Some changes, hurricanes and tsunamis among them, arrive dramatically and reset the landscape of a place stunningly.  In a current example, the International Court of Justice in the Hague just recently altered the territorial map of Colombia in one fell swoop, decreeing that Colombia would retain sovereignty over the Caribbean islands of San Andrés, Providencia y Santa Catalina while much of the surrounding sea would now belong to Nicaragua. In an area rich in oil potential, the sea change is not inconsequential.

Cartagena Poster, Colombia

Other refinements come to us more subtly and are less immediately remarkable. What differentiates the 1980’s from the 1990’s in our memories? Music, hairstyles, presidents, automobile design and new technologies all contribute to the realignment in our perceptions of a particular time. When did the Walkman go out of vogue? When was it everywhere? When was Pan Am a regular visual reference? Continental Airlines just walked off the map last year.

In Bogotá, the Transmilenio line along the Avenida Dorada, in construction for years, is up and running. A trip to the airport no longer implies a delayed taxi ride along a clogged artery to or from downtown. The converse; we now have an airport accessible to downtown Bogotá in 30 minutes or less.

Bogotá’s airport itself is brand new, re-imagined, streamlined without much fanfare. One day just a few months ago, the spanking new International Terminal opened its doors to the public and is currently operational. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the face of arriving or leaving Bogotá by plane has been altered, redefined forever – or at least until the next major overhaul is needed, probably much sooner than anyone has imagined. Speaking of air travel, Avianca is in the process of swallowing up Taca and pretty soon AeroGal. Just last year, Colombia’s low budget airline Aires was folded into the much larger Lan. Subtle change gains speed without our hardly noticing. And suddenly, we look different as a country, as a culture, than we did just 2 years ago. Our visual references are redefined.

Claro, Carrera 5, Bogotá

This year, Comcel the longtime face of cellular in Colombia changed its name to Claro, and changed its corporate color from blue to red. Overnight, the cellphone signage across the country changed. On many streets throughout Colombia, there were three or four Comcel visual, blue, references on every block. Now they have been replaced, or are in the process of being replaced throughout the country, by Claro’s red visuals. Quiet change. This is how those born here, or being born here, those living here, or those visiting here will view part of the contextual landscape of Colombia from hereon in.

New Colombiaan Coins

Coins and small change are in the process of revision in Colombia too. Last week at a store my change included a $1,000 coin in place of a bill, the first $1,000 coin I had ever seen here. Trickling in gradually over the last several months have been new 50, 100 and 200 peso coins. Soon the coins that we have been accustomed to will all be designated to the devalued corners of the flea market stands on Sunday and holiday mornings. All changes.

The introduction of the Transmilenio system, new just about a decade ago in Bogotá, changed the landscape of this city completely. The Transmilenio introduced the idea that we could have a top down, well thought-out transportation system in the city of Bogotá. Thinking took priority. We are right now introducing part 2 of the public Transmilenio/SITP system. Why we had to introduce the SITP modification, I have no idea. Try saying it fast in English or Spanish, 3 or 4 times in a row – SITP! SITP! SITP! SITP!  You can’t. Transmilenio is already very defined, but apparently not defined enough in the thought processes of those who prefer to replace it with the incongruous SITP.

SITP Bus, Bogotá

Well defined or not, the SITP system is about to change the city landscape forever. The new SITP buses are replacing buses of myriad color combinations of decades past with a uniform blue. No longer are you going to find yourself on a street corner in Bogotá looking for the visual gray, green, and yellow – or whatever combination of approaching bus colors – to suggest your destination. Now, all buses are going to be blue.

Figure out, however, especially at night, where your approaching new blue bus might be going – that’s up to you. The powers that be in transportation design seem to have forgotten that we might need to know where an approaching bus is going. Is it going your way? That we have available in 2012/ 2013 electronic ways of clearly signposting said information seems to have gone unnoticed in Bogotá. Instead the new bus designers have replaced the old colorful placards on bus windshields with impossible to read nondescript new placards, unlit, still sitting nostalgically on the bus windshields. Where is this approaching bus going? Standing on any urban street corner, we have no idea. We cannot read that fast.

SITP Urbano Bus, Bogotá

I understood that the new SITP buses would operate under a salaried program for the bus drivers, leaving the race driver mentality of the current bus drivers behind for once and for all. I thought we were implementing a new system of civilized bus transportation for the city of Bogotá. Yet, just yesterday, I saw a new SITP speeding, and I mean speeding, dangerously through a red light, just as its multicolored predecessors did and still do daily. Where is the promised change for the passenger, the security of caring urban bus travel?

Who can say. We are embarked on the adjustments that will define us in future memory as the 2010 decade. People will look back and see us or think of us as we are living now. Just yesterday, I saw on Carrera 5 in La Macarena a brand new official tourist signpost offering information and direction to city neighborhoods and cultural beacons. I imagine that this is the first of many to appear throughout the city, welcome beyond words. The vast new overhaul of pedestrian space on Carrera 7 in front of the Centro Internacional (approaching completion), the new coins, the new SITP bus system, the new airport, the new trash collection, the new tourist signage will one day define us as figments of history. And in the long term memory, these background refinements will one day have to say as to who were today.

Tourist Information Signpost, la Macarena, Bogotá

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