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Connecting people to opportunities
22 SEP 2020
Medellín’s MetroCable is the first of its kind in the world – a cable car system designed as mass transit. It connects marginalised communities in inaccessible mountain areas to the city centre, opens opportunities to employment and education, and breaks down socioeconomic stratification.
In 2004, Medellín introduced the MetroCable at Santo Domingo Savio – the world’s first cable car system for daily commuting, at a cost of USD $24 million.
For the first time, the previously inaccessible and marginalised communities in this neighbourhood were given a direct access to the rest of the city, hence opening up a world of opportunities for them.
The MetroCable is an example of a strategic urban intervention that simultaneously solved many issues at once and became a catalyst for further transformation in other parts of the city when people saw the benefits it brought to the communities.
Located in the Aburrá Valley in the central Andes, Medellín saw a significant industrial boom in the mid-20th century, and an increase of its population by almost ten times, comprising mostly rural-urban migration at its peripherals.
The city centre and the city’s richest population are located in the valley, well served by amenities. On the other hand, illegal settlements are located on inaccessible mountainous areas, lacking public spaces, transport options, and opportunities for education and employment.
By the 80s, an increasingly segregated society exacerbated by drug-related violence in the poorest neighbourhoods drove the city into a state of crisis that would continue to plague itself into the 90s.
Long-term plans and dialogues in the 80s and 90s, and iterations of its master strategy over various leaderships emphasising a fair and equal society and developing its human capital finally came to fruition over a two-decade period.
Among these are a series of innovative and strategic urban interventions and social innovation projects that brought about the biggest impacts.
The city set up the public transport company ‘Empresa de Transporte Masivo del Valle de Aburrá Limitada – Metro de Medellín Ltda’ in 1979 with the purpose of building, administrating and operating a mass transport system.
To carry out this project, the Municipality of Medellín and the Department of Antioquia (province) started a joint venture with equal stakes, making the creation of the said company possible.
In 1979, the technical and economic feasibility studies began, subsequently leading to Medellín developing and opening the country’s first Metro system in 1995, which is 33 years ahead of capital city Bogotá’s projected first Metro line slated to open in 2028.
The city uses a planning instrument called ‘Proyecto Urbano Integral’ (Integrated Urban Project or PUI) for the planning and physical interventions in the most marginalised areas, aiming to improve the quality of life through public spaces and mobility options.
PUIs are part of the city’s strategic urban projects funded by ‘Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano’ (EDU) – an autonomous public company.
Together with the city authorities, the Metro company and local community, participants of the PUI helped to identify the locations of MetroCable stations to bring about the biggest impacts to the neighbourhoods.
The Metro company recognised its role of social responsibility and has implemented various measures for greater social inclusion. For example, ‘Cultura Metro’ (Metro Culture) is an initiative where local guides are employed to educate the public on good public behaviour in metro stations and trains. Likewise, a ‘Metro Friends’ programme reaches out to children on how to take care of public spaces.
Metro stations also double up as a node for quick access to information, with the integration of computer rooms, artworks celebrating local historic figures, small libraries, and open bookshelves where commuters can borrow books to read on the go and return later.
Under the aforementioned PUI, public spaces are developed around the bases of MetroCable pylons, creating communal nodes for play and rest within the communities.
The Medellín Metro has mobilised over two billion passengers since the start of its operations to the mid-2010s.
The integrated transport system covers the Metro (34 kilometres), the MetroCable (9.3 kilometres), the Metroplús bus system (18 kilometres), the Tranvia tram system (4.3 kilometres), and a cycling network of 11.2 kilometres. The Metro is considered one of the most efficient in Latin America, with a speed of 37 kilometres per hour.
The MetroCable has reduced travel times from Santo Domingo to the city centre from over an hour to under ten minutes, benefiting some 230,000 residents.
Under the integrated mass transport system, citizens get to enjoy new and wide sidewalks, modern stations, and dedicated bus lanes.
190,000 square kilometres of new public spaces were generated and more than 5,400 new trees were planted along various corridors of the transport system.
The new Tranvia tram system connects some 60,000 people on a daily basis, along a 4.3-kilometre route and under 11 minutes.
The MetroCable was perceived as a success when it first opened in 2004. It has since inspired many other Latin American cities with similar topographies, such as Rio de Janeiro and La Paz, to adopt cable cars as a form of daily commuting public transport tool.
Cities facing similar challenges could learn from Medellín’s approach of an integrated stakeholder engagement process, where all parties are involved in the planning of the MetroCable system to ensure its success and local buy-in. O