in progress edited by Daniel
Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)
to 1995, the city of Bogotá, Colombia, used to have high rates of accidents
when pedestrians tried to cross the streets at intersections. Many times drivers
would not pay attention to stop signs or to red lights, and when they stopped,
the cars would often be positioned right on the intersection, obstructing the
path of crossing pedestrians and even other cars, with the ensuing traffic chaos
and potential danger. Also, many pedestrians did not cross the streets at the
assigned corners but randomly at any place on the street causing deadly
accidents weekly. Before 1995, crossing a street in Bogotá, as a pedestrian or
as a driver, sometimes was more an adventure than a normal act.
year, the newly elected mayor of Bogotá, a 42 year-old philosopher,
mathematician and university professor named Antanas Mockus, recognized that
previous attempts to address this issue had not been successful because of their
exclusive focus on punishment, and decided to shift the emphasis towards
education. With this approach in mind, Mockus developed a creative idea to deal
with drivers and pedestrians. Instead of castigating them with a ticket or with
a mandatory course on traffic rules, he thought that it would be more effective
to educate them right there in the intersections at the moment the infraction
from July to October of 1995, Bogotá City Hall hired four hundred young actors
and students of dramatic arts. Their work was to dress and act as mimes,
illustrating the chaos and the danger produced by the actions of drivers and
pedestrians, and showing them good civic behavior. The mimes were always sure
that there was a public around to witness and applaud the good behavior and to
laugh at their mimicking of bad behavior.
order to teach pedestrians to cross at the designated places, and to teach
drivers to stop at the stop signs, City Hall employed mimes, professional
policemen, young auxiliary policemen and “virtual policemen”. The virtual
policemen were big folding screens posted in strategic corners with drawings of
policemen’s faces and very small windows from which a real policeman could
sometimes witness the streets. It was difficult for the drivers to verify if
there was a real policeman behind the screen or not.
experiment started one early morning at several intersections of 19th
Avenue, one of the busiest streets in Bogotá. One of the intersections in
particular, at 19th Avenue and 7th Street had zebra-like stripes painted by
their stop signs. When a car didn’t stop or stopped on the stripes, suddenly a
mime appeared to mimic the bad behavior of the driver. The mimes, with faces
painted in white, black outfits, and white gloves, gave instructions to the
drivers and pedestrians on how to respect the conventional traffic signs without
using a word, without force and without punishment. If the driver failed to move
the car from the zebra-stripes, there was a police waiting to intervene. Often
citizens would start to applaud the mimes, and even the policemen when they
appeared at the appropriate moment. The legal fine was the last measure. The
first step was the pedagogical sequence of events that taught the more than ten
million residents of the city to enjoy a more peaceful, respectful and organized
believed that the shame of not being perceived as a good citizen by the
community was an effective pedagogical tool to nurture good civic behavior. In
addition to this particular campaign related to the zebra-like strips and the
respect for traffic rules, the mimes included public education messages to
reduce littering, and to help seniors and disabled citizens cross the street.
With drama, humor and shame as educational tools, citizens were the judges of
the actions of their neighbours. After four months of working in these two
important arteries of Bogotá, the mimes went to work in another nineteen
intersections of the city.
is a story of a Bogotanian driver that one day asked the mayor why bother with
these pedagogical issues about stopping behind the zebra-like strips, if not all
of the streets in Bogotá had the black and white strips. Mockus answered:
“The lines are not marked on the asphalt, but in the minds of all of us”.
Arturo Guerrero, an well-known Colombian journalist, noted that this story
summarizes Antanas Mockus’ philosophy. More than constructing an asphalt city,
he wanted to build a spiritual metropolis in the psyche of its citizens.
this pedagogical effort make a difference? According to a technical study
undertaken by Bogotá City Hall and published by the Inter-American Development
Bank, before the the beginning of the campaign (July 1995) only 26% of drivers
and pedestrians respected conventional traffic signs. A few months after the
campaign, in 1996, this percentage rose to 75%. The study also noted that as a
result of these efforts, drivers and pedestrians alike improved their civic
behavior, had more adherence to traffic rules, and showed more solidarity and
respect for others. As Mayor of Bogotá, Antanas Mockus implemented many other
creative pedagogical projects that embrace art, humor and imagination.
instance, also in 1995, he undertook a campaign to reduce the number of guns in
the street. For the Christmas season of that year, Mockus made public the high
percentage of homicides committed with guns in Bogotá: 73%.
Under the motto “That all guns rest in peace for this Christmas”, the
City Hall started a campaign of voluntary disarmament. The industrial community
of the city, and the international community through embassies, supported the
campaign by giving Christmas gift bonuses to the citizens that voluntarily
delivered their guns, ammunition and grenades. Some citizens didn’t ask
anything in return for their weapons. The 2,538 guns that the City Hall
collected were melted and the metal was used to produce thousands of spoons for
children. Each spoon had the inscription: “I was a gun”. This campaign
contributed to a noticeable reduction in the number of homicides, from 397 in
1995 to 291 in 1996. By 1997, the percentage of violent deaths had come down to
25% in comparison to 1996. A recent new study, in November of 2003, released by
the National Department of Statistics (DANE) from Colombia, showed that the
percentages of homicides have kept the same low rates for the years 2002 and
Mockus was a mayor that was aware of the pedagogical potential or cities, and
made a conscious effort to educate the citizens of Bogotá on several issues
through creative and imaginative projects. Mockus was Mayor of Bogotá twice,
first from 1995 to 1997, and later from 2001 to 2003.
A.(2001) Cultura Ciudadana, programa contra la violencia en Santa Fe de Bogotá,
Colombia, 1995-1997. Estudio Técnico. Reference Number: SOC-127 Washington:
Publicaciones de la División de Desarrollo Social. Banco Interamericano de
Desarrollo 1300 New York Av. N.W. Washington D.C. 20577. http://www.iadb.org/sds/soc
2003. Departamento Administrativo Nacional de Estadísticas. “Bajan Índices
de Violencia en Colombia”. Bogotá, Colombia. Comunicado de Prensa del
estudio realizado sobre los Índices de Violencia en Colombia. Noviembre 23,
2003. In the CEPAL Press Release to Subscribed Journalists. Comunicado de Prensa
de la CEPAL (Comisión Económica para la América Latina).
Prepared by Luisa Fernanda Quijano(OISE/UT, 2003)
If you are interested in the innovative pedagogical approach to city governance of Antanas Mockus, you will enjoy the article 'Academic turns city into a social experiment: Mayor Mockus of Bogotá and his spectacularly applied theory', by María Cristina Caballero, published in the March 11, 2004 issue of the Harvard University Gazette. Available online at: http://www.news.harvard.edu/gazette/2004/03.11/01-mockus.html
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