“The spaceships” is such an awesome and at the same time hilarious name for a modest midrise building in a middle class neighborhood of a city somewhere in South America. It must have been the spirit of the times. Of course, by then, “Flight of the Navigator”, “E.T.” and “Close Encounters of the third kind” had probably made it to Colombia in their mexican or spanish thick-accented dubbed versions. It still strikes me how audacious and playful can a local developer be in the eighties to give a sci-fi inspired name to a building; as if he were contributing his piece of built work to the now (back then) consolidated imaginary of such polished fictions of futuristic progress. Nevertheless, the spaceships had landed in some existing natural environment that had inspired the city planners of the sixties or seventies earlier in history to name it accordingly. “Bay Trees” (in Spanish, Laureles) was the name of the neighborhood in Medellin, Colombia where I grew up. It had a shaded and slightly sloped park, surrounded by single family homes and some midrise buildings. Around thirty years later, imagining spaceships landing in a forest of bay trees is somehow not far from what I see in the renderings of Lanscape Urbanism and Parametric architecture, all related to what I am studying at the moment, Urban Design.
Yearning for a countryside living can be a legitimate desire for all sorts of city dwellers in Colombian cities. It is more than understandable to think about a nicer place if you can afford it, taking into consideration that “nicer” has to do with how we relate to nature and a subsequent way of occupying land when this is what we pursue. Nevertheless, countryside living is not only an aspiration for people in Bogotá planning a systematic exodus from the city’s current sense of collapse. Because, on the other hand, there is another exodus occurring simultaneously, with people from the countryside that are being displaced from their rural homes to try to make a living in the same city others are trying to escape from.
In Bogotá, like in many cities, transportation deficiency, generalized security concerns in most areas and the increasing cost of living is influencing negatively the everyday experience of its citizens, in a city that is offering advantages not found elsewhere in the country. This way, it is perfectly reasonable to consider leaving to a place where the pace of daily activities is smoother, groceries are cheaper and air is cleaner. Large cities and country capitals offer job opportunities, cultural exchange and superior levels of health and education that are not in rural areas. In this sense, a city that despite its utilitarian purposes is becoming collapsed, unaffordable and insecure threatens the sense of welcoming for rural migrants that are being forced to go there and survive.
La Calera, for example, is one of the “rural” paradises desired by high income people in Bogota, and utterly pursued as a pot of gold for real estate developers. The bad thing is this place is one of the principal natural reservoirs the city has, in terms of water supply and green areas. This means that if Bogotans continue running away from the city, to settle permanently in a place that is geographically guaranteeing our city subsistence, we are threatening urban collective survival. And on the other hand, people that are actually living in places like this cannot migrate to the city with no credit history or any urban expertise because life in the Colombian countryside is just too different. For a poor peasant, starting from scratch in a city like Bogota can lead to an awful sense of not belonging, in minimum wage jobs, whether in the formal or informal sector, resulting in a large scale resignation, resentment and even violence, as a consequence of being forced to obey a system that apparently has not been designed for equality.
In this sense, the question would be if this two way rural-urban migration corridor is leading to any collective improvement for any of the parts involved. How do we interpret the trend of urban dwellers dreaming of the countryside and rural dwellers being forced to move to cities? Will we see Colombian cities filled with for rent signs and rural parcels abandoned or being used for suburban homes, violating not yet written environmental policies?
Maybe visualizing these possible outcomes of current moving trends can help us to pursue a balance. If there is no urban expansion, inner city land values will be increasingly raised to the point of absolute unaffordability, but at the same time, suburban sprawl has a huge impact on ecology and demand for infrastructure that is also as expensive. This way, real estate speculation in suburban developments that only supply housing demand in high income households, and bareley legal urbanization in risky areas of urban land, supplying demand for low income people is raising inequality in Bogota’s metro area. There can also be a risk of lacking place appropriation in both scenarios, and whether it is rural or urban, both can potentially become nobody’s land.
Maybe it is more about public policies that supply proportional needs of housing in all income brackets. Or it might be about adaptability. Bogotá could (and should be) a more including city, that welcomes migrants with decent jobs and housing opportunities, whether they come from the countryside, from other cities, and even from other countries. Also, maybe the city can offer better conditions so its actual inhabitants don’t feel the urge to escape. Probably cities can be understood beyond the utilitarian aspects of just being destinations for concentrated job opportunities. This way, the urban experience could be positive for all. A lot has been said about city resilience in terms of the current environmental threats like climate change and sea level rise. But what about the human factor in resiliency? What if we bring more high quality services to the countryside and bring some more environmental qualities to our cities? This way we might not be forced to endure this polarization of individual needs that are turning migration processes in Colombia into an evident symptom of inequality.