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11. Santa Fé de Bogotá: A Latin American special case?

Population and demographic structure
Bogotá's national role
The economy
Poverty and social indicators
The shape of the city
Public services
The city's principal problems
Administration of the city
The future

Alan Gilbert


Bogotá1 is a very unusual Latin American capital. First, it is not a primate city; it does not dominate Colombia in the way that Buenos Aires overshadows Argentina or Lima controls Peru. Second, during the 1980s, Bogotá's population continued to grow rapidly. Third, Bogotá suffered little from the economic recession and debt crisis of the 1980s. Good national management kept the level of external debt down, and the discovery of new export resources, such as coal and petroleum, attracted foreign capital to Colombia and helped to maintain a thoroughly respectable rate of economic growth.2 Fourth, Bogotá's economy does not seem to have suffered from the government's policy since 1986 of opening up the national economy to foreign competition. Even if Bogotá is not a major export centre, it has lost few jobs because of trade liberalization; its experience is very different from that of, say, Mexico City. Finally, Bogotá is atypical of metropolitan Latin America in so far as most bogotanos seem to have improved the quality of their lives in recent decades. The numbers of people living in poverty has declined relatively, the result of a buoyant national economy and Bogotá's central role in Colombian economic life.

At the same time, Bogotá also suffers from many problems similar to those faced in other Latin American cities. Providing jobs for a rapidly expanding labour force is a critical issue, even if the level of unemployment is currently very low. Although personal incomes are not actually falling, far too many bogotanos live in poverty. Malnutrition and poor health are rife and too many families live in overcrowded conditions or in homes lacking adequate services. Bogotá suffers badly from traffic congestion, a situation aggravated by a poor public transport system. Environmental problems are also serious and most forms of pollution are getting worse.

Population and demographic structure

Bogotá was founded by the Spanish in 1538. They chose a good spot to found a city, in a rich agricultural area with plenty of water and space in which to expand. Of course, its elevated location far from the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, together with the mountainous terrain of western Colombia, impeded efforts to control the national territory. Bogotá long remained a primus inter pares, never becoming a "primate" city (Gilbert, 1994; Jaramillo and Cuervo, 1987).

Bogotá has become a large city only in the last fifty years; in 1938, it had only 300,000 or so inhabitants. It began to expand rapidly when falling rural death rates and increasing levels of rural violence, superimposed on an inequitable distribution of land, encouraged cityward migration. With economic growth creating jobs in Bogotá, migrants began to arrive in large numbers. During the 1940s and 1950s, the city was growing annually at over 5 per cent; in the 1960s and 1970s, at almost 7 per cent (table 11.1). During the 1980s, the pace of growth slowed, but, unlike most of metropolitan Latin America (see chapter 2), the city continued to grow relatively quickly.

Migration was the key element in urban growth from the 1930s until the late 1960s. Migrants arrived from all over Colombia, but principally from the neighbouring departments of Cundinamarca, Boyacá, and Tolima (Gilbert and Ward, 1986; Castañeda, 1993). More women moved to the city than men: in 1951, Bogotá had 100 women to every 77 men in the 20-24 year age group (Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá and CCB, 1987: 49).3

In recent years, natural increase has contributed more to Bogotá's growth than migration. In the first half of the 1970s, migration generated approximately half of Bogotá's growth, but, by the first half of the 1990s, only 22 per cent (Yepes and Bosoni, 1993: 52).4 This change was not due to any slowing in the number of migrants coming to the city: 74,000 arrived in 1992 compared to 57,000 in 1982. It was mainly a consequence of the age structure of Bogotá: despite a rapid decline in age-specific fertility rates, there were more young adults to bear children.

Table 11.1 Bogotá: Population growth

Year Population (000s) Annual growth (%) Bogotá/next three largest citiesb
1905 100   0.80
1918 144 2.8 0.76
1938 356 4.6 0.84
1951 715 5.5 0.65
1964 1,697a 6.9 0.74
1973 2,855a 7.6 0.89
1985 4,268a 3.4 0.96
1993c 6,498a 5.4 1.27
1993 5,898a 4.1 1.16

Sources: Gilbert, 1978; population censuses.

a. Including Soacha.
b. Medellín (including Bello, Envigado, and Itagüi), Cali (including Yumbo), and Barranquilla (including Soledad).
c. The National Planning Department has decided that the population of Bogotá was probably overestimated in the 1993 census and has reduced it by 600,000. The census results are currently being recalculated. Both figures have been included in the table.

Bogotá's population also expanded because life expectancy rose significantly. In the early 1970s, the average Bogotáno lived for 66 years, by the early 1990s for 71 years. Greater longevity was helped by a spectacular fall in infant mortality, from 50 per 1,000 live births in the first half of the 1970s to 23 in the the early 1990s.

Declining fertility and increased life expectancy has had a marked effect on the city's age structure. The population under 15 fell from 42 per cent of the total in 1964 to 31 per cent in 1985 (table 11.2). While the relative decline in the number of children has reduced demands on the education system, it has increased the demand for jobs. If Bogotá's population is getting older, there are stir] very few people over 60 years of age; that is a difficulty to be faced in the future.

Table 11.2 Bogotá: Age structure, 1951-1995

Year 0-14 years 15-44 years 45-64 years 65+years
1951 34.8 52.3 10.5 2.4
1964 42.1 46.1 9.6 2.2
1973 38.5 49.4 9.7 2.4
1985 31.3 54.0 11.5 3.3
1995 30.1



Sources: Alcaldía Mayor de Bogotá and Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá, 1987: 47; for 1995, Yepes and Bosoni, 1993: 53.

Table 11.3 Manufacturing employment in Colombia's major cities, 1945-1992 (thousands of jobs)

City 1945 1958 1980 1992
Bogotá 22.6 60.1 148.1 193.3
Medellín 30.4 52.0 122.9 116.6
Cali 10.0 26.2 61.1 69.8
Barranquilla 14.3 23.2 40.0 29.4

Sources: Jaramillo and Cuervo, 1987: 53; ANDI, 1994.

Bogotá's national role

Bogotá has never managed to dominate the Colombian economy, always fighting for supremacy against powerful regional rivals. The history of industrial development in Colombia reflects this rivalry clearly. At the turn of the century, Medellín was the country's largest manufacturing centre. It still retained that position in 1945, when it had one-third more industrial jobs than Bogotá (table 11.3). It was only when import substitution became national policy in the 1950s that Bogotá managed to overtake its great rival. Thenceforth, the capital's larger market and its privileged access to government and political decision-making began to count in its favour (Gilbert, 1975). By 1958, Bogotá had more manufacturing jobs than Medellín and its dominance continued to increase over the years. Even so, Colombia's industry is still highly regionalized (table 11.3).

In recent years, Colombia's economy has become more centralized. Between 1960 and 1985, Bogotá increased its share of the gross domestic product from 15 to 25 per cent. In 1993, the head offices of 26 major banks were located in Bogotá, compared with only five in other Colombian cities (Revista del Banco de la República, June 1993).

Table 11.4 Bogotá's gross regional product, 1989

Sector Percentage
Agriculture 0.3
Mining 0.2
Manufacturing 24.9
Electricity, gas, and water 0.9
Construction 4.2
Commerce 9.6
Transport and communications 10.2
Banks, insurance, and productive services 12.8
Rents 12.3
Personal services 10.2
Government services 15.1
Domestic services 0.5
Total 101.2a

Source: DANE, 1992.
a. Does not sum to 100 per cent because imputed bank services and taxes on imports have not been included.

In 1992, it provided work for 34 per cent of the country's manufacturing employees; in 1988, 43 per cent of all students in higher education were studying in Bogotá. In 1993, Bogotá's population at last exceeded the sum of the populations of the next three cities (table 11.1).

The economy

Manufacturing generates around one-quarter of Bogotá's gross urban product (table 11.4). The city has fewer manufacturing workers per capita than Medellín but a better balanced industrial sector. Its strength lies in the printing, metals, transport, chemicals, and plastics sectors (ANDI, 1994). Most production is for the domestic market; manufacturing in Bogotá has never generated much in the way of industrial exports.

Government is a vital component in the Bogotá economy, contributing 15 per cent of the gross domestic product in 1989. Some 34,000 government employees worked in the city in 1987, almost one-third of the national total (Lopez, 1990: 37). Financial services constitute the city's third most important generator of value added and, along with construction, constituted one of the most dynamic elements in Bogotá's growth during the 1980s.

Bogotá's economic future is uncertain but hardly problematic. The city's economy was built, of course, during a period when the trade regime was highly protective. Since 1986, the government has been gradually opening up the national economy, a process that was accelerated in 1990 (DNP, 1991). The question is whether Bogotá can cope with freer trade and with newly competitive labour and financial markets. As the head of the Chamber of Commerce recently put it: "Bogotá, the capital of protectionism, now has to overcome various difficulties if it wants to become the capital of the opening" (Fernández de Soto, 1994: 44).

The major worry for Bogotá is that it currently generates very little in the way of exports. In 1991, the city produced only US$188 of exports per capita.5 To judge from the sales of the city's 100 largest exporters in 1992, Bogotá's major exports are flowers (41 per cent), emeralds (29 per cent), agricultural products (12 per cent), leather goods (7 per cent), and clothing (5 per cent) (Pineda et al., 1993). Bogotá clearly has problems in exporting manufactures because of its location. The only foreign market that can be reached easily by road is that of Venezuela. Between 1990 and 1994, trade liberalization trebled Colombia's trade with its neighbour but further expansion will be hindered by the current plight of the Venezuelan economy. Since most of Bogotá's exports go by air, its international competitiveness is not helped by the limited size of its airport; El Dorado desperately needs a second runway.

Of course, optimism about Bogotá's economic future is greatly helped by the healthy state of the Colombian economy. During the early 1990s, apertura led to the repatriation of large sums of Colombian capital, and the discovery of new mineral resources is attracting large amounts of foreign investment. Bogotá's strengths in producer services, higher education, research, and commerce mean that it is bound to benefit from any growth in the national economy. Reforms are needed if the city is to maintain its current pace of economic growth, but it hardly faces an insurmountable challenge.


Where Bogotá does face a serious problem is in providing work for its rapidly growing labour force. The working-age population grew from 2.4 million in 1976 to 4.8 million in 1995 and the economically active population more than doubled from 1.2 million to 3.0 million. The latter grew so quickly because of a substantial rise in the labour participation rate (table 11.5). Labour participation rates rose across all age groups with the gross participation rate (economically active population as a proportion of working-age population) rising from 51 per cent in 1976 to 62 per cent in 1993 (DANE, 1991). But the really significant change was among women. Their participation rate rose from 36 per cent in 1976 to 50 per cent in 1995 compared with a relatively small rise in the male rate, from 69 to 77 per cent (Gómez and Perez, n.d.: 11). In 1995, women made up 42 per cent of Bogotá's work force.

Table 11.5 Employment and unemployment, 1981-1995

Yeara Global participation rate Gross participation rate Unemployment
1981 38.5 52.2 5.8
1982 40.1 54.3 8.4
1983 40.2 54.1 7.9
1984 42.9 57.7 12.6
1985 44.5 59.6 13.4
1986 45.1 60.0 14.3
1987 46.4 61.1 13.0
1988 45.9 60.7 12.1
1989 45.4 59.6 9.7
1990 44.1 59.7 7.9
1991 46.5 61.8 9.2
1992 47.0 60.9b 8.4
1993 46.6 61.9b 7.3
1994 47.5 n.a. 8.1
1995 47.3 62.5 6.5

Sources: DANE, 1991; Boletín de Estadística 491 (1994); Revista del Banco de la República, October 1995.

a. March of each year.
b. Annual averages.

Despite such rapid growth, the quality of the labour force improved. In 1976, only 14 per cent of the labour force had received any university education; fifteen years later the proportion had risen to 22 per cent. The proportion of workers with only primary-school education fell from 47 per cent of the total to 29 per cent during the same period.

Unemployment, which has never been as severe as in Medellín or in the major Caribbean cities, actually fell during the 1990s.6 In 1995, 7.0 per cent were out of work compared with an average of 11.5 per cent during the 1980s.7 The reason why unemployment has remained low is that increasing numbers of workers have been employed in poorly remunerated work. Much of this work is in the so-called informal sector, mainly concentrated in commerce, construction, services, and manufacturing; indeed, employment in the commerce and construction sectors is dominated by informal workers (table 11.6). Between 1976 and 1990, the proportion of workers earning less than twice the minimum salary rose from 50 to 58 per cent (Gómez and Perez, n.d.: 81). Even if the number of domestic servants decreased as a proportion of the Bogotá workforce from 10 per cent in 1976 to 5 per cent in 1991, signifying some improvement in the employment situation, the so-called informal sector was growing: it expanded from 48 per cent to 52 per cent between 1990 and 1992 alone (ibid.: 161).

Table 11.6 Bogotá: Formal and informal employment by sector, 1990


Informal workersa

Formal workers

Number % Number %
Agriculture 10,678 1.3 15,144 1.7
Mining 1,382 0.2 10,317 1.1
Manufacturing 174,725 20.8 238,015 26.1
Electricity, gas, and water 232 0.0 7,428 0.8
Construction 70,140 8.3 47,721 5.2
Commerce 266,081 31.9 140,886 15.5
Transport and communications 49,036 5.8 58,392 6.4
Banks, insurance, and productive services 30,916 3.7 130,606 14.3
Services 236,482 28.1 263,069 28.9
Total 841,672 100.0 911,578 100.0

Source: Gómez and Perez, n.d.: 160.

a. Informal-sector workers include those employed in domestic service, family employment, self-employed who are neither professionals nor technicians, and employees in companies with less than 10 workers.

Poverty and social indicators

Over the last two or three decades, the quality of life in Bogotá has undoubtedly improved. Life expectancy rose by five years between the early 1970s and the early 1990s and the infant mortality rate fell from 50 per thousand live births in 1971 to 22 in 1993 (Rinaudo et al., 1994: 28). The proportion of homes built out of flimsy materials fell from 7 per cent in 1973 to 3 per cent in 1993. Per capita incomes have been rising, and between 1971 and 1993 the city's gross domestic product rose at an annual rate of 2.2 per cent. Poverty has also been falling, with the proportion of Bogotános living in poverty declining from 57 per cent in 1973 to 17 per cent in 1991, and of those living in extreme need from 26 to 4 per cent (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992: 15).

Bogotá has much less poverty than most other Colombian cities. In 198485, household expenditure showed that while 18 per cent of Bogotános were living below the poverty line, the equivalent figures for 13 other major cities ranged from a low of 22 per cent in Bucaramanga to 40 per cent in Montería (Muñoz, 1991: 286). Since 1980, most Bogotános have fared much better than the inhabitants of Lima, Mexico City, or Rio de Janeiro. Nevertheless, far too many people live in poverty. Some 800,000 people lack basic needs and 200,000 live in misery (Londoño de la Cuesta, 1992: 15) M Bogotá is also a very unequal city; in 1985, the poorest quintile received only 4 per cent of the city's income, the top docile 37 per cent (Lopez, 1990: 41). There is little sign that the distribution of income has improved over time. Escobar (n.d.) was unable to show whether the distribution of income in the city had improved or deteriorated between 1985 and 1991, a disturbing finding in a city which has a higher level of inequality than that found in the country's other major cities.

The shape of the city

Bogotá's physical area increased from 900 hectares in 1900 to more than 30,000 hectares today (Gilbert, 1978; Pineda and Jiménez, 1990). The pace of urban growth accelerated with the development of motorized transport and particularly when private car ownership exploded in the 1970s. Gradually, the urban area spilled across Bogotá's administrative boundaries. In 1954, the difficulty this posed for good management was resolved when six municipalities - Bosa, Engativa, Fontibón, Suba, Usaquén, and Usme - were absorbed into the Special District. Since then, the city has again spread beyond its boundaries (figure 11.1). It began to encroach into Soacha in the 1960s and is now absorbing substantial parts of Cajicá, Chía, Cota, and Mosquera (Forero et al., 1995).

The organization of space within the city has changed markedly. Employment has become much more decentralized and many professionals have moved their offices north from the traditional city centre. Major newspapers, such as El Tiempo and El Espectador, have moved their printing facilities to more peripheral sites. As a result, employment in the central area has been increasing much more slowly than in the city as a whole (Pineda and Jiménez, 1990). New sub-centres have also emerged, many located around shopping malls, such as Unicentro and Búlevar Niza, others connected with office developments, such as the National Administrative Centre

Figure 11.1 Bogotá: The metropolitan area

(CAN), new transport termini, such as the Terminal de Buses, and new wholesale market centres, such as Corabastos. During the past twenty or thirty years, the central area's dominance has declined sharply.

The city's residential structure has also changed. In the 1930s, the rich lived in the north of the city and the poor in the south (Amato, 1969). Figure 11.2 shows that today the social geography of the city is less easy to describe. Two main factors explain this shift (see chapter 4). First, high-income residential areas have expanded outwards until they have reached older lowincome areas. Second, the rising price of land has forced the expanding middle class to occupy land in areas that would earlier have been regarded as beyond the social pale. During the 1970s, several large construction companies developed middle-class suburbs on land in the west and southwest (Gilbert and Ward, 1985: 116).

Mohan (1994: 93) claims that in the 1970s, "the spatial separation of rich and poor appears to have increased ... The spatial separation is more pronounced by radial sectors than by distance from the city center, the norm in cities in developed countries." Certainly there is little sign that the level of segregation has declined since 1980. Recent changes have made no difference to the huge social divide between barrios in Bogotá; most suburbs are socially homogeneous and are clearly recognizable as the territory of a particular income group. Vast tracts of land are occupied by low-income groups while other areas have few poor people. In 1985, for example, the Ciudad Bolívar district had 29 per cent of its population living in miserable housing conditions and 41 per cent living in overcrowded shelter; by contrast, Chapinero, Antonio Nariño, and Teusaquillo had very few families living in such conditions (Molina et al., 1993: 45).

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