An Urban Revolution in Medellin, by Claudia Lamberty

30 May

Editor’s Note:  Claudia has been with us now for a full year.  For the past three months, she explored ecological and design transformations across post-conflict Colombia.  And like many who have recently visited the country, she was particularly moved by the nature, culture and urban design that characterize modern Medellin.  

Within the city limits of Medellin natural jungle sprawl and urban materiality share a graceful coexistence. Mystic trails and luscious parks drape over concrete and comfort the wanderers. While simply strolling about the city you’re encouraged to submit to the sanctity of the natural world. There’s a certain ingenuity in the way Medellin’s ecology can both charm and overpower the pedestrian.

The mystique of urban space built atop a tropical jungle does not stop simply at buildings and trees. Wondrous bronze and wooden sculptures punctuate the city’s tropical gardens and sidewalk landscapes. It would appear that Medellin is attempting to master the integration of urban landscape design with the careful and sensitive adornment of representative and semi- abstract forms. Commissions serve to empower local artists as they become the illustrators of their country’s speckled and increasingly hopeful narrative.

Built within a valley of steamy rolling foothills, the generous fertility of the land has long contributed to the region’s narcotic-related violence. The city of Medellin is Colombia’s second most populous city and was once considered ground zero for a raging civil war. For over fifty years bloodshed has plagued both the reality and reputation of the city and country.

Notably, the Colombian Government’s implementation of the 2016 Peace Deal with FARC rebels has created an opportunity to fully embrace social revolution and innovation together. The city’s emergence into a post-conflict reality has encouraged locals of all disciplines and backgrounds to thrive amidst the prospect of a tranquil Colombia. Most admirably, Medellin’s nuanced canon vows to keep its promise regarding the protection and empowerment of its citizens.

A celebration of reclaimed agency translates into the material redesign of Medellin. Through the experimental technique “Social Urbanism” Medellin’s municipal government channels development efforts through deliberate and carefully curated environmental design. Colombian architects, engineers, and artists strive to apply their creative prowess towards opportunities for peace and security. Conscientious integration of open-air public space, public art, installations, manicured trails, playgrounds, and elaborate transport systems, together with the development of once unlivable neighborhoods all demonstrate the city’s commitment to rebuilding.

Discrepancies in material, style, and design vary. However, intentions to amuse and enchant the spectator remain consistent. The subconscious is stimulated when confronted by material design amid this tropical playground. An alluring combination of natural whimsy distracts from the ”weight” of political-economic ideologies and potent senses of self-absorption that plague modern societies. In Medellin, tactful landscape design and public art are integral to socially positive development. The integration of art and landscape design in public space has the capacity to reinforce collective consciousness and conceptions of what it means to be human.

It would be naive to assume that civil strife has vanished completely. Corruption, inequality, land disputes, and drug production continue to fester. While influxes of Venezuelan refugees pour into Colombian border towns and urban centers, climate-related threats beckon uncertainty in agricultural output and the arrival of more frequent natural disasters.

Implementation of the peace deal is only the beginning of a reconfigured Colombia, and a strengthened culture of urban design and landscape architecture will surely not solve these deep- rooted issues. However, the country’s urban centers are finding the courage to display their renewed identities and there is considerable power in this. Colombia, and Medellin specifically, are now demonstrating to the rest of the world how ecologically conscious urban design can serve as a catalyst for maintaining peace and evoking a revolution of the spirit.

 

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