World Urban Forum – the environment in Medellín

Today we decided to visit some areas of Medellín (I came to the event with two Spanish friends that are also living in Chile ). The day passes by quite fast so the sites visited were: Parque Arvi (going up the Metrocable), the Library Parque España and the Botanical Garden.

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I have to admit the Medellín is an interesting city. It has impressed me the level of infrastructure targeted towards social inclusion and improving the quality of it inhabitants. As I went up the Metro Cable I thought of the level of political power and influence to promote and achieve such interventions. To go through a slum, build a long – and needed – cable car, improve the surroundings and a top-level library is quite an accomplishment for any city government. And such interventions are everywhere in Medellín. No wonder it is a good example of new trends for urban development.

Now, I don’t want to sound over optimistic. As, of course, it is a city with over 2 million people and a lot of inequalities (like many of our Latin American cities). Nonetheless, an example to keep improving and for other cities in the region to do the same.

The trip over the slums is an eye opener to really, how people live and the great challenges ahead in this over populated world. But then one changes stations to go to Park Arvi, and this transition is an interesting one. From urban to natural, from low-class to tourist atmosphere it is something different that I hadn’t experience since my visit to township tour in South Africa. It is neither good nor bad, just different.

Now the park is beautiful. Although there are various trekking path we only did a short 1.5 hours to get the main idea, and for my friends to see the tropical diversity of plants and flowers. To me it was like being in many of the national parks in Venezuela so it was nice to see initiatives to preserve these areas.

We ate around the park and then headed down to the Spanish Park Library. An excellent project to really make a different in this community. The library has a nice architecture design and space distribution. It reminded me of the Seattle Central Library by Rem Koolhass, but in a more modest way. This can be seen in the materials used and how – at the time of this post – there are some condensation problems seen in the walls. Still, it is doing what it should. As I walked up the stairs I say a line of about 20 kids (under 11 many of them), all of them waiting for their turn to use the internet lab. Much better having them there than out with a high risk of doing something “bad”.

As time was pressing, as it always is when doing some sightseeing we took the cable car down and the metro to the Botanical Garden. It was getting late, short of closing time, but we got to enter and walked around. It is Sunday, so many families were out enjoying the weather, walking, playing, resting and getting recharged for a new week. A must see part of the garden is the Orquideorama; an open covered-space with high metal structures covered with wooden planks with the shape of orchids. A very nice way to relax in a sunny afternoon.

This ended our day – close to 6 pm – and then it was heading to the hotel. We made a stop at the WUF venue but it was starting to close.

The way back we decided to walk. In any other city this area would have the presence of homeless people. That is a downtown area, with close to no activity at night and lots of spaces to spend the nice in the streets. Nonetheless none were seen. Here is where the really check of some of these visit make you reflect on the city. As we walked we encountered an open car battery replacement shop and started to talk to the owner. A nice guy that needed to vent his unconformity with the current government, and express that the streets were clean of homeless due to the WUF and that after the event is over all would go back to “normal”.

That left us thinking about the big picture again. Cities have enormous challenges that need to be addressed. Indeed Medellín with what we saw is taking action, but there are other sides to the nice environment that are not always to easy to see or understand.

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