Land Matters Podcast
Claudia López, mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, is confident the sprawling capital is ready to take action to confront climate change, despite the wearying effects of the pandemic and rising unemployment and poverty.
“There is no doubt that I have a clear mandate from Bogotá’s people” to act on the environment, López said in an interview for the Land Matters podcast, while she was en route to the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland. “I think we have a deep social debt, and a deep environmental debt that we have to pay now.”
The 51-year-old López, who was elected in October 2019 as the city’s first female mayor and also the first openly gay mayor, ran under Colombia’s Green Alliance party. Prior to her political career, she worked as a journalist and researcher, and brings a background in urban planning and public administration to the job.
To reduce emissions, López seeks to stop expansion of the urban periphery into forests and rural land, and to make it easier to get around the city with public transit, including gondolas, powered by renewable energy. She also wants to overhaul waste management, which relies heavily on unsustainable landfills.
At the same time, she says she remains committed to building equity and promoting economic opportunities for the metropolitan region’s 10 million residents, nearly half of whom live in informal settlements. Funding for urban amenities and social infrastructure, she says, can come from land value capture—harnessing some of the increased values associated with city-enabled urban development. That approach is part of a long tradition in Colombia; this year marks the centenary of the Colombian value capture tool, contribución de valorización or betterment contribution.
“Basically, we agree what’s going to be the value that's going to be generated by the transformation of land use and we agree with the developer” to help build “the infrastructure and the urban and social equipment that new development will need,” she said.
“This is not about having lovely maps with marvelous plans,” she said. “This is actually what I think is urban planning—making sure that either through public investments or through land value capturing or through private investments, we ensure an equitable and sustainable share of the cost and benefits of building the city. That's the role of the government, and that’s what we're trying to achieve here.”
One element of social infrastructure that López says could be transformative is providing support for an estimated 1.2 million women caregivers, essentially unpaid workers keeping families together.
“Half of the economy is informal, half of the jobs are informal. They don’t have pension funds. They don’t have health insurance. They don't have care when you are sick or when you are (older). Who does that? It’s the unpaid care women who do that … who don't have jobs, don't have education, don't have time for themselves because they are caregivers of others,” she said.
“We are reserving land for social infrastructure to provide care, institutionalized care, for children, for women, for elders, for people with disabilities, so that we can relieve and free time for women, so that they can access time to rest, first of all. They don't have a free weekend ever in their life. (And) time to get education for themselves, care for themselves, and income generation opportunities.”
Other interventions are aimed at making life less onerous in informal settlement, including some relief from strict building codes and other regulations designed for the formal city, so that homeowners can build a second floor or run a business out of the first floor. “For poor people, housing in not only the place they live, it's also the place where they produce and they generate income,” she said.
“We're trying to balance. I think the development in Bogotá has been incredibly unbalanced. I mean, (much) of the advantage is on the developer side,” she said. “Of course, the developers need profitability … we are trying to find the equilibrium point.”
López saluted the Lincoln Institute’s long-running Latin America program for prompting informed discussion of land use issues in the region. “There’s a huge network of people thinking, researching, innovating, putting out these debates, which is incredibly important,” she said. “I cannot tell you how important, how useful has been all the things that you taught me before throughout the years on land value capturing, for example, on land use development, on being aware of how land and urban value is created.”
In this 75th anniversary year, the interview with López is the latest Q&A with chief executives in cities that share some history with the Lincoln Institute. Previous interviews feature the mayors of Cleveland, where founder John C. Lincoln got his start; Phoenix, where he founded the Lincoln Foundation 75 years ago; and Cambridge, site of the Lincoln Institute’s headquarters since 1974.
Anthony Flint is a senior fellow at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, host of the Land Matters podcast, and a contributing editor of Land Lines.
Image: Bogotá Mayor Claudia López. Credit: Mayor's Office of Bogotá