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How Did Architectural Design Change the City of Medellin?

Medellin, Colombia was known to be one of the most dangerous cities in the world in the 70s up until the early 90s. The crime rate was sky rocket high, and drug lords lived like royalty. But who would’ve thought that architecture would play a huge role in transforming this city?

The Mayor of Medellin approached the internationally acclaimed architect and urban planner Alejandro Echeverri to redesign the city. During this time, Echeverri focused on building in the poverty-stricken areas. Soon after, the crime rate dropped.

What was Going on in Medellin?

Pablo Escobar lead the Medellin Cartel from 1972-1993 during this time the murder rate in the city was at 381 per 100,000 individuals in a population of over 2 million. It was because of this, Time Magazine dubbed the city as the most dangerous city on Earth.

During the height of Escobar’s reign, anyone part of the cartel lived freely. People of authority like policemen and judges were regularly assassinated, and regular citizens would disappear without a trace.

The city drowned in crime and violence. (Source: Stuff)

How Did the Transformation of Medellin Happen?

When Pablo Escobar died in 1993, the Medellin Cartel disbanded and the law enforcement agencies started to break up gangs to address the rampant crimes in the city. Even when the cartel left, murder rates were still high.

At this point, Sergio Fajardo, the mayor of the city at the time, had an ambitious plan to invest millions into public infrastructure.

Our most beautiful buildings, must be in our poorest areas.

Sergio Fajardo

At this point Fajardo got in touch with the Director of Urban Projects, Architect Alejandro Echeverri. The task was to revamp the image of the city through architecture and go beyond the surface of change. This humanitarian project was to influence the people of Medellin to work towards positivity. (Source: Arch Daily)

How Did the Project Help?

Before the launch of the project, the authorities needed to ensure that corruption within the system was non-existent. President Alvaro Uribe, passed laws to protect the project from such issues.

The budget allotted for this was not as high as you’d think it would be. Thus, the architects chosen to be part of the team were locals or from neighboring countries.

At the end of the project, change was evident. By 2004, the city had beautiful and functional infrastructure that lead to more projects and business. Better transportation system connected the city to the economic hub of Colombia, and eventually improved the lifestyle of Medellin’s people. (Source: Borgen Project)

How is Medellin Today?

By the year 2015, Medellin claimed the best quality of life in all of Latin America. In 2017, the city experienced a 56% decrease in poverty. It is also one of the cities in Colombia with the best access to clean water.

This proves to show that peace is something that doesn’t only concern law enforcement agencies, but the entire community. When officials address the root of the problem instead of band-aid solutions, we’re looking at long-term change.

The programs in Medellín are not one size fits all. Still, they teach a valuable lesson on the importance of revitalizing the dignity of marginalized communities. Medellín is a prime example of how access to basic needs can transform cities, as well as countries.

Stephanie Russo

(Source: Borgen Project)

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