How to Change a City

Knowledge empowers people. If people know the rules, and are sensitised by art, humor, and creativity, they are much more likely to accept change

Antanas Mockus


Did you ever think there could be a link between showing your behind to a group of students and changing the dynamics of a major world capital? It might seem like a strange link, but in the case of Antanas Mockus and Bogotá this could actually be the case.

Mockus - A Different Type of Mayor

In 1993, Antanas Mockus resigned as the President of the National University of Bogotá in the aftermath of the incident where he mooned a group of students. Despite what you might think, his actions actually gave him increased popularity in the country, a popularity he used to become the 791st mayor of Bogotá in 1995. He would soon become a mayor no one would ever forget.

The creative and eccentric mayor started changing the city. Dressed as a “supercitizen” Mockus launched many new initiatives, such as replacing traffic-police with mimes, launching the “Night for Women” where men were urged to stay at home so the women go out, showering on TV to put focus on water management and asking people to pay more taxes… voluntarily!

Crazy or Genius?

Would you ever come up with the idea to have 420 mimes running around in a city to control the traffic? And if that idea popped into your head, would you ever think about actually doing it? Mockus did, because he believed that the citizens of Bogotá were more scared of being ridiculed than being fined. Through this initiative, to many people’s surprise, he managed to cut the rate of traffic fatalities by over 50%! In his first of three “Night for Women” over 700 000 women participated, and after he had turned off his shower while he soaped on national TV the use of water was reduced with 14% in two months.

People started to take to Mockus’ ideas, which is probably why nearly 63 000 people decided to voluntarily pay 10% more taxes when Mockus asked them to. As an overall achievement, where most of these initiatives can be said to have contributed, the homicide-rate in Bogotá dropped 70% under Mockus’ leadership. Or as he put it: under the collective leadership of Bogotá.

What is the Relevance?

Why are we talking about the actions of a mayor 20 years ago? Because it is a great example of what improved social behaviour can do to a city, or a country for that matter.

Mockus stated that he viewed Bogotá as “a big classroom,” and if the people were properly educated they would behave in a good way. Giving them positive feedback when they did something good, for instance, can be just as effective as punishing them for doing something bad. This is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago. A city is never better than its inhabitants, meaning that if every individual contributes to improving social behaviour, the city will improve with them.

If we are truly aiming to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we can’t just rely on cities and countries changing themselves - we should follow Mockus’ example and do what we can to contribute, encourage and push for a social behaviour that gets us to the finish-line.

Even if that means going the extra mile, being a bit crazy - and pulling down our trousers.

To know more about Mockus' time as a mayor, check out the documentary

Bogota Change


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