In a recent interview with Enrique PeÃ±alosa — the former mayor of BogotÃ¡, Colombia, and champion of enlightened urban design — reporter Deborah Solomon elicits the insight that sidewalks are a critical design element for democracy. (New York Times Magazine, June 8, 2008) As mayor of BogotÃ¡, PeÃ±alosa famously banned parking on sidewalks as part of a larger effort to revive human-scale city life. The idea proved controversial in many quarters, especially among those committed to a car culture.
PeÃ±alosa explains his urban design philosophy: “In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality….. The 20th century was a horrible detour in the evolution of the human habitat. We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness….”
He continued: “The upper-income people in developing countries never walk. They see the city as a threatening space, and they can go for months without walking one block. There are many suburbs where there are no sidewalks, which is a very bad sign of a lack of respect for human dignity. People don’t even question it. It’s the same as it was in pre-revolutionary France. People thought society was normal, just as today people think it is normal that the Long Island Sound waterfront should be private.” For more on PeÃ±alosa, see the Project for Public Spaces and Wikipedia.