The Mayor of Bogota

I believe that if people know the rules and are sensitized by art, humor, and creativity, they are more likely to accept change. The crucial point of a citizens' culture is learning to correct others without mistreating them or generating aggression. We need to create a society in which civility rules over cynicism and apathy. — Antanas Mockus
Antanas Mockus
photo by Seis grados / Six degrees

Antanas Mockus governed the city of Bogota, Colombia with unconventional policies of social reform. While dean of the National University, he dropped his trousers to a group of unruly students — his behavior was deemed unworthy, and he was forced to resign. But the dean's derriere was captured on video and it made television news, and overnight, Mockus became a national celebrity.

Three months later, in October 1994, six million citizens of Bogota decided that his unusual approach to crowd control deserved a wider forum — they elected the philosopher-mathematician to govern one of the most violent cities in Latin America. The new mayor of Bogota had no political experience. He did not even bother to campaign.

While Mockus has made many an improvement with the city, perhaps his most interesting is within the streets of Bogota. Cars used to zoom through red lights whenever they felt like it and used the sidewalks for parking. This forced the pedestrians to walk in the streets and dodge traffic, injuries and deaths were quite frequent. His solution — he hired a lot of "Marcel Marceau" mimes to walk the streets and sidewalks and model an effective way for pedestrians to stand up for their rights. The white-faced and white-gloved mimes would approach a vehicle breaking a law and point at the car, and mimic the correct procedures for the hapless driver. Once the driver performs correctly, the mime expresses exaggerated thanks. In addition, the mime always ensures there is an audience and encourages the crowd to applaud loudly. This has helped the drivers to correct mistakes without feeling embarrassed and without invoking a machismo test of wills. Drivers and pedestrians have learned how to communicate in a civil way.

Pedestrians are also targets for "mime behavioral therapy." Pickpockets, jaywalkers, and other lawbreakers are liable to be followed down the street by the mime artists, who imitate their every move. The idea is that they will be embarrassed into changing their ways, much to the hilarity of the large crowds that gather to watch the antics.

Mockus also introduced soccer-style red cards to motorists in a city where traffic lights are considered largely decorative and road rage is an all too common. He hopes they will replace fists and other weapons as a form of reprimanding fellow drivers.

The streets of Bogata are much safer than before.

One key to Mockus's success is humor. The Spanish word for carrot is zanahoria, which also means nerd. The Bogotanos were urged to have a "Carrot Christmas." Candles and wreaths were replaced as yuletide decorations by carrots.

Festive packs were handed out at many public events. These festive  packs contained a soft drink in place of the traditional whiskey, a condom to be blown up and burst should party goers miss the sound of fireworks, and of course a carrot.

Next Steps

Further readings on the Affective domain:

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