Paris, 6 June 2000
It is with immense pride, and with if anything even greater emotion, that I
am pleased to report to you that last evening in Stockholm, The Commons and
the City of Bogotá were awarded the Stockholm Challenge Award in Environment
for our collaboration on the Bogotá Car Free Day.
TO START WITH THE FACTS:
In the prestigious Blue Hall, site of the Nobel Prize awards, and before a
crowd of several hundred representatives of the ninety four outstanding
projects that had been named finalists from the 612 nominated projects
coming from more than eighty countries around the world, Enrique Peñalosa,
Mayor of Bogotá, and I were honored to receive the Stockholm Challenge Award
Trophy, no less important, the long applause of that splendid crowd of
dedicated innovators as well as the distinguished invited guests. You can
if you wish (and if your equipment permits) view a video of the entire Prize
ceremony, which is available at http://www.challenge.stockholm.se.
that, you will need to be able to run the latest version of RealMedia, all
of which is of course carefully documented on the site.
To demonstrate that our concept and accomplishment was perhaps not entirely
understood by all members of the working press, here is the lead line from
one release that we saw this morning: "In the Environment category the
project Bogotá Car Free Day located in Paris, France but active in Bogotá as
well as in other countries around the world, received the trophy. On March
24 they made 24,800,000 cars stay at home." What can I say to this? Well,
we are, as you know, extremely ambitious in these projects... but I had not
realized that we were quite that effective. (Happily, the information that
appears in the site itself under the categories "Finalists" and "Winners" is
accurate and quite comprehensive. Of course for the full picture, you will
need to turn to @World Car Free Day at http://ecoplan.org/carfreeday/.)
The Prize was of course neither a personal award for Mayor Peñalosa, nor for
myself. It was, I firmly believe, for three things.
First, and at the core of the achievements for which we were cited, the
Award is for a powerful concept which has now proven beyond the shadow of a
doubt that it can indeed serve as an instrument of increasing the awareness
for important and much needed changes for many of the felt needs, and of the
unasked questions, that are posed by the problems of transport and life
quality in cities. This is important because the car free day concept had
not before been pushed nearly as far nor obtained anywhere near the results
that have been obtained in Bogotá, and which are now actively helping that
city in its challenging hands-on conversion to if not a car-free city, at
least a car-tamed city with a transportation system that is being fast
refitted in order to offer not only greater economic viability and life
quality, but also social justice, including to the least favored of those
living in that great and growing city.
Bogotá, on February 24th, 2000, effectively went to work and proved the
concept. And from the next day on, whenever anyone anywhere in the world
wants to talk about organizing a car free day in their city, Bogotá suddenly
became their first point of reference.
THE PEOPLE OF BOGOTÁ:
If the mayor and his team took the original Thursday car free day concept,
and worked with hundreds of people in his administration and other services
of the city in an effort that ultimately involved more than ten thousand
hours of hard and smart work, it was the seven million people of Bogotá who
ultimately made it work. And it is of course they who not only are the
rightful beneficiaries of the Stockholm Challenge Prize but, even more
important, it is they who are the recipients of the considerable fruits of
their own work and, as it happens, close to endless discussions. Because
talk they did, quite literally every day in the month leading up to the
great event: among themselves, in letters and manifestation of support,
inquietude and protest to the administration, to and through the print
media, on radio and television talk shows, in their homes, schools and
places of work across the city, and out on the streets.
The Bogotá Car Free Day worked because in the final analysis everyone who
lived there got into the act. Not because they were always pleased with the
concept, but because they understood they were going to be impacted by it
and they wanted to figure out the best ways to deal with the challenges of
getting around on that one day with no cars in the city. Believe me, there
was not a single person of the seven million who did not ask themselves and
those around them many times over what was going to be the best way to
organize the Day.
As a result of these nonstop discussions and debates, the city listened and
tired where they could to deal with these fears and reactions. As a result,
something not so strange happened. When the plans for the day were
originally announced, barely half of all those polled thought it might be a
reasonable idea. But by the time that Car Free Bogotá was in progress, the
balance had shifted radically, with at the end of the day more than 87% of
the public saying it was the right thing to do. And more than half of them,
asked that the experience be repeated on a regular basis.
THE COMMONS AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY:
And here it is where many of you can be justifiably proud of yourselves.
When we first announced the Bogotá Day on the web site of The Commons and
via a number of our cooperating discussion groups and program on January
25th, we immediately began to be inundated with expressions of encouragement
and support from people around the world, who asked us to communicate their
wishes and backing to the organizers in Bogotá. In all more than two hundred
such expressions of support were received and posted on the @World Car Free
Day site at http://ecoplan.org/carfreeday.
These letters and wishes for success from leading thinkers and practitioners
working at the field, from ministers and administrators, students and
activists, and people writing as parents, teachers and citizens, proved to
be a powerful vehicle of support for the Bogotá team. We were thus able to
use the Internet as a vehicle of international collaboration and support,
creating a situation in which the local team, up to their necks in work and
criticism from many sides, were able to say to the media and the people of
Bogotá: "We are not alone. We are doing the right thing. It's not only that
we here in city Hall think so, but listen to what all these other
distinguished people and groups around the world have to say about what we
are doing". And that was how we helped.
(With any luck at all, by early 2001 the new sustainable transportation
system of Bogotá will begin to be recognizable as a model for cities, not
only in the South but also in the North. And to make sure that you know it
and can form your own views on it, we shall continue to provide in-depth
coverage and leads to local sites and sources where you see it for
This last bit is entirely personal, but I am sure than many of you, had you
been there with us last night, would have experienced much the same thing.
As we heard from and learned about all those other projects that had been
selected as finalists and winners in other categories, I began to have my
doubts. I have always been convinced that the car free day approach was a
truly terrific instrument for increasing social perception and building
consensus for change, and I am proud of the daring and the accomplishments
of the people of Bogotá all the way down to my bones. But as I listened and
learned about all those other projects I had to wonder in my heart of hearts
if the judges had made the right choice. There were so many that had such
striking and strong claims to international recognition at the highest
Let me share with you short notes on a couple of these by way of ever so
quick example so that you can perhaps understand my dilemma. For example
there was . . .
Mindmouse from Gothenburg Sweden:
"We have a girl in Slottsbergsgymnasiet who can't talk. We have created a
brand new system where she can control the computer with her thoughts (EEG).
We have worked together with the inventor in USA and now the system works
great. For the first time she can communicate. We are among the first in the
world managing to do this." (More at
Manguzi Wireless Internet in South Africa:
"Our project provides Internet access, e-mail and learning resources to
schools in a very remote area of South Africa's KwaZulu Natal province where
no telecommunications infrastructure exists utilising a unique combination
of radio and satellite broadcasting technologies." (www.csir.co.za )
Hyperstories for Blind Children, Santiago, Chile:
" The project consists of exposing poor blind children to a methodology that
uses an interactive software based on 3D sound to help them to construct
cognitive structures that allow them to represent the space through sound."
(For more: www.c5.cl/hh )
And that is only three taken from a single category of the competition
involving children. Three among six hundred and twelve projects, most being
carried out under great difficulty, with little backing, and all trying to
do something different and important.
I can tell you that as the evening passed I was troubled deeply about
whether or not the right choices had been made -- until the organizers of
the event showed us how deeply they understood and appreciated who these
splendid people are and all that they are working so hard to achieve.
Shortly after the formal presentations, several hundred of us adjourned for
a festive dinner in the city's famous Golden Hall and were enjoying
ourselves with spirited conversation and fine food, when something strange
happened. Slowly the lights dimmed, so slowly that really none of us had
recognized it, and a deep rhythmic, throbbing sound was heard. And quite
suddenly we realized that there were a hundred young people who had silently
slipped in and taken their places among us, and who then began to sing and
their voices wafted like sweet rolling waves through the great and solemn
hall. Something quite wonderful was going on.
Minutes later we were made to understand. In a quiet voice, Alfonso Molina,
chairman of the awards committee stood up to explain to us that the real
Stockholm Prize was for every person in that hall, all of those who had come
so far to be in Stockholm and who were there as a result of their concerns,
energy and achievements. At which point, ninety four trophies were brought
in and triumphally awarded to every fine project and noble team who had come
all the way to Sweden for the Stockholm Challenge Prize in the midnight sun
of that memorable night on June 5th 2000.
And the young people began to sing again and we all finally understood why
we were there.