Saturday, March 5, 2011

Renaissance for Downtown Bogotá

Developers plan to demolish the Hotel Bacata and replace it
with a hotel/office complex that would include Colombia's
tallest building. 
Today's El Tiempo has this quite ugly story about downtown Bogotá's 'Seven Sins': traffic jams, homelessness, prostitutes, street vendors, missing sewer lids, abandoned buildings and garbage.

Prostitutas wait on Carrera 10, two blocks
from the presidential palace.


A common site - a bum rests in a doorway.
All of that's certainly true, and I'd add an eighth problem: street crime, particularly muggings. But I don't see it all as negative. For me, a colorful variety of human activity makes for a much more interesting place than, say, a shopping mall or a bland suburb.

We have lots of street vendors and homeless people in downtown because there's lots of movement and activity here. Go to some antiseptic suburb where nobody walks on the streets, where there are few stores or cultural attractions, and you won't find street vendors or beggars - or much else that's interesting, either. And, certainly, downtown suffers terrible traffic congestion - but that's not our fault. Downtown residents, I'm certain, drive less than many other Bogotanos, but we suffer traffic jams because others come here, or at least pass through here on their way from across town. And, once the TM work is finally finished, getting to downtown will become much easier.
Behind-schedule rapid bus lane work on 26th St, but a nearby TM station is almost completed. Behind it, the planned Colombian-Spanish Cultural Center. 
Work has begun on the Torre Bicentenario, 
near the recently-renovated Hotel Continental, 
both on Jimenez Ave. 
Look around and you'll see that downtown Bogotá is experiencing a rebirth, with more tourism, better infrastructure and lots of commercial investment. On 19th St., developers plan to demolish the venerable but aged Hotel Bacata and replace it with a hotel/office tower complex including Colombia's tallest building. Just a few blocks away, on Jimenez Ave., they've already started work on the Torre Bicentenario, a hotel/shopping complex. The planned tower is to be built across the street from the recently-renovated Hotel Continental, reborn as an apartment building.

The city also plans to expand Independence Park by extending it on a roof over 26th Ave. to the Museum of Modern Art. Planners also intend to turn the nearby Centro Pasteur, which now houses low-life bars, into a cultural center.

This huge gorge which was 26th St. is to be roofed over and turned into green space, greatly expanding Independence Park. 
That'll provide lots more green space and beautify the area, giving value to elegant by neglected buildings like this one just above the National Library.

This building near the National Library looks like it has a grand past, and may yet have a grand future. 
The Spanish Cultural Center - still only a beautiful plan. 
Less than a kilometer up Jimenez Ave. the Spanish government plans a Spanish Cultural Center. But the project hasn't progressed, likely because of Spain's economic collapse. But several nearby private universities, including the Jorge Tadeo and Los Andes U. have recently built large expansions, showing their confidence in downtown's future. And the Universidad Central is restoring the historic Faenza Theatre.

Jorge Tadeo U's almost-completed building.  
And the neighboring La Candelaria neighborhood, the city's historical, cultural and tourism center, has experienced an explosion in tourism since 2000. A decade ago, La Candelaria had one backpackers' hostel, while today it has dozens, and a new one seems to open every month. But La Candelaria has managed to preserve its quirky charm and artsy atmosphere.

The Casa Deco hotel, left, and the Bella Suiza Hostal, right, both in recently renovated buildings. 


Reading the offerings at La Candelaria's Teatro Libre. 
A storyteller entertains the crowd on La Plaza del Chorro, in La Candelaria. Try to find this sort of spontaneous cultural activity anywhere else. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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