La Espina A Self-built Medellín Neighborhood and Its Lessons BY JOTA SAMPER AND TAMERA MARKO

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Published by the David Rockefeller Center
for Latin American Studies
Harvard University


La Espina A Self-built Medellín Neighborhood and Its Lessons


On a Saturday morning, we received a call from Claudia. She was distraught. She had una espina, a thorn, in her heart. Very soon we were to learn why this seemingly small feeling would prompt community leaders to bring our years of work together to a halt. And do so in the name of local and global peace process. We had just finished three weeks of round-the-clock work, which had begun with taking potential donors to meet Claudia's neighborhood community leaders and residents, with whom we have worked for the past three years, and to engage with the City of Medellín, where we have worked with 15 informal communities, universities and government leaders over the last ten years. We were ready to rest a day before our undergraduate students finished a four-week summer international program from Emerson College in Boston, which we direct. We worked with these students, at the request of the community leaders, to make a short documentary film about their neighborhood. The community leaders had founded this neighborhood seven years ago, built the first homes and roads, sewage and household water channels with their own hands. They named their neighborhood Manantiales de Paz.

Specifically, community leaders there had invited us to collaborate with them on crafting an urban planning story (a film). In their own words and images, they wanted to show residents and outsiders why and how a group of 14 people and their families, originally displaced by violence from their hometowns throughout Colombia, founded this neighborhood. And what they need now to survive what is becoming sprawling urban growth and become an official (legal) part of the urban infrastructure around them. Located near the top ridge of the Andes Mountains between the cities of Medellín and Bello, Manantiales de Paz is now home to more than 3,000 residents. The name of the neighborhood means Springs of Peace. "Springs" because it is based at the origin of water that flows down to the city of Medellín. "Peace" because the community leaders want to send a message that while violence forced them to begin building homes there as "squatters," they are not at war, and even though in the beginning, government forces razed their homes several times, they had nowhere else to go and so continued to rebuild there, and in the process, raise white flags in peace.  We were just about ready to wrap up this summer's session of work and present the film to the community residents for their final input. Community leaders, over the next week, for a few hours a day, put down their tools and left their children with friends and family. We as film directors stopped our students filming until we could meet in the Junta Comunal and then again in El Comedor, the Community Kitchen, shacks of wood and bricks they had built in the central plaza for this kind of business, and this espina was collectively and carefully removed. 

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