An academic research project about Urban Innovation in Medellín

Completion in April 2017

Medellín, Colombia & Edinburgh, Scotland

Type: Academic Research Project
Client: Public Limited Company
Contract Value: 200K awarded by The British Council through the Newton Fund
Status: Ongoing > Completion April 2017
Collaboration: The University of Edinburgh, Heriot Watt University, Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Medellín, Universidad Santo Tomás, Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana

Medellín Urban Innovation #MUI
‘Harnessing innovation in city development for social equity and wellbeing – a critical proposal to build on Medellín’s experience as a model for Colombian future cities’

Harnessing Urban Innovation in Medellín is a two-year project enquiring to what extent urban innovation in Medellín (Colombia) has helped increase social equity and well-being in the city and identifying means to improve this. The research is undertaken collaboratively through a knowledge exchange partnership with universities based in the UK and Colombia. This exploratory research is the principal means through which institutional links between the participating institutions will be strengthened, and it is undertaken with a view to develop longer-term research projects on the basis of initial scoping studies which will be completed during the project. The project is financed through a Newton Institutional Links Grant.

After decades of internal conflict, Colombia is experiencing a period of rapid economic growth and urbanisation. It remains, however, one of the most socially unequal countries in Latin America. Medellín has pioneered innovative forms of city planning and management and was acclaimed the most innovative city in the world. Hosting the World Urban Forum in 2014 allowed it to showcase its approach, key elements of which have been:

• Creation of transport infrastructure including metro, innovative cable cars to link poorer districts on the surrounding hillsides to the city centre
• Culture-led regeneration, for example, by establishing the Fundación Botero and the Museo Antioquia
• Strong support of local development from the local business sector, managing the shift from industry to services including health and fashion
• A highly successful utilities company (Grupo EPM), wholly owned by Medellín Municipality

Since the passing of the Planning Law 388 in 1997, Medellín Municipality has used the Plan de Ordenamiento Territorial (POT) to guide city development through Planes Parciales, of which 32 have been approved. More recently, new implementation mechanisms have been developed, focusing on the definition of ‘strategic development areas’. The aims of Medellín’s POT are competitiveness, environmental sustainability, social equity and a functional balance of the territory. The POT is currently under review.

Initial studies carried out by the University of Edinburgh (UoE), Heriot-Watt University (HWU) and the Universidad Santo Tomas in Medellín of the Planes Parciales approach in 2014-15, showed that there are a series of issues that need addressing in order to meet Medellín POT’s stated aims:

• The city centre is not being developed along a compact city model, and new development – high and low-income – is spreading outwards without services and employment being provided.
• New low-income developments in particular are replicating high-rise models which have failed in the past in both the Global South and the Global North.
• There is very limited intervention in the informal areas, many of which are in highly vulnerable locations where the level of risk is likely to increase with climate change. Interventions are limited to land titling, with little in the way of services and public space upgrading or support for home improvement.
• Development (formal and informal) is happening with little regard for topography, ecological considerations and green infrastructure, with ensuing environmental impacts affecting ecological integrity and ecosystem services, as well as increased risk for occupants such as through landslides.
• Investment in accessible and good quality public space is mostly restricted to certain wealthier areas of the city as well as specific flagship projects in lower income areas, particularly linked to the iconic cable car lines.
• The quality of the public realm in the city in general is not conducive to access and enjoyment by all ages and social groups, with cars and other motorised transport being given priority, and safety being an issue. This is going to increasingly affect the health and wellbeing of the city’s population as it ages.

These issues require urgent attention, not only for Medellín to become a more equitable and sustainable city, but also because Medellín’s current acclaimed status means it is seen as a model for other Colombian cities, and cities elsewhere in Latin America.

Aims and Objectives
The overall aim of the research and capacity-building programme underway is to identify means to make Medellín a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable city. This key aim is being addressed through meeting the following objectives:

1. Identify policy, institutional and socio-economic constraints and barriers that have led to the above issues in the development of the city as well as other issues that may arise as a result of the currently ongoing study of the POT

2. Identify instruments in the current planning legislation and guidance that would allow the issues identified above to be addressed

3. Identify and engage the appropriate stakeholders and forms of partnership that may implement pilot projects in each of the areas of concern outlined above, as well as champion the roll-out of initiatives that may result from such pilot projects

4. Conduct issue-specific scoping studies into: city centre renewal including management of heritage and cultural values; environmentally and socially appropriate location and form of new developments; appropriate forms of housing with mixed income levels and communal spaces; public realm improvement, accessibility and connectivity; and informal area upgrading and social integration

5. Build capacity in Colombian universities through the upskilling of existing and new staff on the themes structuring this proposal and strengthening of their research infrastructures in conservation, landscape architecture, housing, and urban design and planning.

The proposal comprises two interlinked components:

1. A research programme composed of specific scoping studies to meet objectives 1 to 4, which is being carried out in partnership between the partner universities in Colombia and the UK, with specific partners in both countries taking the lead for each of the following work packages:

Theme 01: Housing and habitat;
Theme 02: Public space, green infrastructure and wellbeing;
Theme 03: Heritage and cultural values – identity and memory;
Theme 04: Mobility and transport infrastructure

2. A knowledge exchange and training programme open to Colombian practitioners, policy makers and students based on the themes above. This is taking place throughout the project but will be delivered principally through four key intense workshops to be developed in Medellín: each 2-week long workshop being led by Principal Investigators in association with leaders of each theme in Colombia and the UK.

Ongoing information of this project can be found through our ongoing social media platforms:

Twitter: @MUI_Research
Instagram: @Medellinurbaninnovation
Website: http://www.medellin-urban-innovation.eca.ed.ac.uk/