Social-spatial segregation in Bogotá: a self reinforcing and multicausal phenomenon

by Camilo Jáuregui

📖 Program: Master in Urban management and development | 📚 Course:  Urban sustainability and GIS | Contact author                                                                                →Back to the Collection


One of the most pressing problems in Bogota is the social-spatial segregation. This phenomenon is deeply embedded in history since it has been structural in Bogota from colonial past. Important processes as industrialization, armed conflict and the urban-rural divide are explanatory of the great social and economic inequality and thereby of this enduring problem. Part of its complexity resides in the fact that it brings consequences in different dimensions such as environmental, social or economic which are the three pillars of sustainability. In that sense, the social-spatial segregation in Bogota has caused is observable through the lens of different indicators that can be spatialized in maps. The economic dimension seems to be the main driving cause explaining this segregation; however, the social dimension is not merely a consequence but also a cause in this complex phenomenon. Therefore, this report will focus on the economic dimension relating it with social aspects. In fact, there is a relation of mutual causation between the social and economic dimension causing a loop impossible to break as factors lead to consequences that become then factors in a reiterative cycle. That’s part of the reason why it can be considered as one wicked problem (Head, 2008) that doesn’t evolve in a linear way; there is an intertwining bringing a multi-causation dynamic in which the income, the commuting time, the stratum, the housing conditions, and others factors are both causes and consequences. In that regard, through different indicators this report will explore the multi-causation feature of the social-spatial segregation.

Sustainability Indicators:

In the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Agenda (Klopp and Petretta, 2007) the economic, environmental, and social dimensions are three pillars reunited under the concept of sustainability. In the same vein, Urban Sustainability is defined by Elmqvist et al. (2019) as a rationality through which managing the resources a city depends on must “guarantee the wellbeing of current and future generations, ensuring distributional equity” (p.269).

In that sense, part of the economic and social sustainability in a city should be understood strictly related to the level of equity between different social segments as it is a measure of how well or bad distributed the well-being is. The quality of life as well as the financial resources or the economic opportunities are two important features that seem to be fundamental conditions for a city to be liveable with the less possible. In general terms, the social-spatial segregation as it exists in Bogota reunites some elements that are clear indicators of a limited social and economic sustainability. The chosen indicators are the following ones:

1) Social stratums: this indicator is itself spatial and was proposed by the national government to recognize in a simpler way the neighbourhoods with social and economics disadvantages in order to manage tax collection and resources allocation with a sense of equity. This indicator is commonly used as a general information about the spatialization of the social classes according to the stratum of the neighbourhoods. In Colombia, it is one of the most used indicator in policy making processes as well as in socio-economic analysis.

2) Population per stratum: this indicator is relevant since it shows the amount of people in the different social stratums, thereby indicating the distribution of population in the different social classes.

3) Housing deficit: it refers to the amount of households in the city with disadvantages that can be both quantitative and qualitative. In that sense, overcrowded households in which the area is not sufficient for the number of people cohabitating will be counted in this map as well as the households presenting deficiencies in terms of materials or sanitation. In some way, this indicator shows one of the most visible negative effects of poverty.

4) Population per locality: it gives basic information of the population living in every locality. This is a previous basic information to understand in a more complete way the impacts on population of some other indicators as average commuting time, employment informality or income distribution.

5) Informal employment: this indicates the proportion of people working in the informal sector considering the multiple obstacles to find a formal job. This indicator is relevant since it exposes one of the vulnerabilities poor people in Bogota have to face.

6) Multidimensional poverty: this indicator is fundamental to understand the multiple dimensions of poverty, overcoming the economic perspective to add five dimensions in total. This demonstrates how the negative impacts of being poor in the city encompass the housing, education, work and some other components

7) Average income per locality: this indicator is particularly relevant considering this one of the central variables that influences the economic options population has to run a life or a household. This is also important to show the economic asymmetries between the highest and lowest classes.

8) Population density: refers to the number of people living in each locality. It enables to understand and dimension the number of people that are affected by social-spatial segregation.

9) Density of economic activity: this one refers to the number of enterprises in every locality. It makes possible to dimension how the economic sectors are spatially distributed in the city, allowing to understand that economic activities as well as opportunities are asymmetrically distributed.

10) Average travel time by public transport: this indicator is considerably important since it allows to understand one of the most concrete effects of having a social segregation throughout the territory: the time invested in going from home to work and the other way around. This time is one of the most expensive fixed costs of being poor and living in the peripheries.

Maps and analysis:

Map 1: Social Stratums























The social stratums is a system created by Colombian government in order to leverage and allocate resources in a more fair way. Going from stratum 6 (highest class) to stratum 1 (lowest class), this instrument allowed to recognise what were the neighbourhoods with more unsatisfied needs in order to make the required improvements or investments. This also allowed to tax Bogotanos with different rates according to their social and economic status, creating a tax collection system in which the higher classes would cover important portions of the public services fees of the lower classes. Since this system identifies neighbourhoods according to their social, infrastructure and income conditions among other indicators, a map of this indicator would offer the opportunity to observe spatially how the socio-economic conditions are in every neighbourhood and locality. However, the social stratums system has also brought a harmful externality for Bogotanos: segregation and discrimination.

It is easily observable that the southern part of the city concentrates the vast majority of the lowest classes, being stratum 2 in conditions of poverty and stratum 1 in conditions of extreme poverty. It is the same situation for the south-western part of the city in which the predominant social stratum is 2. Stratum 2 is also in some north-western peripheries. As it is observable in green, the majority of Bogota’s surface corresponds to social stratum 3. As figure 1 shows, this doesn’t mean the stratum 3 is most populated; the most populated stratum is stratum 2. The stratum 3 areas are normally inhabited by middle-low classes whereas the stratum 4 areas are commonly inhabited by middle-high classes. The stratum 4 (dark green in the map) is mostly concentrated in the geographical centre of the city and also in some neighbourhoods located in the upper north surrounded by stratum 5 and 6 neighbourhoods which are closer to the historic centre and the Central Business District (CBD). It is then observable that the highest and the lowest classes are located in the extreme opposite parts of the city. This means that population from stratum 1 and population from stratum 6 have little or no contact in their daily lives. This is quite powerful in terms of discrimination, also because the fact of belonging to a stratum creates a stigma, being this one of the most harmful externalities of this social stratum system.

Map 2: Housing deficit compared to social stratums

The map of housing conditions is here exposed in order to be comparable with the social stratums one. It is clearly observable how the extreme south and south-western part of the city concentrates the highest rates of housing deficit, which is to say the highest number of households with housing deficit are in stratum 1 and 2. In some north-western UPZ there is also a considerable concentration of housing deficit. By observing in a detailed way, the stratum 3 neighbourhoods located in the south have also this problem of housing deficit. This means that, despite of the stratum, Bogota is facing a situation in which people and neighbourhoods in low living conditions are located spatially concentrated in the south.

In the western part of the city, there are also some threatening conditions in terms of housing deficit. These neighbourhoods in the west with housing deficit correspond to stratum 3 areas which makes housing deficit be understood as a phenomenon that is not only harnessing the lowest social classes but also the middle class. This means that there is process of impoverishment that is affecting the middle not only in economic terms but also in living conditions. Just by focusing on the surface of the city in which housing deficit is a problem, it is possible to conclude that almost half the territory is under a housing deficit problem.

Map 3: Informal employment and multidimensional poverty

This map shows that employment informality (measured in %) is a condition that is common and relatively high all over Bogota. The locality with less informality has a rate of 22,72 % of job informality among the total jobs. The localities that are in the second and third concentrate around 30 % of employment informality. This indicates that informality is a major problem that seems to be significant even in stratum 5 and 6 localities as indicated in Map 1. The southern part of the city have some worrying figures since job informality in some southern localities is higher than 50 %, meaning that in these areas people find

numerous obstacles to have a formal work. This clearly threatens the well-being of millions of people that are not able to enter the formal economy with all its social benefits. As observable in the map, almost half of the city has a rate of job informality near the 50 % which is particularly worrying.

The informality is, in some sense, a response to the poverty (measured in %) that is commonly measured by the multi-dimensional poverty. This indicator reunites the following five dimensions: housing, public services, living conditions, education and employment, and social welfare. Once again, the south of the city seems to be in the worst position as well as a locality in the east, which corresponds to the historical centre. The multi-dimensional poverty in the north is also observable but in a less significant way. There is only one locality in the geographical centre of the city that has a particularly low rate of multi-dimensional poverty.

Map 4: Average income per locality

Based on this map, it is possible to state that one the biggest asymmetries between the north and the south corresponds to the average income (calculated in Colombian pesos). The northern part of the city concentrates the highest salaries which is, partially, proportional to the formality employment observable in Map 3 and the areas with the highest income (dark areas) are in the north-eastern part of the city. The extreme south inhabitants have the lowest incomes with an average of 150 USD to 185 USD per month. The areas in the north have an average income of 250 USD to 450 USD which is the double compared to

the southern neighbourhoods. And population from the localities with the highest income receive in average three times of an average income in Bogota’s south. The second lowest range of average income correspond mostly to stratum 3 which is located in the south as well as in a north-western locality. This distinction between the north and the south has been of the main causes of division and mutual discrimination, understood as divide between rich people and poor people reinforcing stigmas and contrasts. One of the most important aspects to take into account is that this indicator of income may not necessarily coincide with other important indicators like the housing deficit that observable in Map 2, in which it is possible to observe that stratum 1, 2 and 3 may share the same problems.

Map 5: Population, density of economical activity and jobs by sector

This map illustrates how the predominant economic sector are located in Bogota. In addition, this will also show how it is concentrated and how this corresponds or not to the way population is concentrated in the city. As it is observable, the eastern localities concentrate the largest amount of enterprises. In the three localities of the extreme east, we can count 876 enterprises which is almost the half of the total enterprises in Bogota. This concentration in the eastern part for the city is almost the same for every economic sector which differs with the concentration of population. The most populated localities are the western ones with two major ones located in the north-west and south-west. Both of them count around one million inhabitants which corresponds to near one third of Bogota’s total population. The extreme concentration of economic activities in the east reduces the economic opportunities for populations living in the economic periphery. This is connected to what was illustrated in Map 3 since those are localities, in addition to the southern ones that had a high employment informality. The southern localities perform poorly regarding economic activity concentration. Just by taking the example of the extreme south localities, only 13 and 26 enterprises are located there. This is of course a clear disadvantage in terms of economic opportunities and is explanatory of many different low rated indicators. This will affect other urban dynamics as the transportation and the average time spent commuting, as will be shown in Map 5.

One of the most tangible negative effects of social-spatial segregation is the time people living in the peripheries or in the low-class neighbourhoods spend in their daily trips. In the localities represented with the darkest colour the average commute time surpasses 89 minutes per day. This is extremely high compared to the time spent by people living the eastern localities where the economic activities are mostly concentrated. In economic terms, this means that the fixed cost of living in a poor area are higher. In some cases, some people spend almost two hours per day commuting which significantly reduces leisure or family time and, thereby, life quality. Simply put, time for leisure, entertainment, family and personal matters seems to be a luxury that is also determined by the place people live in. As it is observable the BRT system is much more concentrated in the eastern part of the city which is also explanatory of the large differences in the average commuting time between the eastern and the western localities. Large surfaces of the western part of the city are not covered by the BRT system which is a tremendous disadvantage since this factor has to added to the long distances from the places people live in and the places people work in.


It is possible to talk about social-spatial segregation from different perspectives. It is definitely a phenomenon produced by inequity and disparities between social classes that seem to be totally unconnected. This is what happens between the south (also south-east) and the north (and north-east) of Bogota. In both places we find several dynamics that are completely different based on social or economic dimensions. This phenomenon that is commonly understood from an economic point of view brings along some other important obstacles that threaten significantly the Urban Sustainability.

Through this report, it was possible to observe how the well-being and the distributional equity which is a key sustainability component is endangered by this segregation. Disbalances, stresses, tensions and difficulties are just a part of its consequences. This brings real and concrete consequences in people’s individual lives as well as in Bogotanean society. The social stratification is one clear demonstration of how fragmented Colombian society is and this fragmentation is spatialized finding concrete expressions of it in the discrimination and stigmas associated to social stratums. In addition, belonging to a stratum limits or enables people to expect for some specific opportunities that would end up bringing access to different ranges of possibilities in terms of education, employment, leisure, cultural events and public spaces.

Some observable costs are caused by this spatialized segregation. For instance, the fact of being distant from the main economic activities is an important factor that is explanatory of one of the highest fixed costs of living in the periphery since the average commuting time can almost be two hours which is a clear disadvantage of the poor areas compared to the rich and central areas. Since this kind of trips is done by millions of people from their houses to their working places, usually located in the centre (East), the impact on the quality of air is tremendous considering public and private transports in Bogota are mainly fuel based.

Considering all this, social-spatial segregation affects severely the liveability of the city since it brings numerous consequences in environmental, social and economic terms taking into account that individual’s lives are also affected in these same terms. In that sense, people’s quality of life is multi-dimensionally affected. As this phenomenon is closely related to poverty, some of the ideas proposed by Partha Dasgupta (2007) concerning the multiple causation of poverty are also explanatory of the social-spatial segregation. Social-spatial segregation conduces to positive feedbacks between different factors that reinforce the occurrence of this phenomenon just as it happens with a poverty trap.



Alcaldía de Bogotá. Datos abiertos Bogotá. Retrieved from

Alcaldía de Bogotá. Encuesta multiproposito 2017. Retrieved from

Dasgupta, P. (2007). Poverty traps: Exploring the complexity of causation. Twenty twenty (2020) focus brief on the world's poor and hungry people/International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Elmqvist, T., Andersson, E., et al. (2019). Sustainability and resilience for transformation in the urban century. Nature sustainability, 2(4), 267-273. (Links to an external site.)

Head, B. W. (2008). Wicked problem in public policy. Public policy, 3(2), 101-108.

Klopp, J. M. and Petretta, D. L. (2017). The urban sustainable development goal: Indicators, complexity and the politics of measuring cities. Cities, 63, 92–97.

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