In a few days time I'll be touching down in Bogota, Colombia, to start two and a half weeks of Open Streets boot camp; Ciclovía-style. We all know the story by now; that in this Colombian capital, over 100kms of streets become a car-free open streets network every Sunday and public holiday. It has been running for over forty years, and up to 30% of the city's population uses the Ciclovía to exercise and move around with their families (see a short video clip here). By investing in this recreational programme, the government saves money on their public health spending, and all bogotanos are able to take part in the free activity.
Our own Open Streets programme here in Cape Town is just three years old, and still very much in its infancy compared to Bogota's Ciclovía. We are, however, going from strength to strength and this opportunity to go to Colombia is a testament to the success we have achieved.
The objective of this research trip (made possible by the generous support of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust) is to gather knowledge and ideas for how we can scale up our programme here. The information brought back will be fed straight to the City of Cape Town-mandated task team that is working to develop the Open Streets Days model. It is exciting to see the level of support we are getting from local government, and we look forward to working with this team further. It is important to note that we do not intend to copy-paste the Colombian model here, but rather identify some areas that we could try and adapt for our context (not to say that we have completely ruled out a Ciclovía-style Open Streets!). It is already clear, when looking at the global network of over 400 Open Streets programmes, that South African communities have a unique way of bringing streets to life and responding to the opportunity the platform creates.
Finally, rather than being a first time adventure for me into Colombia, this trip will be a long-awaited reunion with a place that is deep in my heart. Eight years ago I spent a few months in Bogota teaching English, and completely fell in love with the city, cultures and radically different way of experiencing streets. The only time I had ever seen such a large-scale network of car-free streets was during the Argus Cycle Tour; but unlike the annual special event in Cape Town, this Bogota streets takeover happened on a weekly basis all year round! There is definitely some poetry in how I've ended up being part of a movement that is bringing me back to my initial discovery of the magic of people coming together to reclaim the streets and public spaces that belong to them.
My next update, from Colombia, will be coming fresh off the back of this Sunday's Ciclovía. Until then!