Where you were standing, they stung people, "says Bibiana Salamanca. The capricious Bogota rain soaks the colorful zebra crossing that marks the beginning of Bronx Creative District and the last vestiges of the most violent block of the Colombian capital. "This place represents one of the saddest and most tragic scenes of our city in recent history," says Mónica Ramírez, district director.
Until May 28, 2016, this handful of streets was forbidden territory for the inhabitants of the city. Inside the invisible borders that separated the Bronx from the rest of Bogotá, a multi-faceted crime industry that was destroying lives at full capacity was hidden in broad daylight: disappearances, mistreatment, torture, drugs, sexual exploitation of minors and slavery were part of of the inhuman routine settled in this space. The place is now called to become a center of economic activity where ideas, entrepreneurship, inspiration and entertainment will converge, generating new consumption dynamics and a permanent flow of visitors.
The area, which is located a few blocks from the presidential palace, began to be formed in 1996, when the mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who repeats administration at present, closed Calle del Cartucho, the city's largest drug-selling area, turn it into a park. The so-called street dwellers and drug traffickers moved their business a couple of blocks below, invaded buildings and resumed their business in the Bronx.
The area became no man's land. Only the one with interests from the underworld entered or who sought to spend the night for less than one euro. Who entered did not assure his exit. The neighbors, mostly merchants, ignored the neighborhood in the best possible way, which was similarly done by the police. Nobody dared to intervene in the area until 2016, when the Mayor's Office, again in the hands of Peñalosa, entered the Bronx at dawn on May 28, accompanied by police, social workers and demolition workers to end the city's largest drug pot. .
- Dismantle an independent republic of crime
Between walls stained with graffiti and pieces of furniture that were left behind after the intervention, a group of workers collected the last pieces of a building demolished three days before. Much of the walls that surrounded the old Bronx are now reduced to rubble. Among the little that remains stands one of the last pique houses where it was proceeded to dismember the victims of the criminal gear that, more than life, was killing this corner of the city.
When there is nothing left, the structural resurrection of the Bronx will begin, in which the bulk of the project's current financing -190,000 million pesos, some 52 million euros- will be invested, coming from the Mayor's Office. The demolished space will be dedicated to the construction of a three-story complex that will be the heart of the new district. A few meters further, two assets of cultural interest that few have been able to see will be rehabilitated and returned to the city: the Recruitment Battalion – former Faculty of Medicine of the National University – and the one that was the Geology Museum of Bogotá.
The conceptual part of this transformation has been underway since 2017. "As the infrastructure is the most delayed, we began first by replicating in essence what is a creative district, through cultural programming, events, the tenants' call … ", explains Ramírez. So far, the organization has received more than 800 proposals from entrepreneurs who aspire to establish themselves in the Bronx, all within the framework of the creative industries.
- Return to the prohibited block
The avalanche of projects has not been the only success of this first year of conceptual life of the creative district: 2017 marked the beginning of the reconquest of space by citizens. "At first they arrive with fear. They call and ask in networks: 'But is it safe? Are there cops? ' And when they arrive they are surprised. Because these buildings are unique in Bogotá. There is nothing similar, "says Ramírez. The 27 events that have been held so far in the space have convinced more than 27,000 people to visit the Bronx and have even aroused the curiosity of outside investors. "The first events we did directly. They were all from the Administration. And at three or four months we started looking for private, "recalls the director. An example of this interest is the case of Singularity University. As he passed through Colombia, this itinerant training project chose the place to celebrate his party of networking.
If all goes well, the end of the crime – and of the works – will give way, by the end of 2020, to innovation in all its aspects. They are called to join the Bronx entrepreneurs from a myriad of creative sectors: from theater and literature to audiovisual arts and software. "We have a potential demand of 49,500 square meters, when the occupied space is 13,500. Obviously, after this comes a curing and filtering exercise based on our criteria. We want it to be a creative district and therefore it must have a very special mix, "says the space director.
When the project began to take shape, the team looked at the whole world for inspiration. Although the Bronx will be the first creative district in Colombia, the model has already been implemented in other countries. Ramírez sees the future of the space he directs as a merger between LX Factory (Lisbon) and Peckham Levels (London). In addition to agreeing on their social and entrepreneurial approach, they resemble their Bogotan counterpart in their infrastructure needs: the Portuguese is located in an old industrial complex of 23,000 square meters; English was born inside an abandoned parking block.
The creative district started the house for its inhabitants knowing that the roofs have their own deadlines. Once the last structures of the old pot of crime have been demolished, the bidding for the works of the future local innovation forge will begin. Designating the builder, who will also be responsible for operating the district, is vital for the progress of the project, and not only for the obvious. "Our number one concern is time. This administration has one year left. Our challenge is to leave everything adjudged before that date, because there is always the risk that a change of government transforms the concept philosophically, "explains Ramírez.
The good side is that in the strategy of the current Colombian president, Ivan Duque, there is a prominent place for the orange economy. The bad side is that, even so, everything is possible. "Politics here are super extreme." In fact, although the idea of revitalizing the Bronx through creative industries emerged after the intervention, the recovery of the area is actually integrated into a wider process of urban renewal that has been in slow motion for the past 20 years. The hope of the managers is that the dynamism of the creative district is contagious in the vicinity and awakens new developments in their environment.
The specter of gentrification is present, especially in the minds of the detractors of the project, but it is not so worrisome for Ramírez, who hopes to dispel fears by involving people: "by showing them that this is the first path to the renewal of all the sector through public investment and that later all the works will begin to develop with the same owners, "he explains.
Meanwhile, the challenge is to preserve and cultivate the commitment of the community of creators and entrepreneurs who imagines working among the new walls of the Bronx. "We are asking them to tell us that they want to be a year and a half in advance and that they continue to be enthusiastic when the infrastructure is ready," acknowledges the director. "We want them to start already to benefit from the opportunity to get to know each other and connect with the other creatives. When this is opened, work together and have projects in common. This is how creative districts operate. "
After the storm of the bids and the change of government, the road seems flat. "Public concession processes are always complex and legally very difficult. They have 10,000 fronts. But I think the hardest part was already done. "