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Social Urbanism: Enhancing community building and social capital through public space

Name please enter the name here
Place Medellin
Country Colombia
Topic please enter the topic here
Author(s) Camilo Calderon
Completion Please enter the date of completion
Client Please enter the client
Project costs Please enter the costs (if known)
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Rationale: Why is this case study interesting?

The case study is related to a highly discussed issue present in many cities of the developing world today; it brings forward the importance of facing the challenges that slums create to today’s cities and the mechanisms used for tackling such challenge. The case study focuses on the use of Participatory Planning approaches in the context of slum upgrading. It is built around a case study in the city of Medellin, Colombia where there was a strong political will and commitment to implement programs and projects in the poorest areas of the city. This initiative emerged as a need to tackle deep rooted problems present in the slum areas of the city that together with other issues placed Medellin as the most dangerous city of the world during the 1990s.

For tackling such a problem, the local Administration (2003-2007) created a slum upgrading model called “PUI - Proyecto Urbano Integral” (Integral Urban Project) which is said to be based on “participatory planning” and “slum upgrading” principles. The creation of new public spaces was the most important action of the PUI. The results of the first project following the “PUI Model”, the “PUI Noriental”, have been promoted by the Administration as highly successful and been considered as a model for slum upgrading both nationally and internationally.

Author's perspective

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Landscape and/or urban context

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Cultural/social/political context

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Spatial analysis of area/project/plan

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Core Questions Working Group Public Space and Civic Identity

Who was involved in the participation process?

In the PUI Model participation is planned above all as a mechanism for recovering the belief and trust of the communities that for many years have had only apathy towards the Administration. This objective was not only the vision of the PUI Model but of the Administration in general. By doing so, it was EXPECTED to enhance transparency and accountability of the public funds as well as enhance sustainability by ensuring stakeholder ownership, making information available and developing local capacities. Additionally it was EXPECTED to allow the experts to have a closer insight of the areas as well as making decisions that are closer to the needs of the community.

In the PUI Noriental, sector assemblies where implemented in the beginning of the process to communicate to the people the objectives of the project as well as to identify actors and organizations that were present in the area. After doing so, there was a division of the whole area in 4 smaller ones based on the different aspects and characteristics of the “Comuna Noriental”. Based on this division a Community Committee was created for each of the areas, in order to serve as the link with the community and to work closer with the project based on their representativeness. It can be identified to ways in which the community participates in the planning process: the “whole” community of each of the 4 areas via sector assemblies; and the Community Committee via smaller meetings and workshops. This is an interesting approach since involving all stakeholders to a participatory process is almost an impossible task in practice. In principle this approach can be consider as an ideal one when deciding who and how many people should participate in the process. However, there are some issues that need to be considered when looking in detail how this approach was put in practice.

How was the participation process implemented (methods applied)?

In the case of PUI Model the workshops were the main tools for the participation of the community. Two types of workshops were done during the process of the PUI Model: the “Talleres de Imaginarios Urbanos” (Workshops of Urban Imaginary) at the diagnosis phase and the “Talleres de Imaginarios por Proyecto” (Workshops of each Project’s Imaginary) at the design phase. In both cases the workshops are made in several sessions so the projects can be developed and there can be an agreed outcome.

The “Talleres de Imaginarios por Proyecto” (Workshops of each Project’s Imaginary)were used to corroborate and contribute to the analysis and diagnosis made by the group of experts. This was done mainly with the neighborhood's committees via meetings and field visits. Other people that would like to come to such visits could participate also. Problems and opportunities were identified and located in each of the areas of intervention, as well as the identification of possible location of projects. Data and information of the area was also updated with the help of the community. The expert team took such data and formulated the plan of the area.

After the expert team would decide the typology and use of the projects, they asked the community what they would like these projects to be like. This was done via workshops with the community that located near the areas that were going to be intervened. The workshops were named “Talleres de Imaginarios por Proyecto” (Workshops of each Project’s Imaginary). Here all the community was invited and asked to draw in a piece of blank paper how they imagined this new space, what meaning does this space had for them currently, what memories (collective and personal) do they had of this place, what would they like the new space to have and how would they call the new space. With the input given by the community, the physical component worked on a first sketch which was later presented to the Community Committees to confirm that the ideas of the community were in it. The sketch was done as a 3D model, so that people could have an idea of what the project would look like in reality. The designs were discussed and modified if required. However, the final design depended on feasibility of the proposal.

Other types of tools that the PUI Model used to involve the community in the process were: sector assemblies, TV and radio shows, the murals, the community newspapers, etc. These arenas were more informative than real participatory. Nevertheless these tools are very significant in creating the link between the process and the community, since not everyone can participate directly in the process.

In how far does/did the project respond to people's needs?

The greatest dilemma with this topic is the strong bias that the PUI Model has towards the improvement of the physical conditions of the slums. It is clear that by doing such thing there have been many significant outcomes, but there is the need to question if these actions are really the ones that the slum dwellers need more urgently. In facing the challenge of slums, urban development policies should more vigorously address the issue of livelihoods of slum dwellers and urban poverty in general, thus going beyond traditional approaches that have tended to concentrate on improvement of housing, infrastructure and physical environmental conditions.

There is the need to take away from the PUI its preconceived solution of improvements based on the provision of new and better public spaces. By saying this it doesn’t mean that these actions should be left out of the approach; what is meant by this is that it should not be the main component of the Model. It is more important to guarantee the integration and comprehensiveness needed to solve the problems of the slums.

By saying this, there is no purpose of taking away the credit, recognition and admiration to the efforts and results that the current projects and plans have created in these neighborhoods through the improvement of public spaces and facilities. It has been shown in this study that many of the principles and actions that the PUI Model promotes and applies are hardly seen in other cities around the world with the same situation. There are great amount of values, methods and concepts that need to be acknowledge as valuable and that need to continued and reinforced.

Analysis of program/function

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Analysis of design/planning process

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Analysis of use/users

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Future development directions

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  • Are there any future goals?

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Peer reviews or critique

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Points of success and limitations

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