Medellin is the most stunning place Iâ€™ve ever been to. In 1992 it was the most murderous city in the world (over 27,000 murders). Today itâ€™s mainly peaceful. A truly astonishing level of forgiveness. In 1950 there were around 350,000 residents. By 1970, the population had increased by factor of 6, and today Medellin has 2.64 million residents – a truly dramatic urbanisation. Itâ€™s also connected to other adjacent settlements taking the population to over 4 million.
And this population is crammed into a city with more defined dividing lines than anywhere else Iâ€™ve known of – leading to physical and social challenges that â€˜city planningâ€™ has sought to counter. With success it seems to me. There is the Rio area. The Medellin River runs through the length of the city. Urbanisation had destroyed its natural and ecological value to the city. The river valley floor has been, and continues to be transformed. All very impressive but itâ€™s not whatâ€™s most striking. Thatâ€™s the connection to the population which lives on the hillsides rising up from the river. Itâ€™s well 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. The most astonishing aspect of Medellin planning has been the transport 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. The end of the line at Santa Domingo Cable Car Station is the start point for another cable car which travels miles through forest treetops across the Andes heights. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of wildness. Not to be missed.
The basis of the city planning is transportation up the hillsides by several cable car systems and escalators. Planning is 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 of Pablo Escobar, the most notorious drugs baron ever. It was in Medellin he based his evil empire. He died in 1993, 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. I want the world to know about it.
Of course there are still problems. So many people to be rehoused. I hope they are not piled high in tower blocks, creating ghettos of the future! And every Colombian city will have to manage influx of desperate Venezuelans escaping the economic disaster in their country. The border is hundreds of miles away but they are they are to be seen walking the roads – mostly heading to Bogata. And while Colombia is a country I could love, itâ€™s cities are noisy, and dominated by the car. But it has wonderful flowers and wildlife.
Today has been the Medellin flower festival, the best carnival in the world. Regrettably I missed it. Next few days before returning to Montgomeryshire will be in what Iâ€™m promised is quiet countryside surrounded by exotic birds and flowers. Be back for Berriew Show.