How One of Bogotá’s Original Suburban Oases Got Its Groove Back
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this once-lost neighborhood is getting found out.
By Wesley Tomaselli
Little-Known Neighboorhoods of Well-Known Cities: An OZY series that uncovers some of the hidden places and spaces in the global cities we think we know. Read more.
Go to La Soledad and whole blocks might feel abandoned and ghostly. Maybe it’s the weird residue from 2006, when residents began to flee after a third of Colombia’s paramilitary fighters were put up in the brick mansions that dot this central Bogotá neighborhood. Or maybe it’s because, like Colombian local architect Lucas Jaramillo believes, “lots of people just don’t even know this neighborhood exists.”
Well, maybe they didn’t, but more and more they do. Those abandoned mansions are shedding their skin and getting makeovers. Coworking spaces. Craft beer pubs. Cafes and bookstores. Sandwiched in between Calle 45 to the north and Calle 34 to the south, one of Bogotá’s oldest, most central ’hoods is staging a comeback. And so far the apparent gentrification hasn’t homogenized its diverse mix of hipster students, suit-and-tie government officials, entrepreneurs, expats and the elderly folks who’ve lived there since the beginning of time — or at least since before the FARC existed.
“So there were these people who had fled, and they realized they had made a big mistake and started to repopulate the neighborhood, from the north back to the center,” says Eduardo Esquivel from a table in his café, Quipile, the doors of which he opened in 2012 partly as a bet on the zone’s comeback. For a while now, many tourists, expats and young professionals have been drawn to Bogotá’s downtown, colonial Candelaria. Others settle into Chapinero digs. But only in the last five years has the tribe decided that the tree-packed neighborhood La Soledad turns them on.
La Soledad was a suburban respite from violent political turmoil.
Jaramillo explains that Bogotá’s explosion of violence, triggered by the 1948 assassination of presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, pushed the wealthy classes out of downtown Bogotá. La Soledad was a suburban respite from violent political turmoil. By the 1950s, says Jaramillo, a small Jewish community that had fled Europe during World War II began designs for a neighborhood based on Austrian architect Karl Brunner’s urban planning ideas. Voilà. La Soledad was born.
The heart of La Soledad is a strip of green, tree-lined parkway that runs down Carrera 24 in something of a slight S-curve. Cafes and unpretentious restaurants serving up Greek, Italian and modern Latin American fare line the park. The zany design of its theater, Casa Ensemble, just off the parkway, was once created as a result of one local’s opulence.
Be careful! — any Colombian from La Soledad will tell you. The neighborhood’s northern border is marked by a concrete ditch called the Archbishop, from which impoverished folks, who are homeless and oftentimes wrestling with addictions and demons, surface and drift about La Soledad begging for money. Often harmless, they can sometimes spook you.
All that being said, it’s one of the rare places in Bogotá, Esquivel and Jaramillo agree, where multiple classes and generations intersect and often live a local, car-less lifestyle in the city’s car-crazed, class-based, apocalyptic existence. That is, until the urban powers that be change everything, because let’s be real: Urban anything is never forever.
Go There: Barrio La Soledad
- Location: From north to south, between Calle 45 and Calle 34. The Carrera 30 highway borders it to the west and Avenida 19 borders it to the east.
- Cost: Pay nothing to walk around. Planning on living here? Renting a single room in an apartment could put you back anywhere from 600,000 pesos ($214) to over 1,000,000 ($357).
- Places to hang:
- Pro tip: On Sundays, the Carrera 24 shuts down to cars and you can skate, walk or cycle up and down La Soledad’s tree-shaded avenue.