The Bogot? Experiment


| March 25, 2004

Bogot?, Columbia, circa 1995, was a city 'choked with violence, lawless traffic, corruption, and gangs of street children who mugged and stole. It was a city perceived by some to be on the verge of chaos.' Enter Antanas Mockus, an eccentric mathematician and philosopher with no political experience just resigned from a top tier professorship at Colombian National University. Looking for a challenge, he finds it in politics, or, as he describes it, being in charge of 'a 6.5 million person classroom.' Colombians desperate for change and for a moral leader elect him as mayor, thus beginning an uplifting chapter of Colombian history marked by innovative creative leadership and inspired social change.

During his two terms as mayor of Bogot? (1995-97 and 2000-04) his initiatives focused living standards and on the sanctity of life, using creativity and humor. To encourage Colombians skeptical of his ability to tackle the chaos and disorder of the city, he publicly donned a superman costume and renamed himself 'Supercitizen'. During a drought, Mockus appeared in a commercial taking a shower and asking citizens to turn off the water as they soaped --within two months, household water use was down 14% and is now 40% less than before the shortage. In a now famous move, Mockus hired 420 'traffic mimes' to gently mock people who break traffic laws.' Traffic fatalities dropped by more than half, from an average of 1,300/year to about 600.

Mockus says that 'transforming Bogot?'s people and their sense of civic culture was the key to solving many of the city's problems'. 'Knowledge empowers people,' he says. 'If people know the rules, and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change.'
-- Eliza Thomas

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