About Enrique Peñalosa

2006 L'Enfant Lecturer
November 16, 2006
The Great Hall, Cooper Union, New York City

Enrique Peñalosa is an accomplished public official, economist and administrator who holds a BA in Economics and History from Duke University, a master's in management at the Institut International D'Administration Publique, and a DESS in Public Administration at the University of Paris II in Paris. After serving as the Mayor of Bogota, Colombia (1998-2001), Peñalosa has advised governments on urban issues in several developing world cities and currently is Senior Fellow at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).
As mayor of the capital of Colombia, Peñalosa was the political and administrative head of a city of 6.7 million inhabitants. He led a profound city transformation: from a place with an image of aggression and hopelessness, the city became a city with sense of belonging and belief in a better future.

Central to Peñalosa's vision of urban revitalization and to his notion of "equity" is access for all citizens: access to education, to public places, to jobs and housing, and to the democratic process. In the case of Bogota's poorer residents, access to transportation options was severely constrained by public policies favoring highway investments over mass transit and allowing private car owners to encroach upon sidewalks and other public spaces for parking. Peñalosa redressed this situation by dramatically reordering the city's priorities: creating a highly efficient bus rapid transit system, restricting cars during peak hours, and developing a 340-kilometer long bicycle network.

Of equal importance was providing citizens with places simply to stroll in safety, to encounter the beauty of nature, and to congregate. Peñalosa created new pedestrian streets throughout the city and built or upgraded hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks and over 1,100 parks. At the same time, he built 52 schools in the poorest neighborhoods and created a network of libraries, including three major new facilities and 11 branches.


As mayor, Peñalosa:

  • Led a massive effort to improve Bogota's marginal neighborhoods' conditions by legalizing them, giving public services, nurseries, schools, parks, among other public works and activities with high citizen involvement.
  • Promoted small projects proposed by the community and contracted more than 500 of them. He also structured a similar system for cultural activities for the youth and elderly.
  • Created a successful Urban Land Reform institution, called Metrovivienda. This entity, working as a land bank, builds housing for the poor in a public-private partnership system with high quality urbanism.
  • Created a new highly successful bus-based transit system modeled from Curiba's BRT, based on exclusive corridors and high capacity buses, called TransMilenio, which is now the international model.
  • Initiated the construction of bicycle paths in Bogota and left more than 250 kilometers built or under construction. The number of bicycle riders increased from 0.3 percent in 1998 to 4.4 percent in 2003. Today is the longest bike path network in the developing world with more than 300 kilometers.
  • Spearheaded large improvements to the city center including the recuperation of plazas, creation of a 20-hectare park, two blocks from the Presidential Palace, that imply de acquisition and demolition of 600 properties in an area previously totally taken over by crime and drugs. Turned one of the main downtown avenues under severe deterioration into a beautiful and dynamic pedestrian avenue.
  • Built more than a hundred nurseries for children under 5 and assured resources for their operation.
  • Increased children enrolment in public schools by more than 200,000, a 34 percent increase; did major improvements to more than 150 school buildings and built 51 new schools, 27 totally rebuilt and 24 that started from the land acquisition. With a very innovative scheme, turned 24 very poor neighborhood new schools' administration to some of the best private schools in the country.
  • Put in place a network of 14,000 computers in all public schools connected to Internet and a network of 3 large new libraries and several smaller ones that were built.
  • Planted more than 100,000 trees.
  • Built or rebuilt more than 1,100 parks
  • Gave an enormous battle to take cars off the sidewalks, where they had been for decades and nobody had even questioned this practice; he eliminated thousands of illegal parking bays and built several hundreds high quality sidewalks.
  • Created and built the two most important urban lineal parks in the developing world, the Juan Amarillo Greenway, a 45-kilometer long park that implied formidable decontamination efforts and the recuperation of several wetlands. The Alameda El Porvenir, a 17-kilometer long pedestrian avenue through the poorest neighborhoods in Bogota.
  • Created and built three big libraries and 11 small ones, also left land and designs for a fourth one. The big libraries are located in the middle of beautiful public spaces with pedestrian and bike path networks reaching more citizens. More than 70,000 people visit the libraries every week.
  • Promoted a city model that progressively restricts private car use, especially during peak hours. He established a system called "Pico & Placa," in which 40 percent of private cars cannot circulate during 4 peak hours every weekday; organized the first Bogota Car Free Day and held a referendum, in which people adopted a yearly car free day; Bogotanos also voted in favor to a proposal banning car use during rush hours, from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. by the year 2015; however this question did not achieve the minimum percentage of votes required to be valid.

A New Model

The residents of Bogota responded enthusiastically to this rebalancing of the city's priorities, as have audiences Peñalosa has addressed around the world since leaving office. Based on his experience as mayor, he advocates for a different model of urban planning and development than that imported from industrialized to developing countries. The critical difference is the way progress is defined, as he explained at the World Urban Forum in Vancouver earlier this year:

If you base progress on per capita income, then the developing world will not catch up with rich countries for the next three or four hundred years. The difference between our incomes is growing all the time. So we can't define our progress in terms of income, because that will guarantee our failure. We need to find another measure of success.

For Peñalosa the best measure of success is the happiness of urban residents, derived in large part from their feeling of being included in the process and provided access to education, economic opportunities, affordable housing, transportation, and public amenities. As he discovered in Bogota, quality of urban life is an important means to achieving a more socially and environmentally sustainable city, one in which citizens benefit from health, happiness, and a greater optimism about the future.

Praise for Bogota

In the year 2000, the City of Bogota was awarded the National Colombian Architecture Prize by the Colombian Architects Association for the park development program, created and developed under Peñalosa's administration. In 2002, 14 projects of Peñalosa's administration from libraries, parks, schools to pedestrian streets received special mentions and the 17-kilometer long pedestrian avenue "Alameda El Porvenir" received the award to the best urban project. The city received the prestigious Stockholm Challenge Award in 2000 for the Car Free Day organized and promoted during Peñalosa's administration; the city received the same prize in 2001 for the Bus Rapid Transit system, TransMilenio, also created and implemented under his administration. In 2002 the libraries network created and built by Peñalosa received the annual prize from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and US$ 1 million.

Speaking and consulting around the world

Since serving as Bogota's mayor, Peñalosa has spoken on his approach to urban revitalization at international conferences and major universities around the world. He has also advised national and local governments on urban issues in Central and South America, Africa, India, China, and Southeast Asia. Among the specific cities where he has done consulting work are Mexico City; San Juan in Puerto Rico; Panama City; Lima in Peru; Santiago, Chile; Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil; Guangzhou and Hong Kong in China; Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Surabaya in Indonesia; Hanoi in Vietnam; New Delhi in India; Dakar, Senegal; Cape Town and Pretoria in South Africa and Accra, Ghana.

Among his many speaking engagements, Peñalosa has been the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the Mexican Chamber of Construction Industry in Aguascalientes, Mexico, the Biannual Architecture conference in Panama City, the annual conference of the International Union of Public Transport, and the National Public Transport Association of Brazil. The University of the United Nations invited Peñalosa to speak in Tokyo, Japan. He has also spoken at the 6th International Conference on Urban Renewal in Vitoria, Spain, and to Chinese mayors at a forum in Shanghai sponsored by The Energy Foundation.

The German Development Cooperation Agency, GTZ, also invited him to speak before government officials and the correspondents club in Bangkok, Thailand, and at a conference on Cities, Citizens and Environment for its project directors from all over the world. Peñalosa has also spoken to Parsons Brinckerhoff's worldwide senior executives, to urban experts in Amsterdam and Utrecht, and to organizations as diverse as the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, United Nations, Shell Foundation, Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and World Resources Institute.

Previous positions, honors, and publications

Peñalosa's previous positions include: Visiting Scholar at New York University, Colombia Director of Arthur D. Little Consulting;President, Colombian Institute of Mortgage Banks (ICAV); Economic Secretary to the Colombian President; Dean of the Business Administration School at Externado de Colombia University; Commercial and Administrative Vice-president of the Bogota Water and Sewage Company, Director of the Planning Department of the State of Cundinamarca; Researcher at the National Association of Financial Institutions; among others. He was elected to the House of the Representatives of the Colombian Congress and to the Bogota City Council.

Peñalosa has received the following honors: Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada Prize, highest recognition from the Bogota's City Improvement Society the Eisenhower Fellowship, National Simon Bolivar Prize for Journalism; Prize of the Society of Economists of Bogota and Cundinamarca; selected in 1986 as one of the Best Young Colombian Leaders by the Junior Chamber and was awarded a full Scholarship at Duke University.

Peñalosa has published numerous articles in newspapers and magazines as well as two books: Capitalism: The Best Option and Democracy and Capitalism: Challenges of the Coming Century. A book of a long interview with him by Angel Becassino was also published under the title: Peñalosa and a City 2,600 meters closer to the stars.

More information may be found at: www.porelpaisquequeremos.com.