Medellín Urban Lab Tour

On Monday, had the opportunity to participate in a guided tour of urban transformation projects in the city of Medellín. The tour took place in Comuna 13, once an epicenter of crime and violence. Today, in part thanks to these initiatives — all of them aspects of the Proyecto Urbano Integral (PUI—Integral Urban Project) — the neighborhood has been transformed.

The transformation started with integrating the Comuna 13 community into the city. Located on steep hills, residents in the past had no easy way to get to the rest of Medellín, besides expensive taxis. Today a series of escalators winds up the hill, increasing mobility, transportation, and inclusion.

A big theme of the PUI is community involvement, and it can clearly be seen when looking at the colorfully painted houses and murals: residents were given permission and supplies to decorate their newly-upgraded neighborhood as they saw fit.

Next stop on the tour were a nearby public school and a justice hall. The school's architecture is quite interesting: with large, reflective windows, the idea is that delinquent students hanging out on the streets would see themselves in the school’s windows, and reflect on their bad behavior. The justice hall corresponds to another community request: public services like a family court available right in their neighborhood.

The tour's emphasis on transportation continued when Jorge Mario Tobón, the Social Manager of Client Services of the Medellín Metro, took us on an exciting cable car and metro ride. Like the escalators, the cable cars are an essential way to connect residents of low-income, high-altitude neighborhoods with the rest of the city, as well as to decrease travel costs and environmental impact. The Metro acts as a bonding agent for Medellín: residents of all income levels use the Metro, and its routes cross social and economic lines, connecting rich and poor neighborhoods. One of the Metro's main emphases is sustainability, both financial (it receives no funding, relying only on ticket sales and advertisements for income) and environmental (the cable car and metro run on electrical power and buses run on natural gas). The Medellín Metro is the only metro system in Colombia, the product of impressive urban planning. Medellin's Master Plan includes 27 upcoming Metro projects to expand access to more of the city's residents.

Besides transporting residents, the Metro also runs a number of social initiatives. Metro car drivers are college students, in training to become full-time drivers. Libraries are located in metro stations with books, free access to computers and Internet, technology trainings, and exhibit rooms for local artists to show their art, all free of charge. All of these initiatives, along with a strong emphasis on "Metro culture," helps residents feel ownership of the Metro, which encourages them to "treat it well," according to Tobón.

These inclusive projects have convinced us that Medellin definitely deserves to have been named “Innovative City of the Year”!

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