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Medellín is the second-largest city in Colombia and is located in the Aburrá Valley in the Andes Mountains
After decades of internal conflict, Colombia is experiencing a period of rapid economic growth and urbanisation, yet remains one of the most socially unequal countries in Latin America.

Medellín Urban Innovation (MUI) is exploring to what extent urban innovation has helped increase social equity and wellbeing in the country’s second-largest city.

Funded by a Newton Institutional Links Grant from the British Council, the two-year project is being led by Dr Soledad Garcia Ferrari of Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Dr Harry Smith of Heriot-Watt University (HWU).

Colombian partners include the Universidad Nacional de Colombia Sede en Medellín, the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, the Universidad Santo Tomas and the multidisciplinary studio, Grupo UR.

Why Medellín?

Medellín has been pioneering innovative forms of city planning, linking poorer districts to the city centre through transport links, and creating a publically-owned utilities company.

It seems to be a city transforming for the better, and in April 2014 hosted the World Urban Forum, the 7th United Nations conference on sustainable urban development and cities.

Together with the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and HWU, we ran a networking event at the Forum, which looked at the role of participatory planning in the generation of ‘Cities for Life’.

We found that, while the city’s urbanisation has had its successes, its new, low-income developments are replicating high-rise models which failed worldwide, and there is limited intervention in the existing informal areas, many being in locations highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Retrofitted infrastructure in an informal area of Medellín Image courtesy of MUI

What are we doing?

The project is themed around four key areas: Housing and habitat; Public realm, green infrastructure and wellbeing; Cultural values and heritage; and Mobility and socio-spatial integration.

Through Medellín-based events, such as facilitated site visits, workshops and group discussions, we are exploring answers to research questions such as: how are urban policies impacting on the living conditions of the most vulnerable people in Medellín? And, what difference have the city’s innovative mobility strategies had on quality of life and social equity?

The aim is to highlight both successes and areas that need addressing, paving the way for further collaboration between researchers in the UK and Colombia.

The project is closely linked with a number of teaching programmes at ECA, including the MSc in Urban Strategies & Design, MA and MLA programmes in Landscape Architecture, and the MSc in Cultural Landscapes.

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