USING CULTURAL POLICY TO DEVELOP EMPOWERING MODELS OF CITIZENSHIP
The City of Bogotá recognises that it needs to develop cultural policy which includes and engages its citizens, to continue the post-conflict transformation of the city. It seeks to embed positive, non-violent social relations and create a society where diversity is respected, as well as preserving the environment. These ambitions have been recognised as important in Bogotá’s public administration for the past two decades, but have now been developed more strategically. Citizenship Culture is one of the three strands of the Metropolitan Development Programme, ‘A Better Bogotá for All’.
Citizenship Culture is a long term policy through to 2038, with a series of action plans, financial scenarios and discussions of how citizens and institutions can participate. Benchmarking is provided by the creation of a Citizenship Cultural Index, which will monitor the outcomes of this 20 year policy. The policy also has its own department: the Citizenship Culture Directorate within the City’s Culture, Recreation and Sport Secretariat. Additionally, there are offices and staff addressing cultural policy in departments ranging from national security to animal welfare, rubbish management and health. Finally, there is a strong component of consultation and participation: Bogotá has designed and launched a City Portfolio to Promote Citizenship Culture. This invites city inhabitants to use their creativity not just to embed arts into the city, but to improve their local living conditions and transform the factors which are limiting their personal development. Residents can for instance present initiatives and projects to change their local cultural contexts, covering issues such as cultural diversity, ways of solving conflicts, social relations in and around public spaces (including parks, transport and monuments), as well as environmental sustainability.
Through this policy, there have been a number of projects focusing on democratising cultural provision. These include Films for Bogotá, which offers films in parks in less affluent areas of the city during summer months, and ‘Bogotá in 100 words’, a short story competition inviting all citizens to capture the essence of the city. There are also plans to pedestrianise Seventh Avenue, running down from the Presidential Palace, reclaiming an iconic area of the city as a civic space. All of these encourage a shared vision of the city and shared enjoyment of public space. Funding this work has required securing public and private funds. For example, a tax on all tickets over $35 for arts performances has raised $11.6 million for the City in the past six years, which has been reinvested in the civic cultural infrastructure.
This policy is a very broad one, engaging the City administration, businesses, private bodies and citizens themselves. In a world where political cycles often restrict planning to five or ten year periods, Bogotá has been remarkable in planning for the long term and embedding evaluation tools that will allow its plans to be assessed over time.
BRONX CREATIVE DISTRICT
REGENERATING AN AREA ASSOCIATED WITH CRIME AS A CREATIVE INDUSTRIES HUB
For many years Bronx Street, in the centre of Bogotá, was mostly known as an area of crime and drugs. In May 2016 there was a major intervention to remove these activities, which left the City with the challenge of repurposing the space for a positive and dynamic use. The City decided to develop the Bronx Creative District, turning one of the most run-down areas in Colombia into a symbol of new opportunities.
The City is investing more than $225 million in the urban redevelopment of the area, including the former Bronx Street and the old Recruitment Battalion, an imposing historic building of national significance, which will be the centrepiece of the district. Together, these cover 3.92 hectares in the centre of town, which will be renovated by the Renewal and Urban Development Company of Bogotá. The City has an extensive list of creative industries it wishes to encourage in the area, from audiovisual production to design, music, architecture, and rehearsal rooms for performing arts. These will sit side by side with food outlets, distilleries and breweries, bookstores and places to live, creating a rounded neighbourhood infrastructure. It also hopes to encourage Fab Labs for design, robotics and computer programming alongside arts venues. The idea behind this diversity is that together these creative businesses will find synergies and create a ‘cluster effect’, bringing together a variety of creative talent. Two outdoor public spaces, the Plaza España and Parque Tercer Milenio, allow for larger format events to showcase the creativity of the district.
To date, there have been 14 cultural events, attracting 10,000 people and receiving extensive press coverage. Mayor Enrique Peñalosa is also seeking to develop an educational programme in the area, focused on creative industries and offering spaces where a new generation of Bogotá’s young people can meet. These include a new National Vocational Training Centre headquarters with 32 technological training programmes and short courses expected to reach 10,000 young people each year.
This is a major social and cultural intervention for the City and is the first planned creative district in Colombia. The centre of Bogotá is where the city’s economic, residential, institutional, cultural and educational activities converge – and it will now be enhanced by this creative district.
READING IS FLYING
ENCOURAGING READING AND LITERACY TO CREATE A MORE EMPOWERED CITIZEN BODY
Reading can be a source of positive social transformation: those who read are more likely to engage in political culture, respect difference and contribute to a trusting society that helps everyone to co-exist in peace. However, many people in Bogotá are disengaged from this resource: in 2017, 40% of the Bogotá population did not read a single book and only 37% of the population over the age of 12 visited a library. This deficit is reinforced by the fact that Bogotá only has 23 public libraries, or 1.8 libraries per 100 square kilometres – considerably less than most world cities. Therefore, the City of Bogotá has created a Reading Plan, known as ‘Reading is Flying’, to encourage reading by making it more accessible and affordable.
Reading spaces are being inserted across the city in places people pass through in their everyday lives. There are minilibraries in stations on the extensive transport network, schemes to provide books in nursery schools, reading places in public squares and furniture set out in parks with accompanying reading matter. There is also the ‘Libro al Viento’ (‘Book in the Wind’) programme, which publishes short literary texts which are offered for free in public spaces.
Public libraries are at the centre of the strategy, and a special effort has been made to strengthen and modernise the entire system, which includes the city’s public, school and community libraries. There has been work to extend library catalogues with physical and digital books, and to share collections more widely between different library networks. Programmes have been developed to reach more communities beyond the city centre, including ‘City and Rural Readers’ and ‘Library Families’. Young people and families are trained to promote reading and writing in their communities, supported by travelling suitcases of books from the nearest library.
The Reading Plan was developed with leadership from the Secretariat of Culture, Recreation and Sport and the District Secretariat of Education after a consultation process with stakeholders ranging from libraries, publishers, academics and booksellers, to experts in reading, writing and digital culture. The programme particularly targets young people up to the age of 17, rural populations and those who struggle with literacy.
Through this work, the City aims to make sure all children are literate by the age of eight, and to encourage a culture where the young read and write for pleasure. Ultimately, the City sees a broader reading culture as a route to greater equality and more informed political participation, as citizens gain access to knowledge alongside more opportunities to create and participate. This contributes to the City’s wider ambition to construct a society which is socially rich, inclusive and embraces peace.