The UC Berkeley Center for Global Healthy Cities and the Institute of Urban and Regional Development hosted a semester long seminar facilitated by Dr. Jason Corburn, professor of City and Regional Planning and Public Health, and Aníbal Gavíria, the former mayor of Medellin (2012-2015) and former governor of Antioquia, Colombia (2004-2008). The seminar took a comprehensive look at the transformation of the city of Medellin, once known as the most dangerous city in the world, to now a global example of equitable and inclusive planning.
Guest speakers included Jorge Pérez Jaramillo, former Dean of the school of Architecture at the University of Antioquia and Director of Planning for the city of Medellin (2012 – 2015); Diane Davis, Chair of Urban Planning and Design at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; Carlos Cadena, Professor at EAFIT University; and Magdalena Cerdá, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and the Vicewww.linkedin.com/in/jorge-pérez-jaramillo-arq-05848241/ Chancellor’s Chair in Violence Prevention at UC Davis. The seminar was structured around a series of lectures by professor Corburn, former mayor Gavíria and guest speakers, focused on specific projects and processes that contributed to violence and poverty reduction in Medellín. Topics included the city's affordable and integrated transport system, increased spending on education and culture, alternative conflict resolution mechanisms, youth programs, and participatory forms of planning and budgeting.
A city transformed
The city of Medellin is located in the Aburra Valley, in the department of Antioquia in central Colombia. It is bisected by the Medellín River that flows south to north through the valley, and has been an industrial and manufacturing hub for the department and country since the 1800s. This ideal setting and economic success is contrasted by Medellín’s alarming homicide rate, reaching its height in 1991 with nearly 400 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. In the last two decades, the city has lived a tremendous reduction in violence; by 2015, the homicide rate decreased by 95%, at 20 per 100,000 inhabitants.
As a result of this impressive social transformation, Medellin has received a tremendous amount of global recognition, most notably the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in 2016, and as host of the 7th World Urban Forum in 2014.
Cities for Life
Throughout the seminar, Mayor Gaviria walked the students through several of his administration’s greatest achievements, most notably Unidades de Vida Articulada (UVAs), the River Parks Project, and vast investment in education, as well as critical contributions of past administrations and collective work on behalf of Medellín’s citizens including the Metro and Metrocable system, library parks, and public escalators in Comuna 13. Through investing in the populations with the greatest need, mayor Gaviria and his predecessors were able to regain public institutional trust, and improve safety for the residents of marginalized neighborhoods. These programs were part of his administration’s goals to create a city for life, where strategic interventions were implemented through multidimensional strategies to reduce violence, increase education, and promote inclusivity for all.
The ongoing conversation
The seminar ultimately revealed an imperfect story of a city that has reemerged out of a period of violence and trauma, one that offers valuable lessons for global cities but continues to grow and learn as it grapples with issues of inequality and poverty.
Challenging the common narrative of utopian success surrounding Medellin’s transformation, the seminar also addressed the city’s continued challenges. Hazardous pollution levels, heavy traffic, environmental degradation, and socioeconomic inequality are at the forefront of the municipal agenda, and are key focus areas of a new Metropolitan Plan for Medellín and the nine surrounding cities, currently being drafted by the Metropolitan Authority. Seminar participants raised concerns and discussed future development in the metropolitan area, adding to ongoing research at IURD that supports the metro area planning process and the evaluation of proposed urban interventions.
“I believe that all the good practices and experiences of Medellín are interesting to study and
analyze, but these “recipes” always have to be adapted to be relevant to the other societies, to
other territories, and to other cities. I see the innovations of urban development in Medellín not
as photocopies that can be taken to another site and simply printed there, but I do believe that
all the innovations of Medellín can provide a source of learning for other cities with geographical
similarities or even differences. “
Anibal Gaviria, former mayor of Medellin
Beyond the seminar
The Institute for Urban and Regional Development, directed by Professor Jason Corburn, is continuing its research and assisting the Metropolitan Authority of the Aburra Valley and the city of Medellin, with its Metropolitan Plan for Territorial Organization (PEMOT). The planning process, led by Jorge Perez Jaramillo and his team of researchers in Medellin, will continue the legacy of mayor Gaviria’s Cities for Life concept and continue to promote inclusivity, equitable transportation, environmental conservation, continued investment in education, and health equity.
For more on the seminar outcomes and updates on ongoing work, visit iurd.berkeley.edu
By Marisa Asari & Matthew Palmquist