With three comprehensive intervention projects, in urban renewal, mobility and attention to early childhood, Medellín has become an international model of overcoming low levels of human development and caring for the most vulnerable populations. From ACI Medellín, these are the stories, told the world, about the transformation of the city in order to attract new resources, position public policy in the country and abroad, and exchange experiences.

Despite being separated by a mere 23 minutes, and being very close to the river that runs through the city from south to north, for many of the inhabitants of the northeastern area, going to work or making a purchase in downtown Medellín meant “going down” to the city. That was the description of the trip and the disconnection they felt with their own city, and as it was called by scholars, a historical exclusion. This exclusion could finally be solved with the Metrocable and the PUI (Comprehensive Urban Project in Spanish).

“those living in the sector were part of the forgotten geography. We had no spaces to walk in. There were only small houses on top of more small houses along the creek, so people said this was like ‘El Pesebre’ (a manger).” Luz Marina Gómez, community leader of “La Francia” neighborhood

Comprehensive Urban Projects have changed the lives of more than 170.000 inhabintants in Medellín.

She does not remember a different neighborhood, because she has lived here all her life. She inherited land from her father, as well as the spirit of always looking for the welfare of people. She did not leave when violence stole tranquility. She hesitated when the government promised change, and today, she assures with certainty, she will only leave La Francia when she dies. The PUI has changed her life and that of more than 170,000 inhabitants, with 28 projects in 13 neighborhoods.

However, she also says with insistence that no one believed in what the State had promised to do. She spoke with social managers and engineers at the “Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano” (Urban Development Corporation, EDU, in Spanish) and asked them what was going to happen. She was informed and then she retold the information during meetings in improvised places such as sports facilities and a billiard club, a few blocks away from her house.

“It was permanent and hard work to gain trust, but finally works began, and I was overwhelmed with all I had to do.” She was in charge of welcoming the workers, recording the time shifts and even had to verify the stock of construction tools available. Together with her neighbors, she worked for the territory they had imagined and planned during the workshops.

With this PUI, they moved from fear to hope, and from hope to life, thanks to the execution of works such as the “Paseo Urbano” (urban boulevard) at Calle 106, which increased the shops from 35 to about 250; the “Centro de Desarrollo Empresarial Zonal, Cedezo, in Santo Domingo Savio (Zonal Business Development Center) to support business ideas; the “Unidad Deportiva y Recreativa Granizal” (Sports and Recreational Facilities) to benefit 500,000 inhabitants; and the construction of the “Parque Biblioteca España,” the “Parque Lineal Quebrada La Herrera,” 126 homes and the “Mirador Andalucía – La Francia Bridge,” linking two sectors separated over the years, among other works totaling 25,000 square meters of urban facilities and 125,000 square meters of new public space.

“Medellín has achieved becoming an innovative city, not because of technology production, but because of its capacity for social and holistic intervention. We have communities who love their areas of residence, who feel part of the State and see the retribution of the contributions made via taxes. Therefore, the city went from being one of the most violent in the world, exclusionary and divided, to becoming the most innovative.” Margarita María Rivera, director of Social Management at EDU. 

Social planning in Medellín, the Latin American school

Having national and international benchmarks such as the favelas -shacks, slums shantytowns- in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; slums in Barcelona, Spain, and Bogotá’s urban transformation in the nineties, Medellín configured its Social Urbanization with a series of planning and intervention actions to promote comprehensive human development with citizen participation.

With the PUI for the North-Eastern area of the city, the first in the capital of Antioquia and completed in 2004, a replicable model that combines three components was created. It included physical reformation with the construction of cultural, sporting and educational facilities, housing, mobility and environmental improvement; social reformation, with the strengthening of citizen participation and mobilization; and institutional reform, which brings together government action across a range of programs and the promotion of appropriation of spaces and the quality of life of its people.

This model not only provided strength for Medellín to obtain recognition by the “Nobel of cities award” the Lee Kuan Yew World City 2016, delivered by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Center for Liveable Cities, but was also the gateway for the world coming through Medellín, together with the management of the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín and the Metropolitan Area –ACI Medellín. And it will open the path for other PUI to be developed in the Comuna 13 San Javier, the basin of the La Iguaná and the Northwest areas in El Picacho and at Central Eastern, by the green corridor of the Ayacucho Tram.

The modern tram, the face of the future

At the road corridor connecting the east of the region with downtown, through which one of the lines of the first electric tram in the 1940s ran, and the path through which farmers with colorful Silletas arrived in the marketplace, now runs the only modern tram in the country and the first in operation in Latin America in the twenty-first century.

As in the past, this passageway, of meeting and rest, residents, pedestrians and domestic and foreign travelers go up and down the 4.3 km route. They marvel at the 30 or more works of popular urban art painted on murals and facades of houses, and enjoy the more than 113,000 square meters of new public spaces and green areas.

One of the families who lived and made part of this change is the owner of Pizzas & Lasagna, a street vendor who began 22 years ago in Ayacucho and who then moved on to a commercial shop, led by the perseverance and discipline of food engineer William Lince and business manager Gloria Ledesma.

Pizzas y lasañas
Para Pizzas & Lasagna, the construction of Ayacucho’s Tram was a grow opportunity.

“On the weekends we are completely dedicated to the business. Selling on the streets was the way to begin but not a sustainable idea over time. We generated sales, but not capital,” explains William. So, they opened their first restaurant in Quinta Linda within the Buenos Aires neighborhood, where they soon won the recognition and appreciation of neighbors. With the desire to grow, they opened a second point of sale on Ayacucho Avenue and no more than thirty days went by when the tram works began.

“We did not expect the project to start off so fast; it was a big surprise. However, we believed and we stayed. We implemented sales strategies to sustain the business and were sure there would come a time of recovery and profits,” says Gloria.

Parallel to their flavor recognition of pizzas and lasagnas

and service excellence, another family dream was on the verge, in the production of artisanal ice cream. Daniela, their daughter, inherited the entrepreneurial spirit and while attending high school, took a course on ice cream preparation that marked her for life. While her father worked on the formulas, ingredients and chemical compositions to achieve the best flavor, she was attending school to become a food engineer and was getting ready for her next step, traveling for study at Carpigiani University in Italy. After that, only good news arose: participation and victory in the Gellato World Tour in Chicago in 2016 and third prize in the world in 2017 for the flavor “Amor-Acuyá,” a combination of chocolate,

passion fruit and the love the Lince Ledesma family has put in everything they do.

Today, from the headquarters of Pizzas & Lasagna, they appreciate not having left Ayacucho and are surprised to see the improvement in mobility, the sense of belonging of the people and of course, the increase in customers who visit their restaurant daily, thanks to its main course menu or for the dessert that has already achieved global recognition by chefs and ice cream makers alike.

Buen Comienzo to grow-up

Another one of the neighborhoods of the capital of Antioquia which was developed primarily with displaced population during the mid-sixties and seventies was Carpinelo, in the Comuna 1 Popular, near the edge of the mountains in the northeast.

Inhabitants began building houses made of wood and zinc roofs. Violent dynamics converged over the years, which brought government attention.

In 2013, with policy for attention to early childhood in the city and the country, the fourteenth Jardín Infantil Buen Comienzo (Good Start Kindergarten) opened. It was a place for children to plant their first dreams, opportunities,

and memories.

Under the design and implementation of the EDU, 1,556 square meters of facilities were built, 598 m2 of public space, and 2,050 m2 of free and recreational area. It included equipment and elements for ten child classrooms, nurseries, rooms for lactating moms, two rooms for crawlers, a dining area, a kitchen, an administrative area and other required spaces.

Also, with the operation of Las Golondrinas Foundation and the support of the Colombian Institute of Family Welfare, ICBF, service is supported by 23 community mothers, eight licensed preschool education personnel and a social worker, a psychologist, a nutritionist, a mediator artist, a special educator and a professional nurse.

But in addition to infrastructure and support from professional and technical personnel, there’s an interdisciplinary education wager that seeks for the children to explore and learn about issues such as water, animals, the environment and regional cultures.

“This garden is a place of recognition and respect, built by the community, where children are protected, cared for and are trained in values,” explains Yeini Margarita Ensuncho Celis, pedagogical coordinator.

Another achievement of this educational center, according to social worker Camilo Henao Mejía, was to position the Mesa de la Primera Infancia (Early Childhood Bureau) of the Comuna 1, where about thirty people participate, among Buen Comienzo operators, community leaders, the library network, different secretariats from the Medellín Mayor’s Office, such as Government and Health, and parents. This Early Childhood Bureau works for social mobilization, exchange of knowledge and experiences to qualify work articulately and recognize children as subjects of rights, protagonists of the present and managers for a better future.

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