If Bogota is to improve and grow we citizens need more power to get involved and shape our city. I wanted to tell the story of my local community to show how, if we remain disenfranchised, Bogota will not develop in a way that benefits us all. They say all politics is local, but in Bogota we have very little voice.
The block where I live used to be part of a very nice residential neighborhood, very calm and quiet. But with time, the neighborhood has changed, many families have left, many people have died and many houses were sold or rented up for commercial use.
All of a sudden, someone decided to build a chicken restaurant, like those so popular around the city right there at the end of the block, attracting more traffic than the streets were built for. The neighbors didn’t like it, especially because the building permit said the place would be a kindergarten. Maybe during the construction the owners changed their mind and decided to put up a chicken restaurant and then the authorities didn’t check or didn’t care. Maybe the fact that the restaurant built a playground for children, led the city curator to believe it would be all right to approve the construction. Who knows.
So, anyway, we didn’t like it, but there wasn’t much we could do about it.
There used to be only one church, Catholic, right in front of a very nice park and all the parishioners used to go in those days when Colombia was overwhelmingly Catholic and so was the city.
Now, as diverse as the use of the land has become, there are a diversity of churches, how wonderful. The problem came with one of those churches which attract hoards of people who simply come and park their cars in our blocks, making it literally impossible to come in or out of our houses. The same eager pilgrims have contributed generously to the up keeping and proliferation of their faith in such a way that they’ve been able to buy entire houses, demolished them and built ample temples, but not contemplating parking. The curator doesn’t care, I guess he doesn’t live around here and it is not his job to consider the traffic issues such constructions would generate.
So, back with the parking issue; we began getting angry, calling the authorities who hardly ever came. Then, we sent letters to other authorities in hopes they would answer our claims; we also became angry and hostile to the crowds because we felt invaded, abused and we simply lost our peace of mind, so I must admit we were not nice. I remember counting 16 minutes to reach my house just from the corner of the block after a hard day of work.
One fine day, some No-Parking signs were posted, and we were pleased because people stopped parking for a while. The men, who used to be our guards for a monthly fee, became the guards of the pilgrims and started to turn into our enemies because we affected the income they derived from the tips of the tens and tens of cars that would make of our streets their parking lots.
But, because the police never came to insure the signs were obeyed, the signs simply turned into jokes: we, the residents, didn’t have the right to park in front of our own homes, abiding the law and afraid of being fined, but the pilgrims slowly decided to come back encouraged by the guards.
Today, as I left the house to go to mass, I saw with disdain, hopelessness and anger, how my house entrance was being blocked again. I went to church, ask God to forgive me for having had ugly thoughts about the owners of those cars and asked the Holy Spirit to enlighten our path to an institutional solution, a civilized way of resolving the issue.
A bit later, as I was finishing breakfast, a tow truck came and towed away the two cars in front of the house. In awe, we came out and clapped, and were relieved to see that the owners of the rest of the cars had come quickly to avoid being towed.
For a moment then, we felt that we lived in a city where the citizens are heard, where the authorities cared. But it was just for a moment because after a few hours, the streets were cramped again.
It’s just sad that we are not organized like other countries where you get privileges for being a resident. When you get your license plate, you pay a relatively insignificant fee that gives you access to a sticker that says you have the priority for parking there, in front of your house.
It’s sad to see that there are bays all along Carrera 15th, but they are only for the handicapped. How the police know that a person is or not handicapped, beats me because street vendors sell handicapped signs in any corner, without any restriction. So, how many people who are handicapped use those bays, no one can tell. But if you go to the bank to get money, or happen to run an errand, you can’t park there. I miss the signs in cities abroad, where they regulate the hours of parking, or where there are meters that allow street parking for a relatively low fee.
No, in Bogota you have to pay expensive parking, you have to pay “valorización” taxes, but you do not have any privileges for your contributions, you do not get to enjoy any of the supposed benefits that the supposed public works will supposedly bring you. No, they go to benefit corrupt politicians and contractors who are now in jail, but have not been asked to return a single penny of what they stole from the citizens who pay taxes in good faith.
It’s a shame, really, because there was a time when Bogota was the best kept secret, we had excellent restaurants at reasonable prices, we had nice houses to go to at the end of the day and we had mayors that cared about educating us to be better citizens.
Those days are gone. Undeniably, the city is more diverse now, there are many cultural events, people are more open, less uptight, and it is due to the influence from abroad. But those foreigners with their yuans, dollars and euros, have also paved the road to abusive prices in restaurants and real estate, and no one seems to say anything, to do anything about it. We, passive citizens of Bogota simply go it along, losing quality of life, paying a very high price for the modernization, for the change of the city, its supposed growth to become a cosmopolitan metropolis.
Wouldn’t it be nice to welcome all, to open up even more, but with a clear vision of what we want to be as a city, as the capital district of Colombia. I hope in the next elections of city authorities, we the citizens, think twice before we decide not to vote, I hope we, the citizens, think clearly on who we decide to vote for and they, the politicians, decide to leave aside selfish pretensions and come up with candidates that are up for the challenge of running a city that has proven it can be a wonderful place to live because it once was, if only for a short while, and just a bit too long ago.