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Creative Urbanisation Transforms Medellín From Violent to Creative City

Once dubbed the world’s most dangerous city, Medellín is one of Colombia’s finest today, and has been granted the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2016. Stephanie Peh reports.

Creative Urbanisation Transforms Medellín From Violent to Creative City

Top Image: Urban escalators at Comuna 13 San Javier © Carlos Escobar

Medellín is living proof that innovative urbanisation can help transform a city. Despite being better known for its notorious past marked by drug cartels, Medellín today is in fact a humane and highly liveable city where art, design and culture flourish.

Over the past two decades, the city has dealt with long-term challenges like uncontrolled urban expansion creatively. Violence due to social inequalities has also decreased. 

The MetroCable © Municipality of Medellín

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize 2016 was recently conferred on Medellín for its remarkable feat. Medellín was selected from 38 nominated cities, following a two-tier selection process comprising a Nominating Committee and a Prize Council. 

Chairman of the Nominating Committee, Kishore Mahbubani said, “Its [Medellín’s] success gives hope to many cities in developing countries, where the next wave of massive urbanisation will take place. Medellín can become a Mecca of learning for them.”

Metro system © Municipality of Medellín

Medellín is celebrated for small-scale and high impact projects that have imbued poor crime-prone communities with a new lease of life. For instance, the world’s first cable car system for daily commute was implemented to connect formerly disconnected neighbourhoods – located at the edge of the city – to the main Metro.

At the same time, public spaces such as playgrounds and sports premises were integrated at the base of the cable car system. Libraries were also introduced into the poor communities and Metro stations.

The MetroCable over the city © Urban Redevelopment Authority

San Javier, once the most violent and troubled neighbourhood in the city, has transformed into a liveable district, featuring escalators for vertical mobility and pocket parks for gatherings.

The local community enjoying public spaces around the urban escalators in Comuna 13 San Javier © Urban Redevelopment Authority

The Circumvent Garden introduced at the urban-rural edge serves to engage the community in farming, construction and landscaping. Besides weakening risks of landslides and improving the conditions of settlements, local residents are equipped with agricultural and construction skills, thus empowering the community with a sense of ownership.

Community farms at the Circumvent Garden © Urban Development Enterprise EDU

Through the Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVA – Life Articulated Units) programme, citizens are involved in the construction of sports, recreational and cultural venues – most of which are adapted from existing utility water tanks that have been transformed into communal spaces that host activities determined by citizens. 

Children at play at an UVA – Life Articulated Unit © Municipality of Medellín

While these measures have been aimed at improving Medellín’s economy, citizens’ employability and quality of life, they prove that urban renewal can inspire hope in citizens, eradicating political unrest and fear. However, the city’s leaders stress that Medellín must not take its stability for granted. Momentum in meeting the fundamental needs of its people must be maintained.

Panoramic view of Santo Domingo and the Spanish Library Park © Municipality of Medellín 

At the World Cities Summit to be held in July 2016 at the Marina Bay Sands, Medellín will be presenting the Prize Lecture, as well as receiving its Prize, a gold medallion, an award certificate, and S$300,000 sponsored by Keppel Corporation, at the Lee Kuan Yew Prize Award Ceremony and Banquet.

A community activity centre – Educamos Classroom – located at the Circumvent Garden © Municipality of Medellín

Launched on 22 June 2009, the biennial Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is jointly organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Center for Liveable Cities. The Prize aims to recognise exemplary liveable and sustainable metropolitan city models worldwide.

Other cities honoured with a Special Mention for this year’s Prize are Auckland, New Zealand for its highly integrated and innovative governance model; Sydney, Australia for a strong leadership that sees a collaborative approach with citizens and stakeholders in tackling urban challenges; Toronto, Canada for its social integration strategies, as well as Vienna, Austria for how it has been transformed from an old city to an innovative and green city, while protecting its heritage.

The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize is a key highlight at the upcoming World Cities Summit to be held from 10 to 14 July 2016 at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore.

Urban Redevelopment Authority

Centre for Liveable Cities

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