I harp on a lot about the opportunities in our environmental crisis. If there is one resounding lesson I've learned during No Impact Man, my one year experiment in extreme environmental living, it's that being kinder to the planet can also mean being kinder to ourselves. Eating local and seasonal, part of the experiment, also means eating more healthily. Getting ride of TV means a lot more time spent playing charades and scrabble with friends and family. The list goes on.
It works the other way around too. It turns out that world leaders who put the happiness of their people before the growth of the economy—an economic philosophy know as "hedonics"—often find that their happiness policies also turn out to be planet-friendly policies. This is no surprise, since the hedonics model tends to emphasize people before cars and community before consumption.
One world leader who follows hedonics is Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogota, who is currently running again (Bogota's constitution does not allow consecutive terms).
According to June 25's Globe and Mail, Peñalosa has "helped to transform a city once infamous for narco-terrorism, pollution and chaos into a globally lauded model of livability and urban renewal," in part through his emphasis on putting people before cars. "His ideas are being adopted in cities across the developing world. They are also being championed by planners and politicians in North America, where Mr. Peñalosa has reinvigorated the debate about public space once championed by Jane Jacobs."
Some measures adopted by Peñalosa include:
- Dia Sin Carro or Car Free Day. The Banning of cars, after a vote among Bogota’s nearly eight million citizens, every February 1, since 2000.
- Increased gas taxes and prohibiting car owners from driving during rush hour more than three times per week.
- Handing over prime space on the city's main arteries to the Transmilenio, a bus rapid-transit system based on that of Curitiba, Brazil.
- Shifting the budget away from private cars so that Mr. Peñalosa was able to boost school enrollment by 30 per cent, build 1,200 parks, revitalize the core of the city and provide running water to hundreds of thousands of poor.
According to the Globe and Mail, at first, "Bogotans almost impeached their new mayor. Business owners were outraged. Yet by the end of his three-year term, Mr. Peñalosa was immensely popular and his reforms were being lauded for making Bogota remarkably fairer, more tolerable and more efficient."
Asked to advise planners in Los Angeles last year, according to the Globe and Mail, Peñalosa "told them to let traffic and congestion become so unbearable that drivers voluntarily abandon their car habits. And when Manhattan held a conference in October asking for a prescription for the gridlocked streets of New York, Mr. Peñalosa cheerily suggested banning cars entirely from Broadway." He got a standing ovation.
"There are a few things we can agree on about happiness," Peñalosa says. "You need to fulfill your potential as a human being. You need to walk. You need to be with other people. Most of all, you need to not feel inferior. When you talk about these things, designing a city can be a very powerful means to generate happiness."
And also, it turns out, a powerful means to generate environmental friendliness.
Photo of Bogota courtesy of RJ Matter.