“Cultura Ciudadana is not a recipe but an approach.”
– Antanas Mockus in Doris Summer’s The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities, 2014
Cultura Ciudadana is a phrase that is inseparable from Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota (1995-1997, 2000-2003). As mayor Mockus became famous all over the world and was even a hot topic in the Nethelands (NRC, 1997; Volkskrant, 1996), especially during his first term. The reason behind all the fuzz was the unusual and unorthodox way in which Mockus acted, also known as the Cultura Ciudadana. He wanted to part from his predecessors and follow up on his promise of change, but saw that he had to use unconventional methods to do so. And unconventional methods he had. To name 3 examples:
- He hired over 400 mimes and let them take control over the traffic in Bogota, instead of the (often) corrupt traffic officers. Check out this video to see how this looked.
- He organized “Night Without Men” for the women of Bogota. On these nights men were put under curfew so that women could have a fun and save night out.
- He put up signs all over the city trying for the benefit of talking to one another, instead if using violence.
How strange these tactics might seem, they had a major impact. Traffic related deaths dropped, women could have a safe night out and the reported violence was down as well. Because of it Mockus – the “Super Citizen” – was immensely popular.
The whole world stood by and looked at Mockus’ approach and how he succeeded in changing Bogota. His ways seemed to inspire others, but that’s what the quote is about. Mockus knew that his way of doing things was not a recipe, not a solid phased plan that could just be implemented in every country that had a high number of traffic deaths or had a violence problem. His approach is all about accurately assessing the situations in a region to try and change the region for the better.
Could his approach be implemented at a national level?
On the basis of his mime project one might be tempted to say yes, because all over Latin America cities followed this example. But on the other hand there are arguments that might make people think otherwise. As Mockus puts it: his approach counts on “[…] analysis of local conditions.” (Sommer, 2014) It might be that the national government is distant from the local to facilitate the local in an adequate solution for the problems the local population faces. The presidential election in 2010 showed exactly that. Mockus ran for president, but lost because the people were afraid to put their trust in the hands of such an eccentric person and might end up losing everything they had gained under Uribe (Economist, 2010).
As long as we haven’t seen Cultura Ciudadana at a national scale it is impossible to say with a 100% accuracy that it will not work, so until then it will remain a debatable point.
This quote is connected directly to the another quote we had to do research on this week, namely: “Admiration is the feeling that sustains democracy.” This quote of Mockus is about the reason why his approach is a success. This also means that this should be the end goal and implicitly confirms the statement about the Cultura Ciudadana not being a recipe but an approach, since you will not succeed in admiration in every region by doing exactly the same, but rather use an approach in the same creative way to try to reach this goal.
Doris Sommer. The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities. Durham. NC: Duke University Press, 2014. Chapter 1