I came across this article recently from Architecture in Development regarding the significant social impacts quality city planning has had on the city of Medellin, Colombia.
Medellin was suffering from economic, social, and violence issue resulting from drug trafficking and conflicts between communist guerrillas and paramilitaries. It was even ranked as one of the most dangerous cities in the world in 1992.
Mayors Luis Perez (2000, 2003), Sergio Fajardo (2003-2007) and Alonso Salazar sought to improve the safety and quality of life of Medellin through a comprehensive strategy that sought solutions to mobility, governance and education, along with the recovery of public space and green areas.
What stood out to me the most. and which I believe is key in this scenario, is that their strategy revolved around recovering the poorest sectors of the city (which were dominated by communist groups, paramilitaries or drug smugglers).
Several of the projects being implemented have had a strong focus on the most marginalized areas of the city. Mayor Fajardo’s goal was to improve these areas through “Social Urbanism” which helped improve the education system through new schools, libraries, and parks with high architectural value. He saw this as a “New Medellin” that illustrated how violence can be fought by means of cultural development and social inclusion.
Urban solutions in Medellin had to revolve around its topography. It is very limited by the space development and had to implement alternatives to solve problems of space and mobility. For example, the “Metro Cable” was created out of the need to connect informal settlements in the upper parts of the city with the metro system at the lower valley. This project decreased travel time from over an hour, to just ten minutes.
Medellin still faces many issues, but it is impressive to see the amount of progress it has made with such a short history in urban planning. I think it sends a strong message to the world of how quality urban design can tremendously benefit the poorest cities in our world. The article writes, “The urban and social development of the city is remarkable, the number of violent incidents has decreased. The unemployment rate is low and the perception of safety on the people of Medellin is positive. This is made possible through integral collaborations between planners, designers and politicians to highlight areas of the city that have been ignored.”
I highly suggest reading the full article here.
It is stories like this that inspire me to continue the path of becoming an urban planner. The structure of cities can play a major role in the social welfare of those who inhabit them. It is amazing to me to see how, if done well, city planning can be a tool to prevent severe social inequalities and violence that many of the urban poor are faced with daily. It can be a strong tool of social justice.
Anyways, I was very inspired by this article, and hope you will be too! Feel free to comment, I would love to continue this discussion!
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