Imagined Path - Camino Imaginado

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Main actors

Supranational / Intergovernmental Institutions, NGO / Philanthropy

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Project area


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2004 - 2014

The City of Bogota’s project ‘Camino Imaginado – Imagined Path aims to improve social inclusion for inhabitants in the urban periphery.

The City of Bogota project Camino Imaginado – Imagined Path improves social inclusion for inhabitants in the urban periphery. The main challenge of this project is the deterioration in public spaces in impoverished city outskirts. Prevailing conditions generate processes of social exclusion, violence, insecurity, and neglect for local authorities. For these reasons, IDU, Bogota Institute for Urban Development, builds and restores public spaces, starting with the surroundings of public schools. 

The main objectives of this project are providing school access for students and teachers, and creating jobs for rehabilitated young people through cooperation with the Institute for the Protection of Children and Youth (IDIPRON). The overall objective is to increase social integration for marginal people in the Bogotá outskirts and improve their quality of life. 

The project’s main steps are finding affected surroundings on the outskirts of Bogota, calculating the costs and benefits of building public spaces, and building or restoring the public spaces required. Since 2004, the project transformed 40,000 sq. m. of public space and created 1,300 jobs for rehabilitated young people. This project was a UN HABITAT best practice case in 2012, and is probably being transferred to other cities in South America needing to face similar challenges.

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Bogotá, Colombia

Size and population development
The city of Bogotá has a total population of 8,080,734, while its metropolitan area has a population of over 10,700,000. (world population review 2018)

Population composition
The 2005 census put the population density for the city at approximately 4,310 people per square kilometer. The rural area of the capital district only has about 15,810 inhabitants. The majority of the population is European or of European-mixed descent. The people of mixed descent are those of Mestizo origin. There is a small minority of Afro-Colombian and Indigenous people as well. The city has recorded significant growth for a number of years and is still growing at a rate of 2.65%, this is largely due to internal migration. Historically, Bogota’s main religion was Roman Catholic and the city is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. In the most recent census, a large portion of the population declared they are non-practicing. (world population review 2018)

Main functions
Bogotá lies in central Colombia and is 2,640 metres about sea level in the Northern Andes Mountains. It is the capital and largest city of Colombia and the educational, cultural, commercial, administrative, financial, and political center. Bogotá is a territorial entity and has the same administrative status as the Departments of Colombia.

Main industries / business
Bogotá is the headquarters for all major commercial banks, and the Banco de la República, Colombia's central bank as well as Colombia's main stock market. As the capital city, it houses a number of government agencies including the national military headquarters and is the center of Colombia's telecommunications network. Additionally, most companies (domestic and international) in Colombia have their headquarters in Bogotá. Bogotá is a major center for the import and export of goods for Colombia and the Andean Community in Latin America and is the home of Colombia's tire, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. Bogotá is the hub of air travel in the nation and the home of South America's first commercial airline Avianca (Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia). Railroads connect Bogotá with the Caribbean coast to the north and via (Puerto Beriro) with the Pacific coast to the west. Bogotá is on the Colombian section of the Pan-American and Simón Bolívar highways and has road connections with all major Colombian cities.

Sources for city budget
The City of Bogotá draws its budget for public expenditure largely from taxes, fees, fines, operating revenues.

Political structure
Bogotá, as the capital of the Republic of Colombia, houses the executive branch (Office of the President), the legislative branch (Congress of Colombia) and the judicial branch (Supreme Court of Justice, Constitutional Court, Council of State and the Superior Council of Judicature) of the Colombian government.

Administrative structure
The Mayor of Bogotá and the City Council, both elected by popular vote, are responsible for city administration. The City is divided into 20 localities and each of these is governed by an administrative board elected by popular vote, made up of no fewer than seven members. The Mayor designates local mayors from candidates nominated by the respective administrative board.

The main challenges and problems of the project are the high numbers of students and teachers in the outskirts of Bogota who suffer due to bad infrastructure conditions and high numbers of young people needing to be rehabilitated from criminal activities caused by social disintegration.

Problems of marginalisation are present in Bogota. With a peripheral mountain belt inhabited by 2,500,000 residents, of whom 35% are school children (875,000), the municipality has to deal with a high rate of violence, forced displacement, lack of opportunities, and loss of confidence in local government bodies. Earlier, investment in infrastructure concentrated on the city centre, forgetting basic infrastructural needs of inhabitants in the outskirts. Without basic infrastructure, school students are not able to attend school safely. Building pedestrian sidewalks and paths that surround schools is a priority. Infrastructure objectives are therefore to build, transform, and preserve public spaces. These spaces are intended to fulfil current Bogota standards, including tree planting, cleanliness, and accessibility standards.

The objectives of social integration focus not only on school students and teachers, but also on young people who were in trouble with the law and participating in rehabilitation programmes organised by IDIPRON, Institute for the Protection of Children and Youth. 1,300 of these young people were integrated into the project. They have a re-socialisation opportunity through an inter-administrative agreement between IDU and IDIPRON.

The target groups for the project are therefore all inhabitants in Bogota outskirts who use public spaces. The areas of interest are settlements such as Ciudad Bolivar, San Cristobal Usme, Kennedy or Suba on the periphery of Bogota. The project aims at improving living conditions for 1,000,000 people in the affected areas.

In 2004, IDU started the Camino Imaginado project with a pilot project in Kennedy, Bogota’s eighth neighbourhood locality. The pilot project was the first step in the project, consisting of an investment of USD 18,000 used to build 45 sq. m. of pedestrian sidewalk surrounding a school. The pilot project was in response to a request from the local Kennedy community. Due to the fact that schools are determining binding features in social life in marginal areas, IDU decided to invest in infrastructure at education facilities.

Before the start of the pilot project, the infrastructural inventory was measured and needs of the schools were analysed in cooperation with the Bogota Education Secretary. Findings were summarised in a planning matrix that included relevant factors such as local communities’ needs, numbers of the student population, social problems, and other social issues and cultural diversity. The planning matrix also explicitly includes social dropouts who may be involved in gangs or substance abuse.

To validate information provided by the Education Secretary, IDU itself made field visits. These visits also serve as a means to set up priorities for the public spaces that are needed. This procedure serves as a pattern for every project realised within Camino Imaginado. After the pilot project, IDU expanded building and preserving public spaces, investing USD 120,000 in 2004 to recover public spaces in the area of six schools. In the phase from 2008-2009, IDU invested USD 1,200,000 to recover public spaces around 26 schools. Technical and architectural knowledge for building projects came or come from IDU, the workforce was or is provided by IDIPRON. Investment was provided by the local authority, since 2010 KfW, the German development bank, has been providing financial support.

Due to changes in local government and in public policies, project evolution was not linear. The project was watched intensively by local authorities and investment diminished over time. For the same reasons, technical and administrative cooperation between entities lost cohesion. Despite these shortcomings, Camino Imaginado has remained and continues to develop, due to strong technical and financial management and consolidation as a model for social development at national and international levels.

Today there is a common pattern to acquire information for potential new building projects and to evaluate project necessity. The first step is a request for action in public spaces either by the local community, public school, or Bogotá Education Secretary. After the request, IDU evaluates necessity for the building project, using databases at various administrative institutes such as IDIPRON or the Education Secretary. The eligibility criteria are: numbers of educational sessions and students, declared local necessity (yes or no), quality of the application (by: local community, Education Secretary, direct request, court order or control entity), already existing infrastructure, size of the target group and size of the area in sq. m.. If evaluation is positive and the project can be financed, work starts involving the IDIPRON workforce.

Financial resources for the project are mainly provided by local government. German KfW Bank also supports the project by funding resources. Local government investment over eight years (2004-2012) amounted to USD 2,800,000. The money was mainly spent on 40,000 sq. m. of public space and park areas as well as 12,000 sq. m. of access roads in less favoured locations. In the context of a South Coexistence Programme, since 2010 KfW Bank has been supporting the project to the amount of USD 1,000,000. In return, local government has contributed USD 2,000,000. Personnel resources for the project are contributed by IDIPRON. 1,300 jobs created are part of a re-socialisation programme for young people. IDU Group for public spaces supplies technical knowledge for the project. There are no private entities involved with the justification that the private sector would increase the costs of the project.

After eight years of implementation, almost 400,000 people, including students, teachers and the community at large, which represents 40% of the target group, benefit from the newly built, transformed or preserved public spaces. The project was able to recover as much as 40,000 sq. m. of public spaces and park areas, providing access to about 90 public schools. There were also 12,000 sq. m. of access roads built.

Through Camino Imaginado 1,300 jobs were created, helping young people to re-socialise in rehabilitation programmes and providing an inclusive function in the society. The project also incorporates participatory functions, not only by involving young people in the urban development process, but also by communicating objectives to neighbourhoods affected. Maintenance in recovered public spaces is organised by IDU in cooperation with the local community. This both leads to participatory processes and decreases maintenance costs. Funding by German KfW Bank shows the importance of the project, declaration as best practice by UN HABITAT emphasises positive results. Results of better accessibility to schools for students are to be measured after a certain time frame, including attention rates in schools and students’ marks.

Camino Imaginado was nominated in 2009 for the National High Management Award as Best Practice by the Republic of Colombia government.

There are obviously barriers and conflicts noticeable in the project. Negative attitude towards involving private entities makes Camino Imaginado more vulnerable to political power games or election campaigns. Diminished investment as described (see Implementation) testify to this conflict. The conflict was handled by involving German KfW Bank in the project with the aim of more secure funding.

This leads to potential future barriers. Increased dependency on foreign investment both develops Camino Imaginado into classical development policy and endangers sustainability in the project. An infrastructure project such as Camino Imaginado cannot be self-financed. The question is, therefore, how to invest money so that sustainable development can be guaranteed in the project. Involving private sector entities may cost more money than the present model, but it offers an opportunity to create income-generating jobs not dependent on foreign capital investment.

The Camino Imaginado project has shown that large projects born from a minor amount of initiative can evolve into a major policy if governmental entities give the right momentum. To further develop the project, more areas are to be involved in the project in order to expand impacts on society.

Combining social aspects, such as rehabilitating young people, with aspects of urban planning, such as construction of public spaces, causes synergising effects, leading to reduced costs and participatory effects in urban development. Communities involved contribute to developing and maintaining facilities and provide security and ownership of public spaces.

Cooperation between IDU and IDIPRON is considered to be a good example for inter-administrative agreement.

Geographical features in Bogota marginal belt, similar to other South American cities, have made the Camino Imaginado model a reference study in developing processes for social inclusion and infrastructure in other cities. In the City of La Paz (Bolivia), Bogota IDU is helping to develop similar infrastructure plans. The cities of Guadalajara and Queretaro in Mexico are also interested in the Camino Imaginado model as a possible solution to high rates of violence or enforced displacement. Personnel from both cities have visited IDU to obtain information and advice about the project. Other cities’ interests show that these cities have to face similar challenges, and that the Bogotá project can function as pattern for other cities.

To transfer the project, government structures able and willing to spend money on infrastructure without immediate economic outcomes are needed, as well as creative ideas to keep project costs as low as possible. Support from a development bank can also be helpful.

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Javier Duarte
Bogotá, Colombia

Javier Duarte

Individual | Architect & Urbanist

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