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While preparing my dissertation on ‘crime prevention in an urban environment’, I have encountered the case of Medellín in Colombia.

Medellín’s Past

Latin American cities, and Medellín in particular, represented the most violent cities in the world in the late 20th century with a great deal of homicides, drug trafficking and rackets affecting the local population[1]. The criminal activities in the Colombian city were mainly instigated by the Medellín Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar, with homicide rates soaring to a mark of 400 homicides per 100,000 people in 1991 (Figure 1). Even after the drug lord’s death, Medellín was severely affected by numerous gang wars, leading to an increase in homicide and human trafficking rates[2]. This situation has thus led to the economic downfall and further deterioration of city’s marginalized neighbourhoods (video below[3]).

Figure 1: Homicide rate per 100,000 population in Medellín and Colombia, 1980–2012[4]

Social Urbanism

As a part of Operación Orión, which was initiated by the national government in 2002, the joint forces of police, military and state security began to regain urban zones, controlled by the street gangs and drug cartels, which consequently led to eradication of these crimes in 2005[5]. In result, the reduced rates of urban violence later exposed other social issues in Medellín such as social exclusion, insecurity and poverty[6]. Aware of these challenges, then city’s mayor Sergio Fajardo developed a ‘social urbanism’ initiative based on participatory approach between the national government and the local communities regarding deprived and marginalized neighbourhoods of the city[7].

Urban Interventions

The initial steps considered government investments in physical infrastructure and appearance of the said neighbourhoods, with further installations of the MetroCable system and public library-parks, based on consultations with the local communities[8]. These installations allowed marginalized neighbourhoods, which were located on the periphery of Medellín, to be connected to the city centre, where the affluent communities resided, thus generating a public interaction between different social and economic groups[9]. The MetroCable system represents an aerial cable-car technology, transporting the remote marginalized communities to the city centre and easing their access to work (video below[10]). On the other hand, the public library-parks act as libraries, schools, community and childcare centres and mainly support the marginalized communities in terms of education, healthcare and material needs[11].

Medellín Miracle

The phenomena, frequently referenced as Medellín Miracle, has not only creatively transformed the image of the city through the said policies and urban interventions, but also positively impacted on the reduction of urban violence in deprived and marginalized neighbourhoods. The city, which previously experienced urban violence, poverty and social exclusion and inequality, currently sets an example of a successful urban regeneration initiative for other countries to take a note of (video below[12]).


References:

[Featured image] Creative City South (2018) Medellin: A Creative City. Available at: https://creativecitysouth.org/blog-1/2018/3/29/medellin-a-creative-city (Accessed: 17 May 2020).

[1]Doyle, C. (2018) ‘’Orthodox’ and ‘alternative’ explanations for the reduction of urban violence in Medellín, Colombia’, Urban Research & Practice, 12(3), p. 213.

[2]Salazar, B. (2010) Social Urbanism as a Crime Prevention Strategy: The case of Medellin. Proceedings of the Workshop held at the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, p. 92.

[3]Quartz (2018) [Video] Future of Cities: Medellin, Colombia solves city slums. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqsMuC7X2kE (Accessed: 17 May 2020).

[4]Maclean, K. (2015) [Image] Social Urbanism and the Politics of Violence: The Medellín Miracle. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan UK, p. 2.

[5]Salazar, B. (2010) Social Urbanism as a Crime Prevention Strategy: The case of Medellin. Proceedings of the Workshop held at the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, pp. 93-94.

[6]Aguinaga, G. (2015) Learning from Medellin: a success story of holistic violence prevention. Available at: https://www.saferspaces.org.za/blog/entry/learning-from-medellin-a-success-story-of-holistic-violence-prevention (Accessed: 17 May 2020).

[7]Salazar, B. (2010) Social Urbanism as a Crime Prevention Strategy: The case of Medellin. Proceedings of the Workshop held at the 12th UN Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, pp. 95-96.

[8]Doyle, C. (2018) ‘’Orthodox’ and ‘alternative’ explanations for the reduction of urban violence in Medellín, Colombia’, Urban Research & Practice, 12(3), pp. 215-216.

[9]Galvin, M. and Maassen, A. (2019) Urban Transformations: In Medellín, MetroCable Connects People in More Ways Than One. Available at: https://thecityfix.com/blog/urban-transformations-medellin-metrocable-connects-people-ways-one-madeleine-galvin-anne-maassen/ (Accessed: 18 May 2020).

[10]WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities (2019) [Video] Metrocable | WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities 2018-2019 Finalist. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=217&v=Qca7uqHOUBg&feature=emb_logo (Accessed: 17 May 2020).

[11]Sotomayor, L. (2015) ‘Equitable planning through territories of exception: the contours of Medellin’s urban development projects’, International Development Planning Review, 37(4), pp. 379-381.

[12]Next City (2014) [Video] How Medellín Has Changed Using Social Urbanism. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb04aGZxLck (Accessed: 18 May 2020).

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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Tel: 0191 208 6509

Email: nicola.rutherford@ncl.ac.uk


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