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Social Urbanism in Medellin: Analysis

Understanding Social Context as a tool for informed design in Pajarito Landscape architecture is a diverse practice in which designers evolve place at a variety of scales. Throughout history, this practice has included the articulation of urban places through planning, policy, and design. Medellin, Colombia presents a compelling case study in how powerful this transformation can be. Through the lens of social urbanism, Medellin has rapidly improved conditions in both informal and formal communities that suffered an increase in violence during the height of the cocaine trade in the 1970’s. When applied in Medellin, social urbanism is a tool through which designers and planners seek to create social change at multiple scales within the city. Antioquia Governor and past Medellin Mayor Luis Perez has been a champion of this concept. In the 1980’s, Medellin became known as the cocaine capital of the world, which led to urban decay as the city dealt with a spike in violent crime. This violence was felt most dramatically in Medellin’s informal and low-income communities along the edge of the city. Informal communities are squatter developments in which individuals or familes create their own housing on land they do not own. Often, these developments occur along the edge of Medellin due to the topography which had made development unsafe due to an increased landside risk. By 1993, the Medellin Cartel had been dismantled and Medellin was slowly recovering from once being the most murderous city in the world with a murder rate of 381 per 100,000 inhabitants.1 As an engineer, Mayor Perez understood the importance of infrastructure in creating social change. Under his leadership, Medellin developed high-profile transportation projects including Metro, the first high-speed rail project in Colombia. Perez also championed a variety of innovative infrastructure projects, including Metrocable, which provides access to the economic opportunities within downtown Medellin. After being elected Governor of the Department of Antioquia, one of the thirtytwo departments, or states, within Colombia, Sergio Fajardo was elected Mayor and continues to evolve Perez’s concepts. Fajardo developed a new planning agency, EDU, or Empress de Desarrollo Urbano. EDU, a quasi public agency, oversees the strategy for social equity through planning and design working collaboratively with other public and private organizations. EDU breaks down projects into two types. The first category 1

Bowater, Donna. “Medellin’s Falling Homicide Rate and Social Investment Brings Fresh Hope to the Former Murder Capital of the World.” The Independent, 2015.

includes large-scale urban projects that create critical nodes within lowincome and informal communities. Internally, the government refers to these projects as “structuring axis” because after completion, they site the articulation of social urbanism through the development of smaller infrastructure projects directly adjacent to them, creating a corridor. These projects include the Metrocable stations and the city’s famous library projects. The first such projects included the development of Library Espana and the first Metrocable line to Santo Domingo. The second project type includes smaller scale urban projects that are designed at creating better integration within the community. These projects are focused on site specific interventions and have included the development of community gardens, neighborhood centers, smaller scale community parks, and public art. One example of this type of project is the community gardens of Moravia. Moravia is a landfill site that sits on the Medellin River inhabited by Medellin’s poorest residents. As parts of the landfill have filled up and been capped, the city has developed community gardens. Socially, this shows a deep understanding of the residents of Moravia who often immigrate from the Antioquia countryside and have farming backgrounds. This project also created ecological services that help to remediate the Medellin River, which is one of the dirtiest urban rivers in the world.1 With this complex social history in mind, Boston Architectural College students engaged in a ten-day immersive experience in Medellin, followed by a fall studio with the goal of considering how social urbanism can be utilized as a tool for Pajarito, a community in flux along the Iguana River. Located on the north-west side of Medellin, topography, risk of landslides, and the unhealthy nature of the Iguana River are just a few of the physical charecteristics of the site that required thoughtful consideration. Socially, the mix of informal and formal government housing, a diversity of residents, and the rapid densification of this neighborhood were equally important in considering potential interventions. The complexity of this site also necessitated consideration at a variety of scales, which was achieved through regional and local analysis, Pajarito master planning, and site design. The following pages present my goal of connecting Pajarito locally and regionally through the creation of a robust transportation network while building on recent projects to develop localized nodes that incorporate transit, housing, and social opportunity. 1

According to IDB: Water and Santitation Initiative, “Medellin River: A Case Study”


Analysis: Major Circulation Informal buses provide local transportation to and from Pajarito and other barrios. These buses utilize existing roads that are wide enough for the busses to access

Metrocable provides a unique solution to mobility issues between Pajarito and greater Medellin. Metrocable cuts transit time by 45 min for Pajarito residents.

In formal developments, the focus hasshifted shifted towards inclusion of wider sidewalks, protectedbicycle bicycle facilities, and wider streets. This only works in new developments where space is available


Analysis: Minor Circulation

Gridded streets in government housing community in Pajarito. Housing blocks are laid out in a grid creating a gridded street network

In areas of greater topography public housing projects are more spread out, especially in current project areas. Streets are specific to these housing blocks and do not form a connected network

In densely populated informal housing settlements, streets are connected, often in a grid-like pattern, but narrower and shorter in scale. Many informal streets are important for connectivity


Analysis: Access to Transit


Analysis: Existing Nodes

Metrocable and buses (informal) provide direct access to the Medellin region. Metrocable expansion will make expansion this resource more access to a greater thepopulation percentage ofofthe

In formal housing types, connectivity to the community fabric is important and achieved through infrastructure such as asstairways and plazas that strive to engage the Pajarito community socially

Many formal communities lack connectivity to local resources and other housing typologies despite ample infrastructure. This is largely due to neighborhood design and could learn from mixed use development in informal communities



Social Urbanism in Medellin: Master Plan

Identifying opportunity within Pajarito at the regional scale through master planning Working in teams, students developed comprehensive master plans for Pajarito. Considering individual analysis and site experience from the summer intensive, teams worked collaboratively to develop site plans that considered social, ecological, economic, circulation, and housing objectives through this planning process. Medellin has developed planning strategies for Medellin, which many students sought opportunity for imrpovement to through innovative design opportunities. Working with Olivia Fragale and Sandra Laurelli, we focused on an corridors approach which developed corridors at different scales and for different uses throughout Pajarito. The objective of this strategy was to create connectivity within and through Pajarito while creating social opportunities that would result in improved conditions for current and future inhabitants. This approach culminated in the creation of three distinct corridors;

- eco corridors which created pathways for walking and bicycling through Pajarito and along La Iguana River into Medellin. - market corridors which utlized a highly designed structure to create commerce opportunies and improve safety within Pajarito. - transportation corridors which connected communities in Pajarito with each other and greater Medellin through bus and Metrocable.

A second aspect of our plan was the development of critical nodes in three locations within Pajarito. These nodes occur when the corridors intersect, aligning with EDU’s strategy of creating large-scale projects at these sites. Our central node, La Aurora, already exists as one of EDU’s efforts to do this through the creation of a Metrocable station, community center and school. We proposed similar efforts in two additional locations at San Cristobal and Aures I. Expanding on EDU’s efforts, we saw an opportunity to encorporate many of the adjacent services within the Metrocable station, and clearly defined land use in the immediate vicinity of the node. We also developed dedicated space for institutional research and an eco park that focused on mountain biking, a popular sport in Medellin. My role was to develop a comprehensive transportation master plan for Pajarito. Through my analysis work, both on-site this summer and through research during the analysis phase of LAN2007, I developed a

strong interest in the role of transportation in Medellin’s renaissance. I also believe that the formal systems of government have a lot to learn from the informal systems within Medellin, which have been developed over decades by individuals and self-organizing groups, and provide a deeper understanding of community needs and desires. With this background in mind, I developed a transportation master plan which utilized existing frameworks and innovative next steps to improve circulation within and through Pajarito. By deploying additional Metrocable stations in San Cristobal to the west and Aures I to the east, connectivity from Pajarito to Medellin was more inclusive, resulting in 70% of the population living within 15 minutes of a Metrocable station. This would result in a dramatic decrease in the time necessary to travel into the city, which opens up additional economic opportunities for Pajarito inhabitants. This strategy was aided by the introduction of bus rapid transit to Pajarito through four lines, one linear lines that traveled between the Metrocable stations providing access to residents living between these nodes and three stations that run north to sound providing access to residents who live to the north and south of these nodes. Bus rapid is not a bus typology, but rather an idea of organization that mimics the existing informal bus networks. Unlike traditional bus systems, bus rapid reduces the number of stops to points with a higher density of use which facilitates quicker trips. By strategically placing bus stops, this strategy provides access to 85% of Pajarito inhabitants. Additionally, instead of the buses picking residents up and taking them down into the valley, which can take two hours, the buses create a loop that drops inhabitants off at Metrocable stations which then connect to the Metro, enabling inhabitants to reach the valley within an hour, cutting travel time in half. This solution is also more sustainable by reducing existing bus trips, which are made in high emission diesel buses, moving those trips to compressed natural gas busses, Metrocable and high-speed rail with more of the travel time being within higher density and lower-energy use transportation solutions. Bus loops also facilitate circulation within Pajarito which increases connection internally. Along with the development of institutional, ecotourism, and economic opportunities within the Pajarito nodes, this increases the opportunies for residents within their community which will result in less dependence on economic, social, and health services in the valley. 9

Transportation Master Plan: Overall


Transportation Master Plan: Node Condition


Transportation Master Plan: Routes

P1: Linear Connector Loop

This route connects all three nodes within Pajarito from east to west through an express bus-loop. By creating a route that connects between San Cristobal, La Aurora, and Aures I, connectivity within Pajarito is improved providing access to existing resources within the community. The destination nodes are enhanced to provide additional connectivity to greater Medellin, as well as provide critical services onsite, reducing the need to travel to the city which improves the economic outlook in Pajarito. This route also provides opportunity for plura infrastructure, including pedestrian and bicycle circulation improvements providing additional options for inhabitants to reach the node Metrocable stations.

P2: Aures I / Aures II Loop

This route provides a loop for residents of Aures I and Aures II, middle income neighborhoods along the eastern edge of Pajarito. The primary objective of this route is to create direct, public transportation connectivity to Medellin for Aures I and Aures II residents. This loop terminates at the Aures I Metrocable station (proposed in this master plan) creating easy access to Medellin, which currently does not exist. Once at the Aures I transit node, residents are able to transfer to the P1 route which provides service to the rest of Pajarito, creating new linear access within Pajarito. Being the most dense neighborhood in Pajarito with developed districts and narrow streets, less opportunity exists for dedicated bus lanes or added bicycle facilities, however, the addition of Metrocable to the community and this bus loop will result in a decrease of overall congestion on local arterial streets, as well as a reduction in particle pollution.


Transportation Master Plan: Routes

P3: La Aurora Loop

This route provides a loop for residents of La Aurora and San Margarita in central Pajarito. Much of La Aurora is new development, which includes government housing blocks, a Metrocable station, community center, and other facilities. The street typology is wide, with ample room for dedicated bus routes, bicycle facilities, and inhanced pedestrian facilities. Utilizing the existing transit node at La Aurora, this route requires the least capital for implimentation, utilizing existing goverment infrastructure. In the south near La Iguana River, informal housing is common with narrower streets and fewer ammenities. The proposed route provides access for inhabitants of these informal communities utilizing streets where enough right-of-way exists for a dedicated bus loop.

P4: San Cristobal Loop

This route provides a loop for residents of San Cristobal, a once rural community on teh western edge of Pajarito. Similar to both the La Aurora and Aures I loops, this loop provides service for inhabitants to a new Metrocable station (proposed in this master plan) creating easy access to Medellin. What makes the San Cristobal route unique is that this site includes envisioned land-use for an eco-park which includes expansive mountain bicycle facilities and institutional reasearch facilities for UPB. These ammenities will attract visitors from other parts of Medellin and this loop provides access to those proposed ammenities, which creates economic opportunity for the region. Another differentiating factor of this loop from others is that it includes access south of La Iguana River, providing access to inhabitants of informal housing communities just south of the river.



Social Urbanism in Medellin: Site Plan

Zooming into a site specific prototype at the local scale through site planning While both analysis and master planning for Pajarito provided critical insight into the region, site planning further articulates potential interventions at a local scale. Through this lens, designers are better able to understand how their proposed conditions will work, feel, and be received. The interventions proposed in our overall and transportation master plans presented several opportunities for specific site interventions. New Metrocable stations at San Cristobal and Aures I were the most dramatic proposals in the plan since they included the creation of new nodes within Pajarito. While San Cristobal offers unique opportunity for incorporating additional institutional and ecopark ammenities, the availability of land made it similar to the existing conditions of La Aurora where EDU has developed a new Metrocable station and other facilities. By contrast, Aures I is a densely developed neighborhood and doesn’t have free space for expansive development. This was an attractive site for me as it pushed the prototype in our master plan, enabling us to see how it responds to in-fill development, which is a primary goal of the Medellin goverment who want to limit additional development up the mountainsides. The objective of this intervention is to create a new community node that mimics existing informal communities while deploying some of the infrastructural improvements that have become a hallmark of Medellin’s urban design initiatives over the past decade. Additionally, this site re-imagines the limitation of affordable housing providing a new typology for government housing development that enables dense, but diverse housing for Aures I inhabitants. This design is also informed by historic landscape architecture including the Athenian Agora. The Agora is seen in the creation of a public space which includes a market and plaza at the entrance of the Metrocable station. The deployment of a trivium through the housing development creates local circulation, including both private and public moments of threshold that merge at the entrance to the market and Metrocable station. The spatial limitations of the site enable further exploration of the new Metrocable station prototype proposed in the master plan. Instead of creating an axis of projects, as EDU has done in other examples, where the Metrocable station serves as only a transit hub and other ammenities are located in the immediate vicinity, the opportunity exists

to create plural infrastructure creating market space, institutional use, health and public services, and community space. Another goal of this site intervention is to consider the opportunity for innovation within affordable housing design. While Medellin leadership has done an impressive job deploying innovative transportation and social opportunities, including the Electric Stairs, library projects, and Metrocable, in the affordable housing realm Medellin has developed generic structures similar to public housing projects deployed globally over the past five decades. This lack of innovation is in stark contrast to other projects in which EDU and other government authorities have looked to and worked with the social fabric to develop unique solutions. In many of those interventions, the deep understanding of existing conditions and community needs resulted in projects that had a favorable impact on quality of life. By contrast, government housing projects that are currently being developed ignore all clues presented in informal and middle-income housing developments of needs of these same communities. One stark example of this is the scale of these developments, which often exceed eight stories. This change in scale is often made worse by a lack of consideration for in-between space, a lack of retail opportunities, decreased walkability from informal housing communities, and the inability to build onto units, which makes living with extended family or growing as a family within the home challenging. Through site design, the objective of this project is twofold; to build on the legacy of Medellin’s major public works projects, realizing our master plan strategy for Pajarito within the Aures I site, and to develop a functional and efficient affordable housing prototype that Medellin can utilize throughout the region. Through the development of an under-utilized site in Aures I, the master plan nodes prototype will be tested in a more challenging context, while the housing prototype will be utilized in a transit oriented development type project on the site.


Pajarito Master Plan + Context


Site Plan

Aures I is a dense neighborhood that has evolved from a

low-income to mid-income residential neighborhood through a combination of formal and informal development. The development of this site as a corridor node within the Pajarito Master Plan provides public transportation to established and emerging communities within Pajarito, further connecting inhabitants within Pajarito and throughout greater Medellin. This design creates that connectivity by acting as a hub for the transportation corridor within Pajarito through the creation of a Metrocable station and BRT stop. The public plaza creates much needed public space and acts as a market and venue for community gatherings and special events. The convenience of picking up produce or other household items after utilizing the new Metrocable station not only provides new resources for inhabitants, but also acts as a placemaking initiative. The housing typology honors Aures’ evolution as an informal community through the creation of a base module that is highly adaptable and designed to evolve over time enabling inhabitants to retain ownership over the form as family needs evolve. This design addresses concern that goverment housing is unattractive due to uniformity or materiality. The adaptive design is both unique and maliable while formulaic enough that it is still a cost effective as government housing.


Site Plan: Circulation through Housing


Site Plan: Section + Rendered Perspective



Site Plan: Housing Typology Housing Innovation

In order to develop affordable housing that is both functional and efficient, consideration needed to be made for replicability. However, this replicability must not result in the steril “stamping� of the same or similar structures in perpetuity as this is ugly and lacks character. To combat this, the first floor of the prototype is designed as static in size and shape, with variation offered in the second floor. Using only two different floorplans, it is possible to create a variety of forms through citing of the structure. This creates different opportunities for semi-private and public space, roof gardens and other outdoor space, and opportunities for future development as seen in informal communities.

Obsessive Modeling

To test this prototype, I engaged in obsessive modeling which informed the final design. Through considering the intervention at a variety of scales, the form changed over time to create an interesting yet replicable strategy that is deployable in Aures I and beyond.



Social Urbanism in Medellin: Conclusion

Utilizing social urbanism in landscape architecture, planning, and policy Throughout this semester, we learned how to consider intricate urban design challenges through the lens of social urbanism. To understand the hidden, yet important, nuances of good urban design, it was important to consider potential design interventions at a variety of scales. This “helicopter thinking” is an important skill to develop as landscape designers, and was evidenced in our work this semester. First, we engaged in analysis at multiple scales including greater Medellin, Pajarito, and within a specific site. Then, we moved into master planning, which while focused on Pajarito, engaged us in thinking about interventions at multiple scales. Then, through individual site exploration, these ideas were tested at human scale which provided further exploration and discovery. This design exploration was an incredible learning experience that empowered me as a designer to engage in a more fluid design process then I had previously. The added challenge of working within a context that I was unfamiliar until our intensive this summer was freeing, enabling me to think creatively about potential solutions without feeling obligated to consider externalities, as I have in my previous work as a transportation planner and advocate. While policy and master planning certainly exists in Medellin, as it does here, this introduction to informal communities was inspiring for me and deeply informed my design process. From the informal bus networks to housing communities, it became clear to me that the notion of citizen design is not just an academic idea to be discussed in western society, but rather an existing method of urban design that exists throughout the world in a variety of scales and Medellin provides many case studies in how this can help inform the design professions. While the semester long design exploration presented me with additional tools for future design development, it was the tenday summer intensive that opened the door to many new ideas. As someone with a deep interest in transportation planning and design, I had heard about Medellin and the many programs that had helped reshape Medellin over the past decade. Experiencing many of these sites first hand was inspiring, but doing so with such thoughtful members of the BAC and UPB community made this an experience I

will remember for the rest of my life. One aspect of this visit taht has stayed present this entire semester is the culture. It is clear that the people of Medellin have different priorties than I have experienced living in the United States, and that these priorities shape public policy, urban planning, and design. For example, while home sizes are modest, public and private spaces aren’t often clearly defined and streets, and front stoops become an extension of the home. From the Metrocable as we traveled through the air immediately above these communities, the senses came alive and we could almost experience this extended community. People singing along in church services. Amplified music during parties. The smell of grills and street vendors. The sound of kids playing. These are only a few of the things that we heard or saw first hand in communities that, as recent as the mid 1990’s were among the most dangerous in the world. From the initial ten-day intensive group work through my final site plan, it became apparent that transportation infrastructure was an important theme in moving Medellin forward. Initial analysis that focused on the transportation infrastructure that Medellin has already deployed, and where they can continue to improve in Pajarito. This was evidenced in the master plan which showcased the great opportunity to transform Pajarito through plural corridors that include a robust public transportation component. Finally, this project showcased the value of this intervention at the site level, through a prototypical transit node.



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Social Urbanism in Medellin  

Intensive and Studio

Social Urbanism in Medellin  

Intensive and Studio

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