Opening Doors in Medellín — and Salinas?

I recently read an article and interview about how architecture and public projects are opening doors of opportunity in one of the World’s most violent cities, Medellín, Colombia. And I thought of what Maria Michaelson (a traveler passing through) said recently about Salinas, that “it seems like a sad city.”

Sergio Fajardo (mayor of Medellín from 2003 to 2007, and a presidential candidate for Colombia in 2010) has been introducing a “postive urban presence” into the poorer sections of the city through new architecture, libraries, schools and other public projects.

Using a coherent and inclusive urban strategy, he has changed the face of a city that in the ’90s was considered among the most violent in the world. Fajardo has introduced a positive state presence in the poorest and most violent areas by initiating multi-level urban projects, the foundation of which is architecture, most of which originates in public competitions that are open to Colombia’s youngest architects…

…There are five new libraries, ten new schools, new pedestrian streets, and more than fifty new urban and architectural projects characterized by challenging contemporary architecture. It is not enough simply to do works if they are not done well, something that can be measured by the degree of pride that the city’s inhabitants feel for its new face as well as by the fact that Medellín has become a city to see as opposed to one to avoid. Read more HERE. From an interview in BOMB magazine.

See also L.A. Times: “Medellín Cleans Up Its Act.”

In the Nov/Dec 2009 issue of Arepa, Medellín’s English language magazine, editor Robin Finley observes that the city’s new cable system has “brought city residents together, uniting what used to be a wall of barrios separating the north and south. Today we are witnessing how this interconnectivity is changing the city economy, and indeed creating a massive city-wide verve of creativity…. ”

Of course, the world has an interest in cleaning up Medellín, and the city is getting huge loans from the U.S., China, and inter-governmental agencies. People are paying attention. Literally, they are invested in making it work, because what happens in Colombia affects us here too. More importantly, the city is making good use of those funds—not to create walls, but to educate and communicate.

As Kimber Solana reports in today’s Salinas Californian (Jan. 29, 2010), the small city of Salinas is trying its damndest to deal with its gang violence problems (which are also linked to the even smaller town of Castroville near where I live, and to the powerful drug-trafficking gangs in Mexico). The Salinas Ceasefire program is getting its funds “partly from a $357,021 matching grant from the State.”

Like Medellín, Salinas has a problem with perception by outsiders. When I work in the touristy, upper-class (and yes, more Anglo/white) area of Monterey, I occasionally hear disparaging remarks about Salinas. It’s partly stereotyping, and it’s partly real fear (as of mid-Dec. 2009, Salinas had 29 homicides for the year). That fear comes from a diverse mix of peoples including Latinos who are living fairly well, financially. And I’ve noticed that folks cast a “blind-eye” toward the people working north of Monterey (Seaside, Salinas, Castroville, Watsonville) in the fields and in service jobs. Citizens of Monterey and Carmel-by-the-Sea just don’t want to know what’s going on in the poorer communities, even though they are surrounded by, and live off the produce from the fields, and the hard work of the field laborers, waitpersons, clerks, and vendors in those communities.

But what the story of Medellín tells me is that, aside from the important “offered employment opportunities, training and personal services,” somehow, an environment of hope also needs to be created, places, structures to go to within the neighborhood; places that become an important part of the neighborhood, where one can learn and grow — not just on Main Street, but where those who need it most are located. What happens in Salinas and Castroville and in “peripheral” neighborhoods affects us. Success stories in those areas will be our success stories too.

By the way, you can listen to Medellín’s English-language radio, Prime Cuts, right here. (Thanks to deejays Robin and Jeff!)

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