The Battle for the Commons in Neoliberal Colombia

Source: Roar Magazine

Arriving in Manizales by air from Bogotá, the airplane glides over a jagged urban topography that juts up and down over ridges and hills. Manizales, capital city of Caldas province in central Colombia, seems disproportionally large, spread thin far beyond the necessity of its half a million inhabitants. Outside the city center, which follows the plaza-centric grid layout derived from the traditional Spanish colonial settlement, the urban fabric cascades into undulating patterns without any apparent logic.

What is puzzling about Manizales is not just this growth beyond demographic need, but even beyond tangible economic foundations. The city’s urban sprawl, however, does respond to a very specific logic: that of neoliberal boosterism. There is little to no profit to be made for developers and financiers in densifying the existing city or in repairing and retooling existing neighborhoods and urban infrastructures to house and provide services to growing populations. Therefore, it is little surprise that, expanding to the tune of financial speculation, Manizales is beginning to encroach upon its own ecological conditions for survival.

The city has now spread to the very outskirts of Rio Blanco, a designated ecological reserve located at the foot of the hills that flank Manizales’s eastern edge. Through fog and rain management, this forested area provides close to a third of all of Manizales’s water. Rio Blanco also forms an important component of the Chinchiná River Basin, a crucial water and soil management life-support ecosystem for the larger region. And yet, despite the importance of this ecological zone to sustaining urban and rural water supplies, the site adjacent to Rio Blanco is currently coveted by developers eager to build on it.

Standing in opposition to this project is Todos Somos Rio Blanco (We are all Rio Blanco). This umbrella organization brings together members from academia, science, law, neighborhood organizations, unions and other elements of civil society in Manizales in their fight against the construction of a residential development next to the Rio Blanco ecological reserve.

Continue reading