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Participatory design from concept to operations
25 AUG 2020
Once the city’s dark spots that draw violence and crimes, some 20 inaccessible water tank compounds in the heart of Medellín’s neighbourhoods are transformed into inclusive community venues through a participatory design process from concept to operations.
The Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs) or Life Articulated Units programme is a project where citizens of Medellín are actively involved in the building of localised sports, recreational and cultural venues.
Many of these venues are adapted from existing utility water tanks that occupied large plots of previously inaccessible land and located near to existing communities.
Under the programme, these spaces are converted into communal uses that host a variety of activities that are decided and managed by the communities themselves, giving them a sense of ownership
A study of the urban lighting carried out by the public utility company EPM (Empresas Publicas de Medellín) revealed under-utilised spaces in the comunas, showing up as ‘dark spots’ on plan and were found to be walled compounds housing EPM’s water tanks.
The shortage of public spaces in the comunas compounded by violence and insecurity provided the impetus for EPM to analyse the potential of converting some of these compounds into community venues.
12 such compounds were identified, where the function of the water tanks will be retained, while the surrounding walls will be removed, and new buildings and spaces added. A further eight sites will be built from scratch.
While the Mayor’s Office directs the project and provides resources, and the UVAs designed and built by EPM, the process begins with social engagement where members of the community including children are invited to contribute ideas.
Each UVA is managed by a team working closely with community leaders. Up to 25 community members, including children, are appointed as the ‘Guardians of UVA’ – ambassadors who suggest and promote activities unique to the specific interests of each community, such as knitting and IT classes.
The community is therefore empowered through a series of participatory processes from conception to completion and running of the UVAs, resulting in a sustainable community that takes care of itself, with room for their creative expressions.
Medellín believes in a participatory design strategy, where citizens can take part in the building of their communities and communal spaces, and in the process the citizens themselves are trained in maintaining and running of these spaces.
By opening up previously enclosed infrastructural spaces into reimagined new public spaces, the city transformed these undesirable and utilitarian ‘dark spots’ of the neighbourhoods into new attractive community nodes, while still keeping the original function of the water tanks.
The project is also able to create many new public spaces quickly in these already built-up neighbourhoods without the need to find additional/new land or displacing existing communities.
The city plans to build a total of 20 such venues in 11 of its 16 comunas (neighbourhoods), with an investment of over COP 250,000 million (approximately USD $66 million), said to benefit some 1.6 million inhabitants.
Two types of UVAs are built: the first is built around existing water tanks and has multipurpose spaces, while the second is built around larger lots designed with sports and cultural facilities.
Completed UVAs include UVA La Esperanza in San Pablo, UVA La Imaginación in San Miguel, UVA La Algería and UVA La Armonía in Santa Inés, and UVA Los Sueños and UVA La Libertad in La Libertad.
The project generated some 165,000 square kilometres of new public spaces for the city.
There is now a place for the local communities to express their ideas, carry out community work, and participate in cultural, artistic and educational activities within the UVAs.
The UVA Orfelinato (Orphanage) project won the city the Holcim Award in the gold category in 2015.