I read about Enrique Peñalosa in the book Happy City written by Charles Montgomery ( it’s very good, you should read it). Peñalosa was pictured as one of the central figures in a movement that is changing the structure and soul of cities around the world.
His nickname? The Mayor of Happy.
Despite the sceptism about cities (pollution, climate change problems,…) Peñalosa saw a tremendous opportunity to reinvent urban life and in 1997 he ran for mayor of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia.
Bogotá wasn’t really a city to visit those days. People were poor, traffic was bad and pollution was everywhere. People were not proud of their city and dreamed about the wealth of the United States.
And then Peñalosa spoke:
Most things that people buy in stores give them a lot of statisfaction the moment they buy them. But after a few days, that satisfaction decreases and month later it completely melts away. But great public space is a kind of magical good. It never ceases to yield happiness. It’s almost hapiness itself.
He believed in transformative urbanism, he believed the city could be a device for happiness.
He got elected and immediately decleared war on… private cars.
Instead of investing in highway expansion he used the money for hundred of miles of bike paths, parks and pedestrian plazas, network of libraries, schools and day-care centers. He built the city’s first rapid transit system using buses instead of trains.
In his third year he did an experiment in his city: Día sin carro. Aka, Car Free Day.
On February 24 2000 all private cars were banned from city streets for the day. People hit the streets and walked, cycled, skated through the city. It was the first day in four years that nobody was killed in traffic.
Together with his predecessor Antanas Mockus he made such an impact on the city that they made a movie about it: Bogotá Change.
It is promoted as being:
The story of two charismatic mayors, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa who, with unorthodox methods, in less than 10 years turned one of the world’s most dangerous, violent and corrupt capitals into a peaceful model city populated by caring citizens. Mockus and Peñalosa along with key members of their staff as first hand witnesses, the film uncovers the ideas, philosophies and strategies that underlie the changes in Bogotá and which are now being exported to cities worldwide.
He candidated for a second term but lost. Eventually he was re-elected as mayor of Bogotá in 2015 for the 2016–2019 term.
In april 2016 he was accused of lying about his doctoral and master degree. He refuted the accusation by saying it were typing errors by someone in his team.
Nevertheless Enrique Peñalosa can be considered as a mayor who made his people happy again.
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