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An accomplished public official, economist and administrator, Enrique Peñalosa completed his three-year term as Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia on December 31, 2000. While mayor, Peñalosa was responsible for numerous radical[…]

Enrique Peñalosa explains why we must be radical in reshaping urban space.

Question: What is the most important next step for American Cities?

Enrique Penalosa: We have to understand why people went to the suburbs.  It’s not because they were dumb.  It is because the suburbs were providing some things that the dense cities were not.  The suburbs provided, ironically, safe spaces for children to ride bicycles, because people wanted the children to play safe in the street and ride a bicycle and, ironically, these completely car-dependent environments provided that. 

Also, the suburbs provide green and contact with nature, more parks, but I believe it is possible to create cities which provide a little bit of both.  Higher density environments. You don’t need, by the way, fifty-story high buildings to have high density.  You can have just with five, six-story high buildings you can have very high densities, a huge amount of pedestrian and bicycle networks, greenways, bus-ways, and we could very easily, with very simple details, have completely different cities that would work much better than the ones that we have today.

Question: Are many American cities moving in the right direction?

What I see all over the United States it is clear.  I talked the Texas developers and they talk like the most progressive and expert urbanites about mixed use and density and all this, but I think we have to be even more radical, because we talk about the new urbanism [sic], in the U.S., which is like going back to this quaint 1900 town.

I think we can do some much more radical things with much bigger pedestrian spaces; some more creative and different conceptions of a modern city, giving much more importance to the bicycle.

Now we have a new machine that I think is going to contribute to completely changing the way we live, which is the electric bicycle--because this allows people to use bicycles over longer distances or over hills, or elderly people.

Bicycles; in the future I think protected bicycle ways are going to be as obvious as sidewalks are today, to have a protected bicycle everywhere. 

And the United States will have to develop in higher density environments. And the only way to do this is demolishing some of these inner suburbs, and making higher densities.  These new developments can be completely different, not just the typical street and sidewalk, but you could have, as we are talking about, completely different urban environments. 

Recorded on: Aug 4, 2009.