2012: Medellìn, the second-largest city in Colombia, has long been associated with its drug trade and organized crime problems. A recent New York Times article, though, explores the idea that Medellìn is following the lead of countless European and American cities and remaking itself through progressive architecture and urban planning
What sets Medellìn apart is the particular strength of its culture of urbanism, which acts now almost like a civic calling card. The city’s new mayor, Annìbal Gaviria, spent an hour describing to me his dreams for burying a congested highway that runs through the middle of town, building an electric tram along the hillsides to stem the sprawl of the slums, adding a green belt of public buildings along the tram, rehabilitating the Medellìn River and densifying the city center—smart, public-spirited, improvements. It’s as if, in this country whose relatively robust economy has underwritten many forward-thinking projects, every mayor here has to have enormous architectural and infrastructural plans, or risk coming across as small-minded or an outsider.
Mr. Gaviria, local designers, businessmen and community leaders sketched for me a picture of a city in which violence, much of it today by small drug traffickers, remains a big problem and victories are fragile. People in Medellìn were cautious about the future, about easy solutions and seeing architecture as an end in itself. At the same time, they stressed the social and economic benefits that public architecture and new public spaces can create, and the wisdom of long-term, community-based policies of urban renewal.
1902: Ebenezer Howard, a British town planner, attempted to solve the problem of London’s physical and social ills through the creation of Garden Cities, modestly-sized communities emphasizing cleanliness, accessible open space, and modern transportation. His Garden Cities of To-Morrow outlines the ideal urban setting:
I will undertake, then, to show how in ‘Town-country’ equal, nay better, opportunities of social intercourse may be enjoyed than are enjoyed in any crowded city, while yet the beauties of nature may encompass and enfold each dweller therein; how higher wages are compatible with reduced rents and rates; how abundant opportunities for employment and bright prospects of advancement may be secured for all; how capital may be attracted and wealth created; how the most admirable sanitary conditions may be ensured; how beautiful homes and gardens may be seen on every hand; how the bounds of freedom may be widened, and yet all the best results of cooperation gathered in by a happy people.
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