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Learning from Medellin: Building Public Spaces

Medellin was a crime capital, but in a decade, through the leadership of the government and ambitious building projects, crime rate has steadily decreases. (despite the recent rise..) Community buildings are key in the poorest neighborhoods.

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Medellin, Colombia: This city's name used to strike fear in peoples' hearts. In the 80s and early 90s, it was known as the drug capital of the world and the  most violent city on the planet.

But Medellin has come a tremendous distance in less than a decade, thanks to a massive urban planning scheme, head up by the Movimiento Cívico Independiente since 2004.

Its main focus? The greening and improvement of public space to encourage community building.

Main points of the plan include every green urbanite's dream: improvement of diminished neighborhoods, library-parks, new schools and kindergartens, social housing, pedestrianization and greening of streets, new public transport and better security. 

"The Medellin Development Plan gives public space and public buildings the most relevant value, to encourage the meeting of citizens as this is the best scenario to build a better society and a better living," says Sebastian Alvarez Diaz, Secretary of Public Works at the Medellin municipality.

Can the same be done in Caldas through health-driven or farming related community projects?



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Photo of Johan

I was very surprised to hear in several video clips from Medellin and Bogota that people discussed in exactly same manner about these construction projects and aims to tidy up the public places. They all had perception like: "it is for the tourists". ( I am not sure it is in above linked video clip, but I used the Youtube's suggested links and watched a couple of similar clips in a row)

Both teenagers and adults had this statement in several places. They sounded like they envied the foreigners, that these projects was only built for other people. And that was sad, that noone told them it was really made primarily for the residents, to become safer and to feel more proud about their home city.

I guess these people are not alone, and that they somehow feels obsolete in the process, that noone asked them about their ideas, needs and feedback Before, During and After the actual construction programs.

Architects and city planners : how can you make them all feel better connection to the projects, to let them all understand the purpose and enjoy the benefits? and of course to include the population to help reaching goals.

I felt a similarity between the automobile company BMW that many times claims that they only do tv-advertising solely directed towards BMW-owners! Only to make them feel more proud of their choice in car, to make the owners be more included in the brand and the idea behind the image of the product! To make these car owners better equipped to do promotion to other car owners! Do you understand my thought process?

Photo of Eric


Really insightful comments. Thank you for that. Yes, the kids were talking about tourists in the video, like they are improving the projects for tourists to come, even though the intent is to build a safer neighborhood.

Some thoughts with this project in particular. I was in a talk by Former Mayor of Medellin Sergio Fajardo, he was questioned by the audience where the money of these magnificent, big-scale public projects come from. He noted that Colombian government is fairly centralized and there are quite a few public corporations / industries that are tied to the government. He added that a lot of the budget comes form taxation to both the people and to these corporations. Now, this is my opinion, I would imagine he is under a lot of political pressure that all these money had to be used to not just make a better place for the poorest neighborhoods, that they have to 1. tackle the crime issue; 2. attract foreigners to invest in Medellin, 3. attract tourist at the same time as they solve the problems of Santo Domingo Savio. Not to mention the biggest drive for these project: to make change UNDER one political term which is FOUR YEARS.

Given this I think there is a lot of reasons for him in particular to be very efficient in the decision of making these construction projects happen at lightning speed for effective results.

Now, that's NOT what I am advocating, and I really think engaging with the community is the basis of all these incremental upgrade projects, from business building to construction to infrastructure, to truly "listen" to what they want in their terms.

One other example of Favela-Barrio upgrade project in Rio:

To my knowledge involvement of community in this case is also quite an afterthought, and only conducted in an ad-hoc manner during construction (as this is the only time that the communities can see the work), but there are somethings to highlight from Inter-America Development Bank: "Also important was use of program managers coming from grass-roots infrastructure upgrading efforts in Rio de Janeiro. They know the technical aspects of upgrading and they know the community. They can act as an efficient middle person between the communities and the government."

I think penetrating into the community and building relationship is the key. Would love to see if anyone have more examples of very successful community-integrated building projects?


Photo of Johan

There was built a new housing area in my home town, and during the whole planning and construction period the people living nearby was invited, and a part of a park was reserved for peoples vote on how to use it. The result: a skate-park that the local skateboard club got to design in association with the city council, construction contractors, a famous skate-park-designer from Vancouver. It worked out great, and even old citizens seems to appreciate this park. (mixed english and swedish in this blog, begin at the bottom of the page)

the good result from this joint venture resulted in that the skate-board-club got an old unused warehouse to build a skatepark indoors for the 6 winter months :D

Photo of Eric

Johan, that is a great example. I would imagine in the concepting phase to come up with similar strategies, but aiming for a community that is more illiterate would be interesting. I wonder what is the literacy rate in Caldas.


Photo of Eric

Johan, that is a great example. I would imagine in the concepting phase to come up with similar strategies, but aiming for a community that is more illiterate would be interesting. I wonder what is the literacy rate in Caldas.