When a civic leader is so arrogant and prejudiced against another country that he flatly refuses to acknowledge that country's successes, our city as a whole inevitably ends up poorer for it.
By Ryan McGreal
Published February 03, 2016
This article has been updated.
This week's serving of patrician bigotry comes courtesy of Ancaster Councillor Lloyd Ferguson, who can't imagine how we might ever have anything to learn from some dirty South American city. You can watch the exchange, which occurred during the February 1, 2016 General Issues Committee meeting on the HSR Ten Year Budget, courtesy of The Public Record:
Transit Director Dave Dixon began his presentation on funding the HSR Ten Year Strategy with a well-known quote from Enrique Peñalosa, the former - and current - mayor of Bogota, Colombia: "A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars, it's where the rich use public transportation."
After Dixon's presentation, Councillor Ferguson challenged him on the quote.
Ferguson: Dave, when you quoted the mayor of Bogota at the start of your quote, was that Bogota, Colombia?
Dixon: That's correct, through the Chair, yes.
Ferguson: That's a place where only wealthy people - at least when I was there - the only wealthy people in Colombia are drug lords.
Dixon: Eh-heh, so, it's a - he was a, he's an interesting man, he was pretty - since you asked me, I'm gonna take it. No, through the Chair, I really don't know a lot about Bogota, it's an eight million, roughly an eight million population. It's very progressive, it's very progressive on bikes, um, as well. You know, his belief was a three hundred dollar bike should be equally valued as much as a thirty thousand dollar car in terms of movement through. He was, uh, long before Paris France did it this summer, he closed down the whole city and had a car-free day. Um, so he's a pretty progressive thinker. Depending on your perspective.
Ferguson: When I was in Colombia, all I saw was chickens riding the buses, and just like you see in Romancing The Stone, they have, uh, people riding on the roof, and, uh, anyhow, it just seemed like a backwards country to be benchmarking off of.
Dixon: So maybe -
Ferguson: Just to be humorous.
[Off-mic booing, calls for "order"]
Chair: I think we'll give Councillor Ferguson an opportunity to -
Ferguson: Give me a - lighten up, guys, it was supposed to be funny.
Ward 3 Councillor Matthew Green gave what is perhaps the best response to Ferguson's comments later in the meeting, when he said: "If you want to make jokes about stereotypes, don't."
Bogota is a fascinating city. Like Dixon, I don't know that much about it and
unlike Ferguson I have not been there, but for years I have been interested in the innovative changes that city has been making for its residents.
That sweeping change began under Antanas Mockus, who was mayor from 1995 to 1998, and accelerated under the leadership of Peñalosa, who was mayor from 1998 to 2001 and was just re-elected last year for the 2016-2019 term.
During his first term, Peñalosa established the Transmilenio bus rapid transit system, which has grown to 144 stations and almost 100 km of dedicated bus lanes and carries over two million people a day. He also started the City's 300 kilometre network of bicycle paths, which carries 400,000 rides a day.
Recognizing that the City had a real shortage of high-quality public space, Peñalosa established Ciclovia: a weekly celebration of open, car-free streets on Sundays and holidays between 7:00 AM and 2:00 PM. Essentially, the city transforms its street network into a huge public park.
On an average week, two million people get out and enjoy their streets through walking, jogging, cycling, rollerskating, soccer, yoga, aerobics, live music and just hanging out.
Peñalosa's brother Guillermo (Gil) was Commissioner of Parks under Enrique's mayoralty and oversaw many of these programs. Later he moved to Canada is the director of 8-80 Cities, an international organization based in Mississauga. 8-80 Cities is founded on the principle that if you design a city for an eight-year-old and an 80-year-old, you will make it a great place for everyone in between as well.
Bogota has been a world leader in creating a city that is safer, healthier, more inclusive and more enjoyable for its residents. Its leaders have proven that with bold vision and brave execution, you can very quickly transform a dangerous, crime-ridden and corrupt metropolis into a world leader in increasing safety, inclusion, peace and growing prosperity.
So I'm doubly appalled by Ferguson's dismissal. Not only does he insult an entire country with his lazy stereotyping about "backwards" South American life, but he also denies Hamilton the opportunity to draw any lessons from an inspirational living model of civic transformation.
Ferguson's refusal to pay attention to Bogota's amazing strides on dramatically improving quality of life just reinforces his ignorance and closes his mind to the possibility that we could learn from Bogota's transformative investments in rapid transit, walking, cycling and active outdoor living.
Hamilton needs to learn from the best if we want to achieve real improvements in these vital areas. When a civic leader is so arrogant and prejudiced against another country that he flatly refuses to acknowledge that country's successes, our city as a whole inevitably ends up poorer for it.
Update: Gil Peñalosa has denounced Ferguson's comments on Twitter, calling on the Councillor to apologize to Hamiltonians for his "ignorant remarks":
Peñalosa also acknowledged "great Councillors" like Green, who "off-set bad apples".
Update 2: The article refers to Enrique Peñalosa as the former mayor of Bogota, but he was re-elected last year to serve as mayor again for the 2016-2019 term. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
Update 3: It turns out Ferguson has not actually been to Bogota. According to a Spectator column, "Ferguson says he didn't see his bus-riding fowls in a faraway, rural place. He saw them in Cartagena, a major resort city. It was 12 years ago but it obviously left a deep impression." For reference, Cartagena is a 1,000 kilometre drive from Bogota. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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