La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota
La Candelaria neighborhood in Bogota
Julio Carrizosa Umaña*

-OpEd-

BOGOTA“Thinking that everything can stay the same is the biggest utopia of all...” Margarita Marino de Botero is a Colombian environmentalist who aims to be as creative as she is dedicated.

Environmentalism — dynamic and obsessed with changing reality — is continually touching upon the concept of utopia. This is, in fact, its main goal, but it is also its key weakness. Attacking environmentalists is commonplace and can in fact be very easy to do, calling us romantic or, worse, nutcases.

Botero’s words are aimed at undermining these attacks.

Environmentalist imagination must be directed toward two main facets — rural and urban. The rural environmental utopia is the older of the two and can be found in Asian and Greek texts. It is implicit in pantheism and animism. It created Rousseau. It flourished in hippy communes and, even though it is hardly recognizable, it is the foundation of many modern-day agrarian policies.

Urban utopia also has a background in religious thought and has produced some of the most beautiful cities in the world, but today it has become negativist. The constant overload thrown at us by the urban reality makes it very difficult to imagine anything better.

How can we impose limits on environmentalist utopias? Initially, it would seem that the two concepts — limits and utopias — are contradictory, but both are fundamental to environmentalist thinking. Perhaps the key resides in knowledge, in truly acknowledging reality as it is with all its inaccuracies and ups and downs. Recognizing its complexity and its uncertainties can keep us away from an unlimited utopia without limits — from too much optimism and obsessive pessimism, from possible paradise and certain hell.

Some currently see Colombia as a space to create a utopia. The majority believe that any possibility for peace — the most important part of our utopia — resides in the countryside. Others, and I count myself among them, think that the Colombian countryside has known limits that would only produce great disappointment, and we suggest that the options to produce peace need to be scrutinized from urban perspectives.

For each group, the opposite proposal seems preposterous. When I wrote about the possibility of designing and building cities for peace, those who have dedicated their lives to the belief that the countryside will be the source of peace were outraged. Only time will tell who was right.

*Julio Carrizosa Umaña is Colombia’s former minister of environment.

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