Although Medellín, Colombia, a valley metropolis of more than two million in the northern reaches of the Andes, is sometimes called the City of Eternal Spring, it is better known for its erstwhile reputation as Murder Capital of the World. It earned its nickname when drug lord Pablo Escobar and his minions made it the center of their business operations in the second half of the 20th century, and guerilla and paramilitary groups and street gangs proliferated in their wake. Though Escobar was “taken out” 15 years ago and the crime rate has dropped dramatically, Medellín has been fighting a long uphill battle to reinvent itself and gain back its reputation as a vibrant commercial and academic center.
Following in the footsteps of the country’s capital, Bogotá, the city started developing a social master plan in the late 1990s. By creating infrastructure, architecture, and community programs, the government hoped to bring opportunity to the lower classes (to repay a historical social debt of inequity), improve the quality of life for all, and draw business and tourism to Medellín. Since the turn of the millennium, the city has been experiencing a building boom (guided most notably by Mayor Sergio Fajardo) of parks, housing, schools, libraries, and new public transportation—concentrated primarily in poorer neighborhoods—for which it has employed many accomplished designers from within the country.