Tag Archives: Bogotá

Collective efforts are needed to tackle environmental conflicts and socio-​ecological inequalities in spatial planning in Bogotá

An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.
An ecologically restored urban wetland by a collective effort in Bogotá. Photo: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz.

In his doctoral dissertationM.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz argues that the environmental conflicts related to spatial planning and urbanization open opportunities to create more just spaces to rethink planning as a collective political task aiming for more democratic practices, and not only as of the duty of planners. By analyzing the environmental conflict cases such as profit-driven urbanization over protected areas, quarrying activities, or the impact of landfills in urban-rural areas over the last three decades in Bogotá, Colombia, the dissertation analyzes spatial planning practices embedded in Bogotá’s socio-ecological inequalities. The public examination of Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation will take place on Friday, 12 March 2021, at 12 noon and will be live streamed. The public examination will be in English.

Quimbayo Ruiz’s prompts on his previous experience as a practitioner and activist, to document environmental conflicts related to spatial planning in Bogotá. Through interviews, participant observation, content analysis of documents, and relying upon ecological and social science traditions, Quimbayo Ruiz’s research found that in recent decades there have been conflicting visions around urban nature in Bogotá, which together have triggered socio-ecological inequalities and new possibilities for urban politics to overcome them. Moreover, Quimbayo Ruiz argues that environmental conflicts do not correspond to a ‘lack’ or ‘absence’ of planning. Instead, they correspond to the consolidation of a city model that deepens segregation and inequality and is promoted by sectors of political and economic power. Nevertheless, this research also shows that political practices in planning processes around nature are constantly shaped, disputed, and negotiated along with social and non-human actors. Such practices have been mobilized through knowledge in ecology and law by (multiclass) social organizations and various citizen sectors that have flourished from the 1990s to the present, coinciding with the positioning of environmental imperatives on the neoliberal urban agenda.

‘Environmental conflict’ as a territorial process and not as an outcome

In this research, the key question is understanding the dialectic between conflicts and spatial planning. Quimbayo Ruiz’s dissertation shows that the idea of nature in Bogotá’s planning consists of a diversity of narratives, practices, and local governance techniques, where there is a complex interplay of both social and non-human actors. Such an interplay is territorial and framed in a volatile and fragile democratic setting simultaneously placed at one of the most biodiverse metropolitan regions globally. The often negative notion of ‘conflict’ is key to understand this case, and it should be re-casted in a more positive light to find productive ways to address environmental issues and inequalities. A conception of planning that transcends the dualisms of state and society and instead, immersed in conflicting visions of nature, may afford new opportunities to understand the democratic practices fostering just urban ecologies. The mobilization of urban nature advocacy in Bogotá through individual and collective political mobilization, driven by continuous learning and reform, has always addressed the question of who urban space should be for. Planning practices are unavoidably political and embedded in conflicting values and dissent around nature.

Socio-​ecological inequalities should be addressed to achieve just urban ecological transitions

The current land-use and planning tools in Bogotá (and elsewhere) urgently need to address urbanization without traditional politico-administrative boundaries of zoning polygons, or which perpetuate nature-society dichotomies. This dissertation demonstrates how urban and spatial planning processes are a source of environmental conflict, and how are related to several socio-ecological inequalities as such. One of the study’s recommendations is the further analysis of the kinds of social exclusion and constitutive ecological effects produced by environmental conflicts and dispossessions. Consideration of such exclusions is key for assessing territorial vulnerabilities to climate change, as well as cultural valuations of nature for climate change adaptation, but such a consideration remains scarcely documented in research on urbanization. The Bogotá case can therefore also shed light on concerns around urban nature and spatial planning elsewhere.

The doctoral dissertation of M.Sc. Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz, entitled Reterritorializing conflicting urban natures: socio-ecological inequalities and the politics of spatial planning in Bogotá, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The Opponent in the public examination will be University Researcher, Docent, Florencia Quesada Avendaño of the University of Helsinki and the Custos will be University Lecturer Juha Kotilainen of the University of Eastern Finland.

Dissertation online

When urban and ecological injustices meet pandemic: The Covid19 in urbanized Colombia

By Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz

Amidst the covid19 pandemic, in the busy Latin American metropolises like México City, São Paulo, Santiago, Lima or Bogotá, the public has not been exempted to comment on social media about the pandemic’s “unintended” effects and “return of nature” to cities, or the sudden improvement in air quality due to the forced halt caused by the general lockdown in urban centers. Yet, nature has always been there, especially in Bogotá, the capital of a “megadiverse” country. According to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Colombia is listed as one of the world’s “megadiverse” countries, hosting close to 10% of the planet’s biodiversity, but this exceptional biodiversity context is mutually intertwined with a volatile socio-political setting.

While I am writing this text, there are more than 3,100 confirmed cases of covid19 in Colombia, almost 1,300 of them in Bogotá. The last week state forces deployed excessive repression against several populations in the poorest neighborhoods in the south of the District (in particular the area of Ciudad Bolívar), who desperately rejected the local lockdown measures set since the last month, and went to the streets to protest and perform “cacerolazos” due to the lack of humanitarian aid promised by the state amid the covid19 situation. 

The lockdown and quarantine measures are not an option for people who work in precarious jobs or make a living on a daily basis. It is common to hear people claiming that they are going to die first for hunger than for the coronavirus. Although in Bogotá the coverage of drinking water supply is close to 100%, and the authorities have granted full access to the most vulnerable sectors of the population, this is not enough. Stay at home for these populations is not a safe option, because the housing conditions are precarious, full of resource shortcomings, and often the shelter is the center of domestic and gender-based violence. It became common to see in Bogotá and several other Colombian cities and towns red flags hanging in places where vulnerable people live desperate claiming for aid. Acts of xenophobia towards vulnerable migrants from Venezuela are increasing. Many of these migrants are in tension for the reception of state aid with the rest of the marginalized people like homeless, street dwellers, or even transgender sex workers who also suffer from stigmatization and are often targets of police brutality.  

20 red flags and rags (trapos rojos) hanging in windows in a building at Plaza de la Hoja, Bogotá, Colombia. April 2020. Photo courtesy: Camilo Rozo.

How all this dramatic scenario amidst the coronavirus pandemic is related to urban environmental injustices? Most of these populations in Bogotá are the most exposed to the worst environmental injustices in the city-region, living in areas where the effective access of green public spaces is lacking; and particularly in areas like Ciudad Bolívar, the environmental conditions of neighborhoods and settlements are extremely impoverished due to the allocation of extractive activities for building materials or waste dumps and land-fills (the most extreme case is the metropolitan landfill “Doña Juana”). Prior to the coronavirus emergency, several communities in urban Colombia were living already in a state of environmental emergency and have lived under conditions of restricted mobility and forced confinement.

The state repression against vulnerable communities in Bogotá happens when Mayor, Claudia López, has been praised by some sectors of the public opinion as a national leader during the covid19 emergency, above of President Iván Duque. In fact, in Colombia, a sort of leadership has been taken by local and regional governments to tackle the covid19. López even put the city under an obligatory quarantine drill last month, before the nationwide measures were enforced, besides some arguable measures such as restricting outings by gender during the quarantine (pico y género). Despite measures enforced by the Mayor, the state capacity within a context of historic and deep inequality is not yet the fastest to cope with the current situation.

Although the national government has reacted way better compared with countries such as Brazil or Chile, since the beginning the government has taken several bad decisions. Besides a “Trumpian” approach to favor privileged sectors of the national economy, among the decisions there was a serious issue regarding an app for humanitarian aid that ended up deviating money to ghost bank accounts. Likewise, some emergency measures have had to drawback in their enforcement such as forcing all health-care personnel in the front lines to provide services without full guarantee to exercise their essential jobs.

Since the last fall, workers, students, environmentalists, women, feminist and LGBTQ movements, peasants, and Afro Colombians, were mobilizing in biggest protests the country has ever seen in more than 40 years against multiple injustices and accumulated grievances of a long political and armed conflict, systemic corruption, and the lack of the implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. However, the covid19 situation has put a harsh break on this springing of democratic uplifting. Moreover, during the pandemic, the genocide against social and environmental activists continues, and some measures taken by the covid19 emergency are facing the resurgence of state and criminal violence (often intertwined with drug trafficking and paramilitarism), reinforcing the paths of violence and impunity in both rural and urban settings. As scholars Diana Ojeda and Lina Pinto García recently pointed out, the current situation in Colombia is legitimizing the (para)militarization and warfare state of the everyday life in the name of hygienic and public health and contrary to promote a more solidarity path of democracy and social justice.

Unlike a common belief that the war and conflict have only been set in the countryside, urbanized areas, especially in marginalized places, have also been taking part in this warfare state even in very subtle ways. Although Bogotá has great potential in urban nature reflected in a local system of protected areas, many of them have encountered multiple institutional difficulties to guarantee a good state of conservation and enjoyment by citizens. One of the most vulnerable sectors of the population are homeless and street dwellers, who usually end up making spaces like creeks, hills and wetlands their home in the absence of housing. However, instead of being cared for by the state, they are usually stigmatized and harassed in the name of keeping things “in order”. And when the aid from the state comes, it is not enough.

Many of the urban environmental injustices in the context of the pandemic in cities like Bogotá are worsening and it is not very clear what collateral effects will be unleashed. This is a huge challenge to rethinking spatial and urban planning practices in Latin America and elsewhere.  Environmental conflicts are not the result of a cause-consequence effect, but the product of a long process of environmental injustices, which in the framework of a pandemic are just reinforced.

Bio: Germán A. Quimbayo Ruiz is a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in environmental policy from the Department of Geographical and Historical Studies at the University of Eastern Finland, Finland. His research interests are focused on the political ecology of urbanization and urban environmental history.