Over the last decade, Colombia has been a touchstone of what good design and enlightened politics can do for cities. If Barcelona was the urban exemplar of the 1990s, urbanists these days are more likely to mention Colombia’s capital, Bogotá, and its second city, Medellín. In both cities, a succession of dynamic mayors has used transport infrastructure and new public buildings as tools of social change. But this tale of two cities doesn’t come with two happy endings.
Their achievements have even been celebrated in more than one documentary. But this success story has gone awry. Today, the Transmilenio is so overcrowded even the passengers go on strike (arguably a victim of its own success); there are so many road projects underway that traffic has come to a standstill; and the last mayor, Samuel Moreno, awaits trial for corruption. “Eight years ago you believed in this city, now it’s in crisis,” says Giancarlo Mazzanti, Colombia’s most renowned architect.