Rapid population growth and expansion beyond municipality limits has drawn attention to governance and development issues faced by the Bogotá Metropolitan Region (MR), Colombia, South America. These issues are made clearer by the obvious lack of a metropolitan authority, which would ideally coordinate and integrate municipal, provincial, and private actors for effective future planning purposes. Instead, this absence has resulted in private associations taking the lead in shaping the region.
To understand the importance of Central Savanna and Western Savanna provinces to the north and west of Colombia’s capital city Bogotá Capital District (BCD), it is merely necessary to mention that they account for 85% of the Colombian department of Cundinamarca’s economic activity and 55% of its population. Our study examines business (private) and municipal (public) associations that are poorly aligned but an integral part of this MR’s future. Insight into this configuration would enable the formulation of improved urban economic policies to provide a better quality of life and more efficient provision of public services in the Bogotá MR.
In addition to unsound public-private coordination, the MR faces a plurality of challenges: BCD has one of the world’s highest population densities; municipal mayoral offices are dependent upon provincial capitals; peripheral cities are ineffective in managing their growth; the region’s superficial integration process – given the current BCD tax structure, businesses have left the capital to set up shop in neighbouring municipalities, and existing associations fail to acknowledge Bogotá’s decisive role in regional planning, among others. We found that both business leaders and mayors on the periphery are hesitant to cooperate and integrate with BCD, but in their need to push their initiatives forward they establish tense private-public relations. At the same time, municipalities strongly defend their autonomy and their own interests. This results in a fragmented region in which establishing partnerships is a true challenge and public-private projects are hardly existent.
Research on public-private associativity needs to consider the limited public power available to shape the region, the weight of public associativity in regional socio-economic development, and the noticeable authority of local mayoral offices in the context of the absence of a metropolitan planning authority. In fact, different actors have positioned themselves strategically through their private and public associations in a network of cities centring on BCD. We found a noticeable divergence between local and provincial coordination between public and private associations in terms of geography, capital gain, and human talent, which manifests in private associations’ high dependence upon BCD to provide public goods, administer basic services, and train human capital. The recruitment of local labour is especially problematic and a cause of political tensions as a result of mayoral office pressure to reduce unemployment in many municipalities. In short, municipalities lack a local qualified workforce and are forced to import human resources from Colombia’s capital city.
Public-private coordination in regional planning evidences a very particular and troubling dynamic. On the one hand, we can assert that the district, as well as central government agencies, are strategic private sector allies, unlike territorial governments with which few relationships are forged. It is safe to say that the private sector has undertaken many of the state’s functions. On the other, our results evidence continuous efforts on the part of local administrations to maintain the administrative autonomy enshrined in the 1991 Constitution. Such imperfect and disorganized coordination is exacerbated by the perception and reality of low public institutional capacity.
Unfortunately, experience has repeatedly taught private associations that public actors tend to be unsuitable and unprepared to encounter substantial planning tasks. Interestingly enough, public officials do not share this view regarding private sector actors; on the contrary, they tend to be convinced that their private counterparts are more than capable of fulfilling their administrative capacities.
Furthermore, we found that the monitoring of provincial socio-economic development is deemed irrelevant by business actors and private associations in the MR, illustrating the ineffectiveness of public associations’ attempts to consolidate the provinces politically. This is just one more consequence of the lack of coordination and absence of a metropolitan authority. Furthermore, our results indicated a weak or undetectable involvement of civil society in the MR, with the noteworthy exception of private associations that established solid community relationships and transformed areas through business growth. This limited provincial governance translates into restricted management capacity and curbed projects, as well as the inability to transcend jurisdictional boundaries and channel investments. In this scenario, reaching collective agreements and resolving collective disputes are hindered by local political interests, economic income levels, and municipality sizes, among other hindrances. In short, public associations exhibit a lack of power to enforce and implement.
Thus far, the only feasible pattern of integration consists of spontaneous and informal public and private associations carrying out regional initiatives. The future of the Bogotá MR will depend upon rethinking public associations and establishing a polycentric network with space for democratic participation.
This blog was based on a recently published Area Development and Policy paper: (2021) Associativity in the Bogotá metropolitan region: coordination challenges in a fragmented region ( ). Published online 18th January 2021.
Carlos M. Jimenez Aguilar holds a PhD in Political Science from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá, and is associate professor at the International School of Economic and Administrative Sciences, Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia.
Ulf Thoene holds a PhD from the University of Warwick Law School, and is associate professor at the International School of Economic and Administrative Sciences, Universidad de La Sabana, Colombia.
Are you currently involved with regional research, policy, and development, and want to elaborate your ideas in a different medium? The Regional Studies Association is now accepting articles for their online blog. For more information, contact the Blog Editor at RSABlog@regionalstudies.org.