Medellín implemented a series of social innovation and public transport initiatives to pursue social equity and improve living conditions for its people, contributing to its urban transformation. Click through for a visual walk-through of some of the city’s most innovative urban interventions and social projects.
The City of the Eternal Spring
Medellín is Colombia’s second largest city after capital city Bogotá, and is located in the Aburrá Valley. Despite being near the equator, the city is located 1,500m above sea level and as such it has a pleasant spring-like climate all year round and is often referred to as the ‘City of the Eternal Spring’.
Colombia’s second largest city © Pepe Navarro
Medellín has a unique topography due to its valley locale. Over the years, the city was faced with and has overcome the challenges of uncontrolled urban expansion at its mountain edges due to rural-urban migration.
Medellín’s unique topography © ACI Medellín
The Metro system
Medellín’s Metro system is one of the first urban interventions that kick-started the city’s dramatic transformation. The Metro system first started operations in 1995, and some 20 years later, it is today still the only mass rapid transit system in the whole of Colombia. In comparison, capital city Bogotá’s subway system will only commence operations in 2021.
Medellín’s Metro system © ACI Medellín
The MetroCable system is the world’s first cable car system used for daily commuting, connecting remote hillside residents of Comuna 1 Santo Domingo to the Metro system and the rest of the city. Today, the MetroCable serves at least 38,000 passengers daily.
The MetroCable © ACI Medellín
Public spaces are integrated at the base of the MetroCable pylons, an example of the multiple use of space in the city.
Escalators at Comuna 13 San Javier
A set of escalators at Comuna 13 San Javier – once the most violent neighbourhood in the city – helped to improve mobility in the hillside neighbourhood. This is coupled with upgraded footpaths and roads, as well as pocket parks and wall mural artwork, and improved the quality of life in the neighbourhood. Guides (bottom photo) are also employed from the local community at Comuna 13 San Javier to ensure a safe ride on the escalators for everyone.
Escalators at Comuna 13 San Javier © Damien Woon
The stunning Spanish Library Park or Parque Biblioteca España designed by Architect Giancarlo Mazzanti in 2007 is one of many library parks in Medellín built in the poorest neighbourhoods, providing easy access points to learning and information for the local residents.
Spanish Library Park © Damien Woon
Life Articulated Units
The Life Articulated Units or Unidades de Vida Articulada are community spaces built around existing water tanks in the city to return these previously under-utilised spaces back to the people, allowing many communal activities and festivals to take place.
Life Articulated Units © ACI Medellín
At the urban-rural edge, the Circumvent Garden or Jardin Circunvalar de Medellín provides communal spaces, such as the ‘Walk of Life’ pedestrian footpath pictured here, while limiting urban expansion.
Circumvent Garden © ACI Medellín
In another part of the city, a former waste dump and barren landfill was transformed into Moravia Garden, a botanical “garden of life” managed by members of the community.
Moravia Garden © ACI Medellín
The citizens are empowered to use up to five percent of the local budget for community uses, such as the Good Start Programme centred on early childhood education to develop the youngest segment of the population.
Children of Medellín © Damien Woon
Local students are employed as Metro guides to foster a ‘Metro Culture’ by inculcating good social behaviour on the Metro system as well as public spaces.
Metro culture © Damien Woon
Information on the go
The ‘Running Words’ initiative (top photo) is an open bookshelf located at Metro stations, allowing commuters to take a book for free, read on the go, lend it to a friend or family member, and return later. Small libraries (bottom photo) here are located conveniently in Metro stations, allowing commuters access to information on the go.
‘Running words’ initiative (top) and a metro library (bottom) © Damien Woon