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'Democracy is not just people voting': Former Bogotá mayor and Duke alum talks urban planning, time in office

<p>In a virtual talk hosted by Duke’s Latin American Student Organization, Enrique Peñalosa, Trinity ‘77 and former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, discussed his work as the mayor of Bogotá, his views on democracy and his time as an undergraduate at Duke.&nbsp;</p>

In a virtual talk hosted by Duke’s Latin American Student Organization, Enrique Peñalosa, Trinity ‘77 and former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, discussed his work as the mayor of Bogotá, his views on democracy and his time as an undergraduate at Duke. 

Students heard about urban planning and democracy from Duke graduate with decades of experience at a Wednesday event.

In a virtual talk hosted by Duke’s Latin American Student Organization, Enrique Peñalosa, Trinity ‘77 and former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, discussed his work as the mayor of Bogotá, his views on democracy and his time as an undergraduate at Duke. Peñalosa is known for his urban planning efforts, which have been recognized and used as a model worldwide.

"I was obsessed with creating more equality and more economic development for my country," Peñalosa said. "Every course I took at Duke, every article I read, I was thinking, how can this be useful in my country?"

Peñalosa discussed his efforts to improve the city of Bogotá during his time as mayor. He was first elected mayor in 1997, he said, and was focused particularly on city planning projects and developing the District’s system of Parks, which included an extensive network of bike paths. 

"City planning can be very powerful in creating equality,” Peñalosa said.

In December 2000, Peñalosa oversaw the development and construction of Bogotá's first rapid transit line, the TransMilenio.

"We came up with a bus system that would function on exclusive lanes called the TransMilenio," Peñalosa said. "This system is currently moving more passengers per kilometer than all subways in the world and it costs 10 to 15 times less than a metro.”

Peñalosa was elected for a second term as mayor in 2015 and helped develop the TransMilenio further. This system now spans 114 kilometers and transports almost 2 million people per day, Peñalosa said. 

Peñalosa explained that his ideologies of equality are what fosters initiatives such as the TransMilenio. 

"If all people are equal, then a bus with 100 passengers has the right to 100 times more road space than a car with one," Peñalosa said.

This idea of equality also extends to his explanation of democracy.

"Democracy is not just people voting. Democracy is when the constitution is obeyed, and the most important thing about democracy is that all people are equal before the law," Peñalosa said.

He further discussed what he looks for when choosing his administrative team. "I think it’s important to get well-qualified people," he said. "But I also like people who are not cynical. I prefer an idealist who is sometimes a little bit naïve than a very sophisticated cynic." 

Finally, Peñalosa explained that he is always searching for people who will enjoy their colleagues’ success.

"Politics are very difficult, but the successes are what makes me happy," Peñalosa said. "When I see someone on a bikeway, now that we have more than a million bikes riding a day, he is the product of my dreams, he is doing what I dreamt for society. When I see the TransMilenio zooming by the expensive cars stuck in traffic, I feel like I did something. When I see the more than 1000 parks we made are full of people, it’s worth it."

This event is the first episode of a Latinx Speaker Series hosted by LASO. The question and answer session was run by the organization's president, Faiz Sikaffy, a senior.

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