In the 1990s, at same time that the United States was bombing Baghdad, Medellín was the most dangerous city in the world. Since 2003, the city has undergone an internationally renowned urban transformation, part of a controversial nationwide peace process. Implemented under Sergio Fajardo’s term as Medellín mayor (2003-2007), the city, now perceived as a totally different place with a homicide rate 10 times lower, is seen as an example of how to engage with conflict and violence as urban peace process. The policies involved were physical and programmatic interventions in violent neighborhoods through the planning and construction of new facilities. This thesis seeks to understand if these physical and political policies and practices are directly related to the reduction of homicides in Medellin during the same period. The main objective of this research project is to explore the real success or failure of these policies, in a search to find successful strategies that can be implemented in other cities around the world with similar manifestations of conflict and violence. 

Medellin growth and topography, Jota Samper

Granting of land tenure in Medellin, Colombia’s informal settlements: Is legalization the best alternative in a landscape of violence?

Colombia’s long history of internal violence has been characterized by the displacement of populations caused by the armed actors of the conflict. Colombia has one of the world's largest populations of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world, estimated to be as many as 4.3 million people (Yacoub 2009). These populations, the majority of which are rural, seek safe(r) locations in large urban centers like the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali (Lozano-Gracia et. al. 2010), where they become part of the growing population of slum dwellers. This situation of displaced people’s in cities has been complicated in Colombia by the fact that the national conflict has escalated and extended into these same urban areas where displaced people have built housing (informal settlements). Today a subgroup of this displaced population that has arrived to the city, had to migrate again from one area of the city to others out of fear of leaving their homes or selling them under pressure of these urban armed illegal actors. All of this has happened in the context of an ongoing land granting process by the state (Rojas 2010) that follows the logic that granting of land titles adds economic benefits both to the state and to the dwellers. This project has been developed at a national level and in Medellin for the last 15 years. This paper seeks to understand the challenges of policies that grant titles in informal settlements as a tool to deal with the growing problem of informality in Medellin, Colombia against the backdrop of a landscape of urban violence. It also suggests how communal grant title could be a tool that places these communities in a less dangerous position.

Figure 1 Medellin's informal settlements’: in purple are all informal settlements, in yellow there is a new area declared for regularization.

Map of Medellin city growth from 1700 to 2000 by Jota Samper Sources: Data collected from  diverse historical maps of the city of Medellin

To understand how the space has an influence in the dynamics of violence in the city of Medellin t is important to understand a series of elements. Fist is the scale of violence of the city of Medellin. Second is that the city today is socially and spatially segregated and this condition have implies this segregated areas (economically and social) are isolated from the center of production and more importantly to the main institutions of the state. This isolation provides environment that favor the free action of the different organizations that are contesting the legitimize power of the state at the national and local scale to use these territories as battlegrounds. And that the scale actions of this armed groups in these areas perpetuate the conflict and produce large externalities to the communities that have over time to deal with multiple armed actors.

I have divided this memo in four sections. i) Explain the dynamics of violence in Medellín, ii) Use a longitudinal study of the urban development of the city to explain why and how the city came to be physically segregated, the third shows how segregation and violence are related but further detail shows that in this city negative and positive resilience are not hegemonic over the segregated territories and explore some probable hypothesis to why this conditions exist. And iv) Zoom in from the city to the comuna scale to explore some of the physical conditions of the conflict and what repercussions has for  communities that deal with issues of oscillations from positive and negative resilience in its neighborhoods over long periods of time.

Medellin homicides rates per comunas (district) from 1994 to 2009. Jota Samper. Source: Data from the Instituto Nacional de Medicina Legal y Ciencias Forenses.

Medellin, Colombia: the metrocable as the world’s first cable propelled public transit

Social transformation in informal settlements through mobility innovation.

Jota (jose) Samper


The Medellin’s cable car (Metrocable) is the “world’s first true CPT [Cable Propelled Transit] system [in the world]”(Dale 2010).  Since its inception, the metrocable as an urban CPT system has become a staple of Latin American cities that are trying to deal with the issues of dense urban form resulting from informal urban development. The metrocable, since its first implementation in Medellin, has been imported to other cities in Colombia and also outside of it, including Caracas and recently Rio de Janeiro.
The planning and practice of such an idea is the product of more than a decade of research at the planning department in the City of Medellin. While many cities before 2003 played with the idea of using a cable car systems, the first attempt was the result of failed project. In the mid 1990’s, the city of Medellin was interested in implementing a touristic cable car that would connect some of the Andes mountain parks to the center of the city. This project was deemed politically unfeasible and shelved.  A few years later, while looking for alternatives to deal with transportation issues on the steep hills of the mountains where most of the informal settlements are located, some of the planners revisited the previously shelved technical specifications and cost of a CPT metrocable.
The final specifications were a concerted effort between the planning department and the very profitable Empresa Metro de Medellín Ltda. This metro system runs from one end of the city to the other.  The metrocable was attached to the already existing rail metro network which makes the system more efficient and also sustainable long term. The connectivity of the cable to the already existing transportation network of the city is one of the aspects that some cities have not applied when translating this system to other latitudes and yet this connectivity is probably the most important dimension.