In Colombia, since the beginning of the twentieth century, when one spoke about moving to la gran ciudad (“the great city”), one always referred to Bogotá. This process of migration was historically viewed as a last resort: in a country rich in natural resources, moving to the city was considered a treason to the national ideal of rural communities “working for peace.”
That concept echoed the American ideal projected by Thomas Jefferson in his famous quote: “When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.”
In the first half of the century 70% of Colombians lived in the countryside and only 15% in cities of more than 10,000 people. Cities in Colombia were far from reaching the development of similar places like Venezuela, Argentina or Brazil.
However, with its history of violent conflict (now in the process of ending) Colombia has witnessed the depopulation of the countryside due to the agrarian crisis. Private property has become highly concentrated, which along with economic restructuring has contributed to transforming Colombia into the most urbanized country in Latin America, and one with the most urban population in the world.
Colombia has five cities that had surpassed the one million people barrier, and its capital city of Bogotá has recently surpassed the ten million mark. It has been transformed into a true megacity with all the advantages and problems that huge urban growth represent.
This is how I think Colombia has something to share with the world: the twenty-first century has been named the century of cities, and as portrayed by the Colombian renaissance of the last decade, our future is an urban future.
After the consolidation of the conflict, the economic recovery came from the cities. Cities are now driving innovation and projecting the new image of Colombia to the world: as examples for good practices in urban planning and sustainability with few resources.
All of this is generating true urban renewal and improvement in quality of life for many people in a country that was considered a failed state just ten years ago.
Cities are the answer, and Colombia is the living example of their role for the future as places in which new types of growth can focus, especially for developing countries, as opportunities for their people blossom.
Do you know any other country that can be “saved” by its cities?
Credits: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes. Data linked to sources.