From Mean Streets to Music: Bogota's Bronx Creative District Sends a Strong Message

From Mean Streets to Music: Bogota's Bronx Creative District Sends a Strong Message


In 2016, 2,000 police officers swept through the “mean streets” in central Bogotá known as “the Bronx.” They arrested drug dealers and gangs, clearing the way for buildings to then be demolished. From 2018, the city-funded Bronx Creative District developed a plan to transform the area into a concert and event destination. The city now plans a mixed-use development of shops and offices that will host creative industries.
Bocconi alumna Monica Ramirez Hartmann, former Project Manager of the Bronx Creative District, shares her experience as a change leader.

How can culture help rejuvenate a city?
Once the area was cleared, the city could have opted to build an office or a school there. But culture involves attracting people to participate in making change. It’s not “what government can do for me.” It’s what can we do together.

What sort of conditions need to be in place for cultural renewal to work? 
The first thing definitely is the will. Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa really pushed the project. Second, working together. Every big project needs help from a lot of different agencies. The only way something like this can happen is when you all row in the same direction. Lastly, at this scale, good communication. We needed to convince citizens that this change was important for the long-term outlook for the city.

How did you overcome skepticism and people saying it can’t be done?
Everybody said that! Part of the challenge was to prove that it could be done. But if we keep doing the same things, we will get the same results. We really needed something different in this place. The gap between where we were and what we wanted was so large. We studied projects around the world, especially in Europe in downtown historic districts. We knew we weren’t crazy and knew it had worked.

What were the other projects you studied?
We studied 17 creative districts. The one in Lisbon was really interesting for us. Lisbon is not one of Europe’s biggest capitals. But the city really has become interesting and sexy precisely because of what they did. It was very interesting for us to see that shift. And Bogotá is a super creative city, we are full of talent. Everything moves around street art. So, it made sense.

How did you attract people to come to the area?
I convinced the mayor to open the street again. Then, once we sent the message that the street was open, I decided to hold a concert there. The message was “come, it belongs to the city, be part of the new vision we have for this area.” We were expecting 500-1000 people, and we got almost 6,000. We were the first to be surprised!

What is the status of the project now?  
The first year, 2018, was a launch and positioning phase. Getting the idea off the ground, and getting the message out. Last year we got $60 million in funding from the Treasury and the city. We opened a bidding process for the private sector, but we received no offers. The market wasn’t ready.  The city will now develop it as a mixed-use area, and will then decide whether to operate it directly or in public private partnership.

You have just been named General Director of the newly-created Corporación Colombia Crea Talento, the National Agency for the development of the Creative Economy in Colombia. What are your plans going forward?
I have the responsibility to raise funds through private investors who will receive a 165% tax deduction when they invest in projects related to cultural and the creative industries. Our goal is to generate growth and contribute to socio-economic development for stakeholders of the creative economy throughout the country.

Monica Ramirez Hartmann received an MBA from Bocconi in 2001. In addition to her Bocconi degree, she completed the Global Change Agents program at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government in 2016.  She is currently the General Director of Corporación Colombia Crea Talento, Colombia’s newly-created National Agency for the development of the Creative Economy, after serving as Director at Colombia’s Culture Ministry in from February to July 2020. She started working on the Bronx Creative District Project in 2017 after a career in marketing and business development. “When the mayor of Bogotá called me to join his cabinet, I told him I was not an expert on cities. He said ‘I don’t need an expert; I need a manager.’ It was so simple and clear. Bocconi gave me a broad view of how things can come together in an organization. It helps you see how things work separately, and how to connect them to make a whole.”

by Jennifer Clark

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