It is the fourth time I’ve been to Medellin. The other times were 4-5 days visits and I always left with the feeling that I was leaving too soon; that there was too much going on to actually understand the dynamics of this amazing city that in just a few years went from murder capital of the world to arguably one of the most progressive, organized and vibrant cities in Latin America.
That’s why I was so enthusiastic when, a few weeks ago, The Medellin Convention and Visitors Bureau invited us for a full packed 5 days blogtrip with the objective to explore not only Medellin but also some of its surprising surroundings. We have been organizing our notes in order to publish many posts about all the aspects we covered in our trip, so here’s the first one and an important one, I think, to be able to realize how incredible the change has been. Today I want to talk about the Metro Culture and the inclusion of the comunas to the city.
So, what exactly is a Comuna you may ask? Good question. In the time before Medellin’s renaissance , some 15 years ago the poorer and most violent areas of the city in the hills were somehow deceptively called “comunas”, definitively a place where you wouldn’t want to go.
In 2002, before the integrated plan of comunas intervention, the murder rate in Medellin was an astonishing 185 murders per 100.000 inhabitants. By 2008, after the metro cable, it had reduced to 30.
Former mayors Luis Peres, who began the construction and Sergio Fajardo who continued it are the ones to be recognized as the pioneers of this project. But it’s an initiative that goes way beyond just building a Metrocable.
The physical building of metrocable managed to connect many of the comuna neighborhoods with “the other city”, the home to those from disadvantaged backgrounds that lived in these vulnerable areas was now distinctly a part of the city as a whole, and those previously excluded were at least symbolically part of Medellín, but once that connection was made, further social programs came ( we’ll talk about that in coming posts) . The secret of these results, the Mayor office says, was to have “built with soul.”
Connecting a community that was isolated from the rest and the proper use of the spaces and the opportunities that were given from the viewpoint of social and economic development were what let us now witness this incredible change.
The major lesson here seems to be that when a “physical building” was aimed at creating decent living conditions, the phenomena that encourages violence is reduced exponentially. But it’s not just this. People need to also feel a change in attitudes, and Medellín has done a lot to encourage this. Now every neighborhood in Medellin is referred to as “comuna”, which also helps to create a change of perception between these “two cities”. Many of the comuna inhabitants work at the Metrocable , but most importantly they now have fast and comfortable access to the rest of the city, where many more of them now work .That was “physically” and socially unthinkable 15 years ago.
The actual Metro service , that connects with the Metro cable, deserves credit too, because it was part of the articulation of these two cities: the center and the periphery. The first thing you notice is how clean and organized it is, but above all how the “Cultura Metro” is present everywhere. People actually wait for you to get out coming it to each train, no one eats or drinks inside the train, elderly and handicapped people are always offered to have a seat. In all my years traveling I have to say I’ve never seen such tidy trains, well-kept stations and respectful passengers.
On top of that, the Metroplus, an organized route of buses that interconnect the city with the metro stations and other secondary routes, has been recently implemented. Comparisons with the Transmilenio system in Bogota are unavoidable. I will just say that the frequency, cleanness and efficiency of this new system seem like a Transmilenio 3.0.
Medellin seems to be synonymous with “Cultura Metro”; you can actually perceive how the program´s consciousness-raising that has been constantly going on in the last years has permeated the boundaries of the actual metro services and translated into a way of behaving that has turned Medellin into one of the most progressive, modern and desirable cities to live for foreigners.
Salud por Medellin!