Urban Supersta(i)r

As the host of the 7th World Urban Forum, the Colombian city of Medellin has come under the urban spotlight in recent months, and has been widely praised for its dramatic urban transformation. 
The iconic imagery of the bright orange escalators rising up through the informal settlement of Comuna 13 has come to represent South America’s new form of urbanism. And the world is excited. But just how much impact do these kinds of projects have on the lives of the citizens?

Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, has a long history of gang warfare, and was regarded as the drug crime capital of the world throughout the 1980s and 90s. During this time, life in the slums was dangerous, with the settlements nearing the top of the steep hills the most socially, physically and economically marginalised. The construction of the escalators was seen as a way to deal with this inequality and improve the quality of life for the city’s most excluded.

The benefits to people’s quality of life are clear but there has been criticism that the $5.5 million spent on the project could have been better spent throughout the city. Before the escalators opened in 2012, residents of Comuna 13, one of Medellin’s largest slum areas, were forced to climb 357 steps. The escalators are akin to a free public transport system to the residents, enabling them to get to and from work and school safely and easily

The escalators were installed under the Proyectos Urbanos Integrales (Integral Urban Project), which included a series of urban interventions that aim to raise the levels of quality of life for residents in certain neighbourhoods across Medellin. It was especially designed to intervene in areas of the city’s most deprived and marginalized, where the state usually has a high social debt. The project constructs safe public spaces, new public buildings and the improvement of existing schools, medical centers and other services that contribute to social development and the mitigation of poverty.

“A walkway in Medellín's Comuna 13 is one of many projects in the impoverished neighborhood that have improved mobility and access to the city for residents. (Christopher Swope/ Citiscope)”.

As Proyectos Urbanos Integrales’ most widely recognised initiative, the novelty factor of the escalators is undeniable. But beyond the hype have the escalators actually contributed to the economic growth of the area? Do they deserve the applause they have received for improving safety throughout Comuna 13?

Journalist Letty Reimerink recently spent three months in Comuna 13 to find out the answers to these questions. Hitting the twitter community this week, you can read more about her findings here.

Read about Medellin’s transformation into the new Latin American superstar here.

CCTV also provides an snapshot of Comuna 13 and the success of the escalators.


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