The PUI leverages the economic benefits of new mobility infrastructure to incorporate marginalized communities into the city. By reducing travel times to the city center from over an hour to less than ten minutes, the MetroCable has enhanced access to employment opportunities and eroded the boundary between the formal and informal city.
Working with the community to conceptualize, develop, and construct new open-space networks, the designers of the PUI have sensitively integrated a mobility infrastructure of the strategic goals of large and socially complex projects by developing processes that promote ownership by the community. ￼
Medellín is located in the Aburrá Valley in the central Andes, 1,479 meters above sea level. Known as the "City of Everlasting Spring," it has only recently become a metropolis. It is the second-largest city in Colombia (after Bogotá) and the capital of the department of Antioquia. From 1938 to 2008, the population of Medellín increased from 168,000 to 2.34 million. This population skews relatively young, with almost 70 percent between five and forty-four years old.
Ninety percent of the population lives in about 30 percent of the city’s territory. Medellín is divided into 249 neighborhoods (barrios), 16 communes, and 6 zones. Of about 600,000 housing units, 77 percent are occupied by those at the lowest socioeconomic levels, while 19 percent house those in the middle and upper-middle levels. Four percent of the housing units are home to those at the highest economic level.
The city generates more than 8 percent of Colombia’s GDP, with the Aburrá Valley as a whole contributing close to 11 percent. Surpassing that of the other major cities of Colombia, the GDP per capita (with purchasing power parity) is U.S. $3,794; and corporate density is 25 companies per 1,000 people—the second highest in the country. Although Medellín was once known as "The Industrial City of Colombia," global and national economic dynamics have shifted the city’s focus to Medellín shares the Aburrá Valley with nine other municipalities, which collectively create a metropolitan urban area with a population of 3.5 million people.
The process of "informalization," understood as the formation of precarious neighborhoods, has been a characteristic of Medellín’s history throughout the twentieth and into the twenty-first century, a consequence of the continuous migration toward the city.
The effects of this demographic growth became evident at the beginning of the last century, in the considerable rise in the demand for housing. This heightened demand was associated with the production of working-class residences for the huge numbers of manual laborers needed in the emerging industrial sector.1 From that time on, neighborhoods created through both public and private initiatives began appearing, primarily near the northeastern bank and along the tram route and principal roads. The public residences were the product of institutions such as the Instituto Crédito Territorial and the Banco Central Hipotecario, while the private residences represent investments by local landowners.
Despite these significant public and private efforts, the demand for housing continued to grow in the following decades. A migratory wave following the rural displacement and political violence of the 1950s pushed the city’s annual growth rate to 6 percent.
In ten years Medellín doubled its population; informal squatter settlements (urbanizaciones piratas) and illegal neighborhoods (barrios de invasión) began to appear in the most inaccessible peripheral areas. From this period we find the examples of Popular, Santo Domingo, and Granizal toward the eastern bank, and Doce de Octubre and Picacho toward the western bank.
Increasing in intensity, the new urbanizing dynamic began to generate profound segregation within the city’s physical, social, and economic western slopes, the informal city began to emerge; here one finds the ad hoc residences of the poor. Parallel to these areas, the middle and upper classes occupy the center and south of the valley, in the planned formal city. Medellín’s path diverged into two realities—two opposing "cities"—dramatically segregated by location and geographical relief.
Thirty years later, a new wave of violence and rural displacement, combined with emerging narcotics trafficking, drove informalization in dramatic political and social directions. The neighborhoods of the northern slopes of the valley, commonly termed "comunas," became the habitat of illegal gangs—bands of assassins who acted on the orders of narcotics traffickers and other criminals. State control and presence in these sectors was almost nonexistent. As a result of informalization, 25 percent of Medellín’s territory (a total of 2,400 hectares) now lies in marginal neighborhoods.
The public administration, along with academic and other nongovernmental organizations, has been trying to address decades of inequality by implementing programs aimed at transforming the quality of life for the inhabitants of marginal neighborhoods. Many difficulties of the informal city—inequality, violence, and segregation—were an inherent aspect of its past. Although they remain challenges of the present, there is a move toward change so that they will not be part of the future of Medellín.
The most significant event in the establishment of improved mobility within the Aburrá Valley was the establishment of the Metro in 1995. With 31 kilometers of track, it is (with the Metro of Santiago, Chile) one of the most efficient in Latin America. The Metro’s speed is 37 kilometers per hour, while the cable-car system Metrocable's is 18 km/hour, and city buses run at speeds of about 15 km/hour. In 2006, the Metro released the master plan for 2006–2020, entitled "Trust in the Future."Several expansion projects were subsequently evaluated, including new cable-car systems, trams along 80th Avenue and Ayacucho Street, and the extension of Line B to the east.
The Proyecto Urbano Integral (PUI)/Integral Urban Project is an instrument for planning and physical intervention in areas characterized by a high degree of marginalization, segregation, poverty, and violence. PUIs are targeted to solve speciﬁc problems in a territory where the state has generally been absent.
The Integral Urban Project strives to integrate community participation, inter-institutional coordination, promotion of housing, and the improvement of public space and mobility. In addition, the PUI promotes support for collective amenities and the restoration of the environment.
With these criteria, the northeastern communities of Medellín provided a fitting test for the pilot project. These sectors of the city had the lowest ratings on the quality-of-life index and index of human development. At the same time, in the same area, there was the launch of the Metrocable, a system of transportation that connected these informal settlements to the city Metro system by cable car. The PUI helped to select the location of the stations, with the objective of complementing and amplifying the positive impact of the Metrocable.
The PUI implemented a process of neighborhood consolidation through a series of projects that generated both increased accessibility and greater structure in the region. These projects were characterized by community amenities—parks, streets, walkways, and pedestrian bridges that connected neighborhoods. The PUI northeast is focused on improving public infrastructure as a means of social transformation, primarily in the densely populated areas of the city that formed in the 1950s, largely through extralegal urbanization.
The methodology applied in the northeastern PUI was gradually developed during the project. This method is similar to those used in comparable projects: first comes identification of the issues, next a diagnosis, and then a formulation of strategies to solve or minimize the problems. In addition to the high degree of institutional coordination, this project was innovative because of its sustainability phase; this phase began parallel with the intervention and continues after it, involving the community as an active part of the process from the start.
Physical: Based on urban interventions and strengthened by community participation. Includes the construction and improvement of public spaces, housing, and public buildings, and restoration of the environment.
Social: Relying on a strategy of identifying problems and opportunities, establishing and approving projects, and using participatory design practices such as public workshops. Combined with strengthened community organization and leadership promotion, this allows for restoration of the social fabric.
Institutional: Involving the coordination of activities carried out by all elements of the municipality in a particular zone. In addition, alliances with the private sector, NGOs, national and international bodies, and community organizations are promoted.