of transformation. The chapter has argued that these processes have underscored the ‘de-territorialization’ of social structures, while, at the same time, intensifying the spatial representation of social inequalities in terms of access to open space, recreational facilities, schools and retailing functions. The development of exclusive, closed communities in condominiums provides a dramatic representation of the countervailing tendencies of ‘de-territorialization’ and spatial inequality.

This reconfiguration cannot be explained simply by locally occurring factors – important and, in some cases, unique though these variables might be in Bogotá, such as issues of personal security. The chapter has sought to demonstrate that an important part of the explanation of this profound transformation in the patterns of urban development lies in the neo-liberal paradigm of market enablement, including deregulation, the lack of effective planning and the privatization of some urban services. Of course, the changing spatial structure of the city described in this chapter is not solely the outcome of global forces and market enablement programmes. Local factors, changing social and economic needs and the struggle for power between different stakeholders competing in the process of urban development are enduring factors that drive urban change. As in Bogotá, so in Europe and North American cities during an earlier era these forces have impacted upon urban structures well before the imperatives of either enablement or globalization characterized development processes. The point here, though, is that, at a critical era in the city's development cycle, the impact of market enablement policies dramatically shifted the balance of competing urban interests towards private and away from public accountability and responsibility. Furthermore, this shift introduced a particularly dynamic process of urban restructuring that has affected, and continues to impact severely upon, Bogotá.

Whether the neighbourhood can be resuscitated and resurrected in Bogotá remains an open question, although a pessimistic answer seems more likely. In many respects, though, this is not the fundamental issue, since the chapter is neither a call simply to reclaim an urban morphology of the past, nor to freeze the city's structure in ways that are ill adapted to the demands of the present day. Rather, it argues that the development processes, which are reconfiguring Bogotá’s urban structure and fabric, have become increasingly detached from the capacity of its inhabitants to mediate them in satisfactory and effective ways.

The explanation for this outcome offered here lies in a neo-liberal paradigm of urban development processes, which, in the longer term, is creating an urban structure that is neither environmentally sustainable, nor socially coherent.

As the case of the urban transformation of Bogotá demonstrates, the neo-liberal paradigm of market enablement highlights the contradictory interests, existing within the urban arena, between private entrepreneurs, landowners and developers, on the one hand, and the planning authorities and residents, on the other. Given that market enablement policies firmly tip the balance of interests to the private sector and away from social and environmental responsibilities, reconciling the different positions of the two sets of stakeholders is essential in order to establish a more sustainable urban development process. This requires that the public planning authorities better understand and mediate the behaviour of market-led urban development processes as they come to be expressed at the metropolitan-wide scale. In this respect, a coherent framework of land policies to regulate the land market, and urban planning strategies for the metropolitan region that coordinate all of the municipalities, are also required (Zetter, 2002). More adaptive and flexible instruments are needed which better address the connectivity between local development patterns and the national and global forces that drive them. At the same time, regulatory powers could be strengthened; but, conversely, they have been further weakened under conditions of enablement. For example, as we have seen, a norm prohibits land owned by schools to be sold and developed for other uses. But the authorities have not had the capacity to enforce these regulations and the penalties for non-compliance are ineffective in deterring developers from risking ‘illegal’ new development of school sites.

The challenge, then, in Bogotá, lies in how to reconcile these competing interests and develop effective and accountable planning machinery within a context of deregulation, a lack of effective strategic planning instruments and a public who feels disempowered from local government representation. The objective, as stated above, is not necessarily to restore the neighbourhood level of the city, but to achieve a satisfactory quality of life for the citizens, to guarantee environmental sustainability, to resolve the entrenched problems of social segregation and spatial inequality, and to maintain the city's competitiveness on a global scale. But the role that the local authorities and the public sector, as a whole, must play within the neo-liberal and free-market paradigm remains profoundly problematic.

The imposition of neo-liberal politics, such as market enablement and deregulation, upon countries in the developing world and their impacts on the urban sector are, in many ways, irreversible: these impacts are accentuated by globalization and the interests of transnational companies. While Bogotá exhibits specific instances of these impacts, many of the patterns and processes of urban reconfiguration characterize cities across the developing world, as a whole. It is precisely the tension between local and global, between domestic and internationally imposed development policies, played out at the level of urban structure which the case of Bogotá demonstrates so clearly. Bogotá serves as an example of the destructive and unmanageable impact of the externally imposed neo-liberal development paradigm. For, as Jenkins and Smith observe: ‘general policies formulated by international agencies cannot be successfully applied in different national contexts without responding to the social, economic, cultural, institutional and political context in which they are meant to operate’ (Jenkins and Smith, 2002).


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