Report from Medellin.
Medellin is the most stunning place I’ve ever been to. In the early 1990s, it was the most murderous city in the world (over 27,000 murders in 1992 alone). Today Medellin is mainly peaceful. This transformation has involved a truly astonishing level of forgiveness. Equally astonishing is the speed at which the population of Medellin has grown. In 1950 there were around 350,000 residents. By 1970, the population had increased by a factor of 6, and today Medellin has 2.64 million residents - a truly dramatic urbanisation. It’s also become connected to other adjacent settlements taking the total population to over 4 million.
This population is crammed into a city with more defined dividing lines than anywhere else I’ve known - leading to huge physical and social challenges that ‘city planning’ has sought to counter. With outstanding success it seems to me.
Firstly, there is the ‘Rio’ area. The Medellin River runs through the length of the city. The rapid urbanisations had destroyed its natural and ecological value to the city. Today the river valley floor has been, and continues to be transformed. There is more to do. There are impressive buildings, a striking civic centre, and a brilliant botanical garden. All very impressive but it’s not what’s most striking. That’s the connection of this job-creating river central zone to the much poorer population which lives on the steep hillsides rising up from the river. Probably over a million of mostly poor people live in what are shanty developments. Very small self-built houses, with tin rooms, often weighed down by rocks and pieces of wood. No way could this population walk to where the jobs are. The most astonishing aspect of Medellin planning has been the transportation system to connect these people with the more prosperous parts of the city. A Metro, connected to a Metro cable car system, which brings the houses on the hillside into contact with the work in the valley. It’s the equivalent of the tube system in London. The end of the Metro line is at Santa Domingo Cable Car Station high up the side of the Andes. Santa Domingo is also the start Point for another cable car which travels miles through forest treetops across the Andes heights. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of wildness. A journey not to be missed.
The basis of the city planning is transportation up the hillsides by several cable car systems and escalators. And there are parks, offering education and other services around every stop. Planning aimed to serve the poorest people. Farsighted. Inspirational. There are parks all over, promoting environmental awareness and connections across the city. The Parques del Rio Medellin involves recreating the river environment that had been lost. So much I could write about.
Much of the rest of the world think of Medellin as the home base of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drugs baron ever. It was in Medellin he based his evil empire. He died in 1993, whether shot by the police or by his own hand we do not know. Since his death Medellin has undergone a revolution - in a good way. Led by the people of the city who turned away from violence. The world should know about this remarkable turnaround.
How has all this been paid for? It’s another remarkable story. Much of it funded by a publicly owned public services company, providing the water, energy, gas and telecoms. The EPM (Empressas Publicas de Medellin) is a dream come reality for Jeremy Corbyn, providing a huge annual payment to the city.
Of course there are still problems. So many people to be rehoused. I hope they are not simply being piled high in tower blocks, creating ghettos of the future! Hopefully the parks will help prevent this. And every Colombian city will have to manage an influx of desperate Venezuelans escaping the economic disaster in their country. The border is hundreds of miles away but they are to be seen walking the roads or perched on the back of Lorries - mostly heading to Bogata. And while Colombia is a country I could love, its cities are noisy, and over dominated by the motor car, full of wannabe Lewis Hamilton’s in yellow taxis.
And then there’s the flowers. Incredible flowers, and wonderful wildlife. Every August there is the Medellin flower festival, the best flower carnival in the world. Regrettably I missed it, having to move on to other parts of this fascinating country. Next few days, before returning to Montgomeryshire, I will be in what I’m promised is quieter countryside surrounded by exotic birds and flowers. Next stop Boyaca. But be back home for Berriew Show.