Four researchers from Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) have returned to the Colombian city of Medellín to take part in two weeks of intensive fieldwork.

Funded by a Newton Institutional Links Grant from the British Council, the two-year Medellín Urban Innovation (MUI) project is a collaboration between ECA, Heriot-Watt University (HWU) and three Colombian universities.

Medellín is Colombia’s second-largest city and has been pioneering innovative forms of city planning in the four key areas being examined by MUI for their impact on social equity and environmental sustainability:

  1. housing and habitat;
  2. public realm, green infrastructure and wellbeing;
  3. cultural values and heritage;
  4. mobility and socio-spatial integration.

In 2013, the city was awarded ‘most innovative city in the world’ by the Urban Land Institute and, a year later, hosted the World Urban Forum.

Public participation and collaboration

Following an introductory visit in August 2015, which involved a week of round-table discussions, the team have returned to Medellín to explore two of their four research themes.

The first week of activities have been led by Dr Penny Travlou, Lecturer in Cultural Geography and Theory at ECA, and Beatriz Jaramillo of Universidad Santo Tomás.

Involving walks, a focus group, seminar and closed-session discussion, activities have focused on uncovering to what extent Medellín’s ‘innovative’ city planning approaches and new emerging creative practices have included public participation and collaboration in the definition of cultural values and shared spaces.

Penny Travlou has looked, in particular, at the non-institutional perspective, running a focus group with invited participants from the different collectives forming in Medellín, and visiting informal collective spaces arising in the city. 

Housing and habitat

The second week of activities were led by Dr Harry Smith of HWU, together with Dr Françoise Coupé of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia.

Addressing the theme of Housing and Habitat, they were devised to feed into a Plan de Desarrollo (Development Plan) currently being prepared by the Medellín municipality.

The two remaining research themes will be the focus of a third visit to Colombia in August 2016.

It is planned that activities will include an exhibition, seminars, and a collaboration with MA students from the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.

MUI and study at ECA

Medellín Urban Innovation 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.

The ECA team members working on the project are all based in the Edinburgh School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (ESALA).

In addition to Dr Travlou, they include Dr Soledad Garcia Ferrari (joint award holder with Dr Harry Smith), Dr Helena Rivera, and Tiago Torres-Campos.

You can follow the project on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Its hashtag across all social media platforms is #MUI.