Top 5 Eco-friendly ideas in Bogotá, Colombia

I consider myself lucky to have been brought up in a city with a large ecological conscience. I believe when cities have strong collective values it truly resonates within the citizens in many positive ways. Not only do these initiatives inspire other eco-friendly causes, they also bring the citizens together toward a common goal: the preservation of the space that is a shared home to millions.

Bogotá, the capital of Colombia, is a city of 8 million people and it is one of the biggest, most cosmopolitan cities in Latin America. One of my favorite parts about growing up in such a big city was realizing the cultural uniqueness of my hometown. Such a diverse and lively place faces many challenges, including ecological issues; mobility, waste management, and air pollution, to name a few. Here are some of Bogotá’s most innovative and clever sustainable solutions. 


1. The Ciclovia.


Every Sunday Bogotá closes its roads for cars and opens them up to bicycles, runners, and walkers. During the hours of 7 am to 2 pm, 76 miles of road become either partially or entirely off limits to vehicles. Active transportation programs like this one encourage residents to exercise, while drawing people from different neighborhoods together, and also reducing air pollution. During Christmas time, a special event called the Night Ciclovia is held, for sightseeing  of the city’s Christmas light decorations. Today, Bogotá’s Ciclovia is considered the world’s most successful mass recreation event.


2. The Transmilenio.


Last week I wrote about Curitiba’s innovation in green transport, the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT). A BRT provides service similar to that of the subway or train network, by organizing bus designated lanes and stations across the roads. Although Curitiba was the first in the world to implement a BRT, Bogota, a city of 8 million people, tested the system’s viability on a much larger scale, for cities far more populated than Curitiba. In 1998, Mayor Enrique Peñalosa initiated the Transmilenio (named after “transport of the millennium”), Bogotá’s version of the BRT. In part, the project suceded due to its large, organized stations across the city’s main highways.


3. No-car day.


Bogota celebrates an annual day in which private vehicles are not allowed to circulate the streets. Public transportation, bicycles, and walking become the transport mediums of the day. A proposal to increase the frequency of no-car hours recently raised discussions on advantages and disadvantages; on the one hand, congestion and accidents on the road decrease to a great extent, and air pollution levels fall, says mobility expert Darío Hidalgo. On the other hand, such an extreme measure demands public transportation to support the entire city, which University of the Andes’ research expert, Daniel Paéz, questions: “For a kinder mobility, significative improvements in Transmilenio, the integrated public transportation system, and taxis, need to take place first” (El Tiempo, 2017). 


4. Tapas para sanar.


“Caps for healing” is such a simple and effective idea which encourages recycling. This nonprofit organization prompts citizens to recycle plastic caps by depositing them into special bins set up in malls, office buildings, and public sites throughout the city. Participants may also mail the material, at no additional cost, through 4/72, a Colombian mail company. The plastic that is turned in generates profits designated to fund chemotherapy for kids and teens in need. This cause not only benefits the environment, but also creates solidarity toward vulnerable populations.


5. No straws campaign.


Bogotá has been implementing this successful campaign for a few years now. The idea is quite simple as well; saying no to plastic straws at restaurants. Establishments all over the city now ask customers whether they will be needing a straw or not, and unless you ask the server, you will not be provided with one. Imagine the reduction in plastic waste from such a simple initiative. This is great news,  considering plastic has one of the longest lifespans (500 years) and thus poses a great burden on the environment.


Works Cited

Cruz, Michael. Pros y contras de la propuesta de más días y horas sin carros en vía. El Tiempo. 4 February 2017. Internet Resource.

Works Consulted

Barclay, Elizabeth. Bogota closes its roads every Sunday. Now everyone wants to
do it. Vox. 9 October 2016. Internet recourse.

Maczulak, Anne E. Sustainability [ElectronicResource]: BuildingEco-FriendlyCommunities. New York : Facts On File, ©2010., 2010. Green technology. EBSCOhost,

Reed, Drew. How Curitiba’s BRT stations sparked a transport revolution – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 43. The Guardian. 26 May 2015. Internet resource.

Life After Cars: Three Cities that Embrace Green Transport

It’s a given: mobility is a basic need we all face on a daily basis. First we eat, then we do everything else. First we get to school, work, or home, then we do everything else. This blog will look at innovative and effective mobility solutions in three of the greenest cities in the world according to EcoWatch and BBC. Curitiba in Brazil; Singapore in Southeast Asia, and Amsterdam in The Netherlands.

Through the many challenges that most of the cities in Latin America face, Curitiba, Brazil, is an impressive example of innovation and leadership in green transport. In fact, this Brazilian city became the first in the world to implement a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Network. Unlike traditional buses, BRT buses have their own bus exclusive lanes across the roads, with stations placed on medians along the route. Picture a subway above ground.

The city later implemented futuristic glass tube stations where users pay the fare before entering, allowing faster boarding. Just like a subway or light-rail system. In fact, the project, initiated by mayor Jaime Lerner in 1971, was initially a cost-cutting measure  to give buses as many of the functional advantages of urban train systems as possible. Although high ridership is desired, it poses challenges for the system’s success. Nevertheless, Curitiba provides citizens one of the world’s most  sustainable transport alternatives.

Another leading city in green transport, Singapore, wants to clean up the air after learning about concerns regarding public health. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, “Fine particulate matter known as PM2.5 can penetrate deep into the lungs and have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses…Transport contributes about 50% of the ambient PM2.5 level in our environment due to vehicular exhaust emissions, particularly those from diesel-driven vehicles”.

To protect public health, the city devised the Early Turnover Scheme in 2013. The goal was to reward the return of highly polluting diesel vehicles, whose owners would be offered discounts and benefits on less contaminating alternatives. The city’s goal is to reduce the contamination level from 20μg/m3 to 12μg/m3 by 2020, and to maintain this level until 2030.

Last but not least, we examine the unique case of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. The city has more bikes than people. For decades, citizens have biked everywhere and will continue to do so, as it is now part of their culture. Like many European cities, Amsterdam’s infrastructure prioritizes bikes and pedestrians by making racks, parking, and protected paths widely available; additionally, the network of green bikeways separated from roads continues to grow and develop. In a city that reminds its visitors of living a simpler life, far from polluted environments in car-prioritizing cities, the bike culture is now part of Amsterdam’s identity.

The future seems bleak unless we turn to cleaner transport alternatives. I do believe in times when we will neither use nor depend on cars as much, and possibly not at all. Due to diesel emissions and their proven detrimental consequences on our health and environment, we must as a society commit to cleaner alternatives. The solutions, I’m sure, are already within grasp. Now, it’s just a matter of shifting attitudes and better planning.

Our health and our planet are worth it.


Photograph: Rodolfo Buhrer/Fotoarena/Corbis

Works Cited

Singapore Ministry of Transport. “Achieving Cleaner Transport.” Government of Singapore. 2017. Internet Resource,

Works Consulted

Berger, John J. Bicycle Friendly Amsterdam Aims for Clean Transport, Smarter Buildings, and a Circular Economy. Renewable Energy World. 17 November 2016. Internet Resource.

Galloway, Lindsey. Living in: The world’s most eco friendly cities. BBC Travel. 16 December 2014. Internet resource.

Mercier, Jean, et al. “Policy Tools for Sustainable Transport in Three Cities of the Americas: Seattle, Montreal and Curitiba”. Transport Policy, vol. 50, 01 Aug. 2016, 95-105. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.tranpol.2016.06.005.

Pantsios, Anastasia. Top 10 Greenest Cities in the World. EcoWatch. 24 October 2014. Internet resource.

Reed, Drew. How Curitiba’s BRT stations sparked a transport revolution – a history of cities in 50 buildings, day 43. The Guardian. 26 May 2015. Internet resource.

Schoenau, Manuela and Martin Müller. “What Affects Our Urban Travel Behavior? A GPS-Based Evaluation of Internal and External Determinants of Sustainable Mobility in Stuttgart (Germany).” Transportation Research Part F: Psychology and Behaviour, 16 May 2017. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/j.trf.2017.05.004.


Tires Under the Sea: Florida’s Manmade Reef Experiment

Everyday, we take for granted the countries, cities, and places we call home. Nevertheless, environmental deterioration threatens the quality and the mere possibility of life on Earth.

Coral reefs, for instance, play an essential role in nature and ecology. Home to millions of marine organisms, these habitats make one of nature’s most diverse and cooperative partnerships. As a source of unimaginable biodiversity, they contribute to overall marine health and activity. The unfortunate decline of this rich habitat not only equals the loss of a beautiful natural treasure, it also poses a threat of irremediable damage to the world’s ocean biome.

An unhealthy environment not only affects humans, it destroys magnificent natural landscapes. Such is the unbelievable case of Australia’s Great Coral Reef. A study conducted in March this year revealed that large sections of the reef, the largest living thing on Earth, are now dead. It is truly unfortunate that one of nature’s most astounding natural wonders has become threatened by overheated ocean waters. Decades ago, marine scientists studying the region predicted the damage human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gases, would cause on the natural beauty of this unique region. Overheated oceans cause reef bleaching and threaten this fragile ecosystem, one of the world’s most diverse and colorful. Additionally, the ill condition of the coral reefs is a sign of the ocean’s overall health; now overheated and polluted by the toxic byproducts of human activity.

While Australia’s case illustrates the sad reality of reckless environmental attitudes, unsuccessful attempts to recover the reef habitat took place in Florida during the 1970’s. In 1972, citizens of Fort Lauderdale were frustrated to see the reefs threatened by pollution and illegal harvesting, as the city was struggling with waste buildup from used tires.

tire reef

At the time, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a tentative solution to the problem: an artificial reef made of two million recycled tires. The project was expected to provide a habitat for marine creatures and to multiplicate marine life in the area.

South Florida, however, is not known for its mild and stable weather. The region receives yearly and unrelentless hurricane, tropical, and thunderstorm seasons. Divers monitoring the artificial reef during the following decades found no evidence of marine life establishing around it. In contrast, the tires were slowly drifting away from the site, causing rubber waste to end up on beaches and nearby coral reef colonies, stunting their growth.

Extreme weather continues to affect South Florida today, dispersing the tires all over the ocean floor and up toward the surface. To make matters worse, the rubber from the tires decomposes underwater, leaching toxic chemicals into the ocean, and poisoning any marine life that comes close to the tire fort.

Florida’s artificial reef experiment started as a well-intentioned initiative, yet unlike sunken ships, which allow marine life to settle around them, tires do not support the same kind of wildlife. The extraction of the rubber is crucial as tires floating about and under the ocean threaten other ecosystems.Today, navy and army divers work every summer to remove approximately 700,000 tires from the ocean, and the job will continue every summer until as many as possible are removed.

Although Florida’s well-meaning tire reef experiment showcased a welcomed attitude of concern and activism toward the environment, it is clear such plans need better study and preparation. Scientists who are experts in the field need to closely monitor and evaluate such initiatives, as this failed bid to create a manmade reef from recycled tires demonstrates. The project proved to be ineffective and possibly expensive.

Some remedies to restore marine areas range from making them legally protected areas that highly restrict human entry and activity, to localized actions, like the removal of polluted sediments or oils. Remediation microbes and plants can also act as water purifiers. This procedures solve small-scale local issues, but in order to be effective, efforts to clean up our oceans require global cooperation and partnership. 

The popular saying “think locally, act globally” refers to the nature of environmental action. We are all part of the Earth’s ecosystem and as such, our actions affect the people, animals, and vegetation closest and farthest away from us. We are part of an interconnected community. Environmental destruction is a domino effect that will catch up to us wherever we are, if it hasn’t already. Ecological balance and conscience are key to everyone, no matter who you are or what you do, because Earth will only remain our home as long as we treat it accordingly.


Works Consulted

Associated Press. Florida retrieving 700,000 tires after failed bid to create artificial reef. The Guardian. 22 May 2015. Internet resource.

Maczulak, Anne E. Sustainability. [Electronic Resource]: Building Eco-Friendly Communities. New York: Facts On File, ©2010., 2010. Green technology. EBSCO host,

Cave, Damien and Gillis, Justin. Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Find. The New York Times. 15 March 2017. Internet resource.

Book review: How Nature Creates Better Cities and Citizens

Urban Environmentalism: urban change and the mediation of local conflict, by Peter Brand, examines the seemingly contradictory idea of ‘urban environmentalism’; the relationship between urban development and its natural environment. The author specifically examines the politics of sustainable development in three case studies: Birmingham, UK, Lodz, Poland, and Medellin, Colombia. Environmental policy goes beyond the ecological cause, indirectly influencing the social welfare of fragmented, unequal, and conflictive urban societies.

As the author examines the role of politics in mediating social conflict, he applies discourse theory analysis. Discourse refers to how we think and communicate about people, things, the social organization of society, and the relationships among all three. Environmental political discourse in these cities was often ideal and key in order to inspire urban belongingness and pride in citizens. Open and green spaces were presented as referents of neighborhood, community, and the celebration of coexistence, not just ecological conscience. In short, political discourse surrounding nature was framed to reinforce the harmony among citizens and the ecosystem surrounding them. 

Brand argues that although urban expansion inherently damages the natural environment, the harmonious integration among city and nature has become a central goal for many local governments. Ideally, exemplary cities are clean and organized. Green public areas are referents of equality, solidarity, peaceful coexistence, rationality, and harmony within the metropolis. These values are crucial to a healthy and strong sense of collective citizenship. Thus, the ecological cause is outlined by political discourses in socially fractured cities, which have historically resulted from rapid and uncontrolled urban development. 


Poverty, inequality, enormous competitiveness, and overcrowded spaces are huge issues with the modern urban model in developing and developed countries alike. In Medellin, a damaging culture of violence developed throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The drug cartel mafia had taken over the city and rapid, disorganized growth created a segregated and fearful society. The city’s political discourse began to frame the environment as a device to reconstitute a sense of wholeness and peace; the preservation of the ecosystem would provide a sense of optimism regarding the future, such as the cleaning up and recovery of the once heavily polluted Medellin river. It became one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, famous for its spectacular christmas lights arrangement. Medellin is even recognized by National Geographic as one of the top 10 places to see holiday lights. Although social problems persist, today the city indeed “shines” with a new light of innovation, optimism, and positivity. 

As the modern citizen struggles with stressful routines of survival in an individualized world, nature seems to emerge as a natural retreat from chaotic and congested areas, something collective and altruistic in the solitary competitiveness of the city. This is the effect, the book explains, that the discursive construction of the environment is designed to achieve: displacing social contradictions and spatial conflict on to the ‘natural’ environment.

Additionally, the author does an excellent job at investigating urban sustainability by citing reliable sources, providing a thorough analysis of the case studies, and establishing the role of political theory. Although much of the book’s terminology is highly advanced, it helps raise key questions such as the environment as an integral and vital element of the city. The argument is particularly convincing when associating the physical nature of green spaces with the abstract concept of human coexistence. All organized communities of human beings need basic consensus regarding the shared space; this will in turn ensure the success of the city as a home to millions of healthy, peaceful citizens. Harmony among the environment and the city has a lot to do with the equal sense of harmony that will resonate in citizens, as illustrated by the case studies. I believe this text will be particularly essential for experts and students investigating city planning theory, geography and environmental studies, as well as sociologists interested in the effective integration of sustainable development; another element in the complex social aura of any city. 


Works Consulted

Brand, Peter C, and Michael J. Thomas. Urban Environmentalism: Global Change and the Mediation of Local Conflict. London: Routledge, 2005. Ebook.



Local Food in San Francisco

This week I’ll be writing about one of my favorite subjects, which I’m so passionate about and invested in personally: food! Healthy, sustainable food to be more specific. The drive to care for our bodies with a well-rounded nutrition that supports our health and happiness is tied to a greater system that very closely involves sustainability.

I am happy with the community engagement I’ve achieved so far in this field. I’ll continue to collect cereal boxes from my building and I’m working on contacting the volunteers at Ya Tengo Donde Escribir so I can donate this material to them and support their amazing cause. In case you missed it from my last blog, this nonprofit organization uses recycled cereal boxes as covers for notebooks that are later donated to children in poverty-stricken populations here in Colombia. Now back to this week’s case study, a delicious topic.  

The iconic San Francisco, California, has long been known as a city of forward thinking, stunning natural landscapes, and a tempting gastronomical variety. Many residents strive to preserve the environment by supporting local farmer markets throughout the Golden City.  

Citizens of San Francisco are no strangers to a cultural ambience that has historically advocated solidarity. During the 1960’s, the city hosted the “Summer of Love”, a renowned protest rejecting the horrors of the Vietnam War by celebrating free love and peace in the world. In 1978, the legendary Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man elected to public office in California. Today, the city ranks as one of the greenest, most eco-friendly in the world. Its miles of bike lanes, 77% recycling rate, and farmer market culture, showcase San Francisco’s long history of environmental consciousness.

When it comes to food, residents will not settle for anything other than delicious, and many seek fresh, organic, local produce. This demand has impacted many of the city’s neighborhoods, which now have opened an array of distinctive farmer’s markets. North of the Panhandle, one of such districts, has a year-round market; others, such as Mission and central Haight-Ashbury, have seasonal markets. The latter area is well known for its hippie culture and Victorian architecture, pictured in many iconic San Francisco postcards.

This fresh food movement has inspired many businesses in the industry to support local farms that practice sustainable agriculture. One of them is Love & Hummus, a woman owned artisan food company that is passionate about creating sustainable eastern Mediterranean foods and certified organic hummus. The company has a strong mission of supporting organic farming and sustainable agriculture by using eco-friendly packaging, as well as recycling and composting in production. The company is committed to reducing their carbon footprint (a measure of CO2 released into the atmosphere as a result of human activities).

There is a caveat, however, in equating the “local produce” label to sustainability. Many unscrupulous marketers take advantage of unknowing consumers by “greenwashing” their products. In other words, consumers assume local is eco friendly, and this isn’t always the case. The term “local” is neither defined nor regulated; it is left to the interpretation of whoever is using it. Additionally, the term does not provide any information regarding freshness, nutritional value, or production practices. A meat factory could perfectly market its steaks as “locally produced”, yet factories are one of the most contaminating sites. The type of product is another factor to consider, as meat and dairy have higher carbon footprints than plant based foods. So local does not necessarily mean sustainable. Nevertheless, under the right conditions, local farming can certainly be sustainable; environmentally responsible consumers just have to take into account factors other than food miles.

Food miles is only one measure of food sustainability. It refers to the distance products travel to reach the consumer, and the less food miles, the less carbon footprint because there is less contamination from transport. Local food purchased from farmer markets can also be sustainable because it requires less packaging, less contaminating fertilizers, and less toxic pesticides. The food reaches the consumer faster than imported, perishable products would, so there is no need to use pollutants. Sustainable farming also produces less waste; the typical small and medium size of local farms that serve farmer markets are not as water, fossil fuel, or chemical demanding as larger industrial farms shipping food all over the country, and even to other countries.     

Sustainable food grown nearby is healthier, non GMO, and more nutrient-dense;  it tastes better, supports local economies, and is grown in a way that is more sustainable for the farmers and workers too. Sustainably raised animals are more likely to live in healthier, more humane situations. Many farmer markets are also less expensive than traditional supermarkets, as they evade packaging, marketing, and distribution costs. Eating local and sustainable also encourages consumers to eat seasonally, enhancing freshness and harmony with the cycle of nature. So next time you come across the “local produce” label, check for an organic and sustainable one as well. Eating this way benefits us, our health, and preserves the natural beauty of our home, mother Earth.


Works Cited

Cogswell, Ned. 12 Historical Events That Shaped San Francisco. The Culture Trip. 20 October 2016. Internet resource. 

Galloway, Lindsey. Living in: The world’s most eco friendly cities. BBC Travel. 16 December 2014. Internet resource. 

GRACE Communications Foundation. Do You Have to Eat 100% Local, Sustainable, and Organic? Sustainable Table. 2017. Internet resource.

GRACE Communications Foundation. Local & Regional Food Systems. Sustainable Table. 2017. Internet resource. 

Srinivas, HariAnd now Food Miles. The Global Development Research Center. Internet Resource. 



Sustainability: From Cereal Boxes to Superblocks in Barcelona

The common belief that a sustainable lifestyle cannot be a pleasant one as well is just plain misguided. This massive misconception that we need to make several “sacrifices” to live sustainably couldn’t be farther from the truth. In becoming a more eco friendly citizen, as in many other areas of life, the simplest ideas are often the best.

Among the great environmental nonprofit organizations here in Bogota, Colombia, there is Ya Tengo Donde Escribir (I have somewhere to write now). They collect cereal boxes to use as covers for notebooks that are later donated to vulnerable children in poverty. I would love to collaborate with this cause by collecting cereal boxes from the residential building where I live, and donate the resources to this cause. From simple and easily applicable domestic actions, such as collecting cereal boxes, to a sustainable mobility system that supports a pleasurable lifestyle; with the right mentality, I believe sustainability can be easily incorporated into every aspect of our busy modern lives.

Living a comfortable and enjoyable life does not equal living unsustainably. If you don’t believe me, just turn your gaze toward the chic, lively, and culturally fulfilling lifestyle in Europe. Who doesn’t dream about traveling throughout the old continent? Studying abroad in Spain, exploring the picturesque Greek islands. There is a reason why Europe is among the most popular tourist destinations every year, a continent where most cities were built and designed before the invention of cars. Today, Barcelona is considered by many one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The capital of the Catalunya district in Spain is taking public space away  from cars, and rightfully giving it back to its citizens.

Look around any major American city today; it is built for the comfort and convenience of car owners. You do not need to be an expert in urban planning to figure out the issue that arises from every single person owning a car. The US has long implemented an unsustainable model whereby every city resident comes with a car, and drives a car everywhere; this lifestyle is just inherently limited. It limits the growth, the health, and inevitably, the life quality of its citizens.  Additionally, cities built for cars face serious environmental issues that threaten its residents, such as toxic air contamination and elevated noise pollution.

In 2008, Barcelona was one of these urban centers. The city was consistently failing to meet the European Union’s air quality targets, and studies were showing that air pollution was causing 3,500 premature deaths every year. Noise pollution had become a huge problem too. By 2014, urban ecology experts led by Salvador Rueda started implementing the innovative Urban Mobility Plan, intended to improve environmental quality. This plan featured the idea of “Superblocks” throughout the catalan capital.

The concept is very simple. Ideally, nine traditional blocks make up one superblock. Freight, city buses, and through traffic are only allowed to circulate around the perimeter of the superblock. Local vehicles are allowed to drive through the streets, but only at very low speeds. Underground parking replaces curbside parking, and all interior streets are one-way loops that drive through traffic away from the superblock. The image below illustrates this basic urban mobility design:  

1-GZzMXIibCrjiSQb7bl6w-g(BNC Ecologica, via Cities of the Future)

Not only does the superblock model improve mobility,  it encourages business as well. By opening up space to human beings instead of vehicles, the superblock has more people walking around, cycling through the streets. All of these pedestrians are potential customers for many businesses, such as sidewalk cafes, diverse restaurants, shops and lively street markets.

Anyone who has strolled through the stunning streets of Barcelona can tell you it is one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, blessed by the artistic legacy of architects like Antoni Gaudí. Its naturalistic architecture is truly worthy of a relaxing stroll along its charming streets. Barcelona simply cannot be fully enjoyed from the confines of a vehicle. Its bustling, modern, and festive street life demands that the pedestrian-friendly superblock is given a chance.

The superblock model can be implanted anywhere, and apart from benefiting the environment by reducing air and noise pollution, doesn’t the idea of strolling through one of these  squares sound absolutely dreamy? A nice, old pedestrian plaza, a park-like block that opens up space to music festivals, families, farmer markets, and cute little sidewalk cafes and restaurants featuring outdoor seating. It sounds amazing to me, a lifestyle that is not only pleasurable, but also far more sustainable.


Works Cited

Roberts, David. Superblocks: How Barcelona is taking city streets back from cars.Vox. 22 April 2017. Internet Resoruce.

Rosenthal, Elizabeth. What makes Europe greener than the U.S.?. YaleEnvironment 360. 28 September 2009. Electronic resource.