Urban blight is one of the major roadblocks to urban growth. But many cities are finding ways around it.
Take Bogotá, Colombia, for instance. Ongoing political strife and international drug cartels made this city notorious for decades. A series of mayors is credited with improving city services to the point that Jim Wyss wrote in the Miama Herald earlier this year: "Colombia has made great strides in security. The nation has managed to decrease its homicide rate more than any other Latin American nation over the last decade, and the newfound peace is turning the nation into an investment and tourism haven."
This doesn't mean Bogotá is without problems. Violence persists, thanks in part to ongoing and intractable civil strife. Still, improvements initiated by Mayor Enrique Peñalosa in the late 1990s helped start the city in another direction.
The improvements made in Bogotá include several elements common to other urban turnarounds: economic changes for the better; infrastructure improvements; moves toward sustainability; measures against poverty; security upgrades; and the introduction of camaraderie and civic pride among citizens.
Some of these elements take a long time to implement. Others can be surprisingly simple to put in place. Bogotá's now-famed Ciclovia, for instance, involves closing many streets to traffic on Sundays and introducing a festival atmosphere for pedestrians and cyclists. The move has not only improved the city's carbon footprint, it's brought significant positive change in people's attitudes to one another.
Of course, this is a vastly oversimplified way to describe the shift in Bogotá from a place to avoid to one that sets an urban example. The important takeaway is the hope the city holds out to others that blight can be overcome.
In this slideshow, we've attempted to showcase, in no particular order, other cities where wise governance and an active citizenry have helped turn things around. Click on the image below to start the show. And as ever, let us know what we've done right and what we've missed.
Bilbao's rise from decline began in 1997 when the city unveiled a new Guggenheim Museum (shown in the photo). Since then, new subways, a new airport, and a spate of gorgeous new buildings have followed. Mayor Iñaki Azkuna, winner of the 2012 World Mayor Prize, has also presided over the city's elimination of debt.
(Source: Quasipalm via Wikimedia)
— Mary Jander , Managing Editor, UBM's Future Cities