Barranquilla is shedding its industrial past in an effort to protect biodiversity

When Barranquilla Mayor Jaime Pumarejo sued the federal government of Colombia last year, it was all about protecting what he calls the city’s greatest natural asset: biodiversity.

Bomarijo, who briefly served as the country’s minister of housing, city and territory in 2017, says the government is not doing enough to protect the Magdalena River from pollution before it reaches and empties into the wetlands near Barranquilla, on Colombia’s northern coast. Caribbean Sea.

“The river we are,” he says. “We exist because of it, but we have forgotten about it and moved away from it.” The lawsuit is about “getting people to notice that if we clean up the river, we’re cleaning up the country, improving people’s quality of life and finding a place where we can unite.”

Known as the “Golden Gateway to Columbia” for its port and industry — it was founded in 1629 and is now home to 1.2 million people — the city is tearing away much of its industrial past and striving for sustainable growth, in what the local government calls an era of greener urban development.

As part of a World Economic Forum initiative, called BiodiverCities by 2030, Barranquilla and more than 120 other cities in Latin America are trying to encourage a healthy balance between urbanization and open green spaces that promote nature, sustainability, and outdoor activity.

Elected mayor in 2020, Pumarejo has continued sustainable development projects laid out by previous administrations, including redesigning the Magdalena river front known as the Gran Malecón, revitalizing a wetland to the northwest of the city, and restoring and building new parks through a program called Todos. Al Parque.

“When we started working [the Gran Malécon]We just wanted to bring people back to the river because it had become an industrial area and we wanted to get them to touch the river again, to see it, to feel it,” says Pumarejo. He explained that the local government has restored 5 kilometers of river frontage for public use by offering incentives to companies to move their operations elsewhere or integrate into the city plan.

The projects have been mostly funded by CAF, Latin America’s development bank, but the mayor says partners such as the French Development Agency, the British government and the Inter-American Development Bank have also helped fund the city’s green agenda.

Today, as a result of these projects, 93 percent of Barranquilleros live within eight minutes’ walk of the park, and according to the mayor’s office, more than 10 million people annually pass through Gran Malecón for sport, for a day out with their kids, or to eat.

“In Colombia, nature is not a political debate, nature conservation is not a political debate — everyone is in agreement that we need to do something,” says the mayor.

Diego Ochoa, director of external affairs at the Alexander von Humboldt Institute for Bioresources Research, a partner with the World Economic Forum on this initiative, says the BiodiverCities by 2030 project, officially approved in 2022, is guiding cities towards nature-based development approaches.

According to the WEF, investment opportunities in nature-based projects for infrastructure and land-conserving interventions in cities could together create more than 59 million jobs by 2030—equivalent to 1.5 percent of the global workforce projected in 2030, and almost the size of Italy. population today.

Pumarejo has also signed an agreement with Danish company Copenhagen Infrastructure Developer to develop offshore wind power for a 350MW offshore wind power project, the first of its kind in Colombia.

Offshore wind could bring in more than $27 billion in investment and create 26,000 jobs by 2050, according to a government roadmap.

“Our role as Colombians is not so much to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because we emit very low. “Our role is to preserve our biodiversity,” says Bomarijo.

Hotel operator Sofia Pareja Galindo lives and works between Cali, in the southwestern corner of the country, and Barranquilla. Originally from Bogota, she moved to Barranquilla when she was 12 years old, and in 2021 she graduated from Universidade del Norte in Graphic Design.

“I am who I am because of Barranquilla,” says Pareja Galindo. Growing up in the city was fun, she says, because of its arts scene and its carnival.

“It really is an artistic city. If you’re not dancing, you’re singing. If you’re not singing, you’re doing theatre. . . You paint, whatever, but you have to do something related to the arts.”

Pareja Galindo likes the new parks because she says they connect rich and poor areas and approves of how local authorities are redeveloping parts of the old industrial city. But she wants more wild protected areas in and around Barranquilla.

Orlando Almario, a 29-year-old software developer, agrees that the city’s arts, culture, people, and biodiversity make it what it is today.

There is a saying in Barranquilla, “la tierrita es bacana”, “ He says, which roughly translates as “our earth is really wonderful.”

“For me, especially working in the tech industry, being able to work in remote companies, it’s amazing. I must stay where I was born. I must continue to share the good things with my family and with the friends I made along the way.”

Mario says he loves the city’s progress and growth but doesn’t attribute it all to the government.

“It’s the people,” he argues. “We Latin Americans, we work hard. We want to be better than our parents and we want our children to be better than us. We will continue to push for that, no matter which government we get.”

Kotchakorn Voraakhom, a Thai landscape architect and visiting visiting lecturer at Harvard University, believes that every person, no matter what generation they belong to, has a role in the future of the planet.

Narratives must be changed rather than blame placed on those who came before them [us]”, she says. “We need young people. We need their energy. We need their power. And most importantly, we have to enable them to work.”

Voraakhom says young people need to play a bigger role in making things happen. Some initiatives fail due to lack of funds and excessive bureaucracy.

Bomarijo agrees that bureaucracy is a challenge but stresses the importance of citizen involvement:

“Take them to the places you want to preserve and show them the things you want to do,” he urges. Building pilot projects. Building sustainable urban nurseries. And we show them how to plant the tree.”

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