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The Medellin Diagram: Local Processes for Re-thinking Global Urbanization-Teddy Cruz, Fonna Forman, Matthias Goerlich, Alejandro Echeverri

2015.11.17

Context: A Radical Urban Pedagogy
The current period of crisis generates new conditions that call into question traditional methods of artistic and architectural intervention in the city. There is a renewed attention to the multiple forces - socio-cultural, political and economic - at stake in the construction of territory and its institutions. This paradigm shift has also brought with it a re-definition of the role artists and architects in the conceptualization of new institutional protocols and production of new systems of representation and collaboration, contributing to the fundamental re-organization of socio-economic and political relations that is necessary for producing new paradigms of democratic urbanization.

Social Justice today cannot be only about the re-distribution of resources, but must also engage the re-distribution of knowledges. One of the most pressing urban problems today pertains to a crisis of knowledge-transfer between institutions, fields of specialization and publics. The Medellin Diagram is an urban-pedagogical research project that presents a new model of knowledge-exchange, whose point of departure is the visualization of political process: How to translate and visualize the complexity of socio-economic and political processes that have defined many of the most radical and progressive projects in the city, so that they may be re-organized and re-deployed in other contexts to cultivate a renewed civic imagination? This re-activation of public agency is the most radical project we can think of, at a time when the survival of the welfare state paradigm is being questioned and targeted worldwide.

In the last fifteen years, many Latin American cities have undergone a series of progressive urban transformations, engaging violence, conflict and socio-economic inequality as devices to rethink public policy and the institutions of urbanization, social norms and the city. Challenging recent exclusionary urban logics of development founded on top down privatization and gentrification, visionary mayors in cities such as Porto Alegre, Curitiba, Bogota and Medellin produced new institutional protocols to prioritize public participation, civic culture and unorthodox cross-institutional collaborations, rethinking the very meaning of infrastructure, housing and density, and mediating top down development and bottom up social organization. No other continental region in the world has produced such a vibrant set of collective efforts, led by municipal governments seeking urbanizations of social justice and economic inclusion. These experimental political projects were not marked by the protagonism of stand-alone buildings but by the reconfiguration of socio-economic relations and the re-thinking of public management. While the extreme left and the extreme right have joined forces today in their disbelief of public governance, what emerged here is a radically progressive form of collaborative government, tapping on the potential of informal systems and social networks to rethink the rights to the city, mediating top-down resources and bottom up agency, and re-directing the city’s surplus value to benefit a social urbanism, at varying scales of development.

The ‘translation’ of the ‘procedural complexity’ behind these institutional transformations and their physical effect in transforming public infrastructure is an important initiative because they represent critical alternatives to the unsustainable metropolitan growth that has characterized cities everywhere, and give us important clues as to how any radical architecture or urban project must be also accompanied by a radical transformation of the political itself. In other words, it is not political architectures that we are seeking here but the construction of the political itself: a radical institutional transformation that prioritizes public as opposed to private interests, in the formation of the future city. Medellin is the most comprehensive of these stories. There is no other project of this magnitude in the world where a city has decided to confront socio-economic inequality and urban conflict, and has invested in unprecedented ways in the most marginalized zones of the city, re-imagining public space and infrastructure as mediating systems for socio-economic inclusion.

The Medellin Diagram: The Visualization of the Political
The Medellín Diagram is a tool to help visualize and manifest the political and civic processes that enabled Medellín’s transformation. The Diagram is designed as a tool for municipalities and publics elsewhere eager to learn from Medellín’s achievements. We demonstrate that it is not by emulating buildings and transport systems that cities across the globe can begin to approximate the inclusive urbanization that transformed this city. The key is to understand process, and its sustainability over time. So, while Medellín has rightfully captured global attention for the excellence of its public architecture and infrastructure; the Diagram reveals that it was first a political project, through which institutions reimagined themselves, and cross-sector collaborations facilitated new interfaces between top-down and bottom-bottom knowledges and resources. It is this reorganization of the political and the civic that enabled Medellin’s urban projects to be conceived, designed, funded, built, programmed and maintained. From the perspective of participatory democracy and social justice, Medellín is a story about how a public restored urban dignity, activated collective agency, and reclaimed the future of its own city.

The first phase of this research was exhibited at the Medellin Museum of Modern Art in the occasion of the World Urban Forum in April 2013, and the second phase at the Museum of Art in Los Angeles in 2014, as part of the exhibition “Citizen Culture: Artists and Architects Shape Policy.” Our participation in the Shenzhen Biennial’s “Radical Urbanism Exhibition,” includes the third phase of this urban research project in the shape of a multimedia installation, comprising a series of dynamic process diagrams through video and other visualization tools.

 

This is an urban research project conceptualized and curated by:

Teddy Cruz,  Director, Center for Urban Ecologies, University of California, San Diego / Fonna Forman, Director, Center on Global Justice, University of California, San Diego

In collaboration with Matthias Goerlich, Graphic Designer, Director, Studio Matthias Goerlich, Frankfurt, Germany / Alejandro Echeverri, Director of URBAM, EAFIT University, Medellin, Colombia