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Lessons on Urban Redevelopment from Colombia's Divergent Design Stories

The cities of Bogotá and Medellín have made dramatic transformations over the last ten years, driven in large part by their influential mayors. But while one continues to soar, the other is in crisis, reports Justin McGuirk
April 17, 2012, 7am PDT | Alesia Hsiao
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Two cities in Colombia showcase how the mix of politics and good infrastructure design can work. Bogota, Colombia's capital, utilized transport infrastructure to revitalize their streets. Two past mayors, Antanas Mockus and Enrique Peñalosa, "brought decent sidewalks, bike lanes and the Transmilenio bus service to bypass the capital's crippling traffic – measures that privileged the non-car-owning poor." With current overcrowding, various stalled road projects and the last mayor accused of corruption, Bogota is a city in trouble.

By comparison, Medellin was considered a dangerous city filled with violence and drugs in the 1990s. By the early to mid 2000s, progressive design projects such as Coliseos Juegos Suramericanos, Orquideorama, and Paisajes Emergentes swimming pool complex, led the city's revival, notes McGuirk.

Giancarlo Mazzanti, Colombia's renowned architect, says the focus on "social urbanism" reflected in these projects marks a critical shift in urban policy, "This is a massive U-turn since the days when it was common to speak of 'cutting out the cancer' of the slums. For once, architecture-as-spectacle is not being used as a tool to market the culture industry, but to make poverty visible."

In the hands of mayor Sergio Fajardo, Medellin became a proving ground for innovative urban design. "There are several hybrid library-parks (part community centres and part much-needed public spaces), two cable car systems and, most recently, an outdoor escalator running nearly 400m up the troubled slum of Comuna 13." Fajardo focused on the creation of public spaces for the poor and "he attributed the fall in crime during his term in part to the increase in the amount of public space per citizen."

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Published on Wednesday, April 11, 2012 in The Guardian
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