Friday, July 31, 2009

The picture in Bogota

I've been in Bogota for a week for a family funeral. I thought I'd write a couple notes on my observations.

Bogota is large city of about 7 or 8 million people. It has had some recent progressive Mayor's who have tried to deal with 'urban' problems. Mass transit here has been lagging and is mostly diesel spewing buses, with tons of vehicles. Because Bogota is high in the mountains (8600 feet) and surrounded by peaks, the pollution can tend to settle in the area. The car problem has become so great that now you can only drive on certain days, depending on what the last number of your license plate is.

The city has installed bike lanes in many parts of town, usually in the median strips or protected by Jersey barrier type objects. They have started high speed buses down the middle of the highways, with high platforms (handicapped accessible) to help keep turnover times down. They also close off many parts of the street systems on Sunday so that people can walk, roller blade and bicycle around town. These appear to be very popular.

The Bogota river is nastily polluted. About 50 miles from the city where we crossed over a bridge you could smell a strong sulphur like smell, the river was grey, the boulders in and out of the river were covered with a slime, and toxic foam abounded in the eddies. A true disaster, which makes one appreciate the clean air and water act in America.

The economy is clearly doing much better than the US, the currency is strong against the dollar and construction is going on all over the City. There are high end malls and restaurants, clean parks, and lively streetscapes. The banks here did not get caught up in the subprime mess so they are in decent shape.

It is clear that education and access are the keys to success here as much as anywhere. All of Clara's family members and acquaintances are bi-lingual if not more, with many having been schooled or even live part time in the States. I often feel like a fool trying to communicate in my basic spanish, especially when they just cut me off and answer in english. There was a framed picture of one of her aunt's on the cover of the Boston Herald American from sometime in the early 70's about an international conference.

Life goes on, people here wish the US economy would do better because it is good for exports but there are other countries and other markets. They are concerned about Chavez and internal safety, but all agree the country has made great strides in the last decade.

I highly recommend a visit. The countryside is beautiful with all sorts of diversity, both animal and vegetable. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, what isn't there to like?

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