Medellín's model of a dynamic, narcotics-based, finance and service-sector economy--its slums now gilded with the occasional showpiece project--has become Colombia's
~ Forrest Hylton, Medellín's Makeover


These three ominous structures protruding from the northeastern, hillside community of Santo Domingo, Medellín make up the España Library, one of the "showpiece" projects Hylton is speaking of. Santo Domingo was another of Medellín's notoriously violent slums.
(Photo credit: First Magazine)










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There exists a radical socio-economic disparity between Medellín's comunas, quite similar to the way in which many U.S. metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, California or Phoenix, Arizona have drastic shifts in class demographics as you move from one city/town to the next. El Poblado, Medellín's southern most comuna or sub-city district, is a beacon of wealth and luxury in stark contrast the hillside poverty of Santo Domingo in the northeast or Comuna 13 in west for instance. These several images below should be indicative of the concentrated wealth that does not seem to move to far outside of the comuna borders:


The El Poblado comuna at night. (Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Poblado,_Medellín)

The entrance to one of El Poblado's gated communities.

A main avenue cutting through El Poblado's high-rises and luxury apartments.

The gated communities, luxury high-rise apartments, contemporary commercial centers and security forces provide enough layers of distance from the lower-classes and still existing violence of the city to allow city officials and some residents to paint a picture of a Medellín that has moved beyond its violent, drug-fueled history. Mary Roldán admits "at first glance that, except for having completely internalized the trappings of late consumer capitalism introduced by cocaine, the city has returned to its "traditional values" and smug provincialism of yore. But scratch the glittery, upbeat surface just a little and you can still find the presence of cocaine affecting more than the city's consumer patterns (Roldán, Cocain and the "miracle" of Modernity in Medellín, 179)."

Evidenced in the figure below, taken from Carlos Medina, Leonardo Morales and Jairo Nez's thorough study, "Quality of Life in Urban Neighborhoods in Colombia," one can get a glimpse of the stark socio-economic differences present with Medellín:

Specifically, we see demonstrated the concentration of wealth in El Poblado which rests entirely in the highest socio-economic stratum (6 being the most affluent). With so much wealth confined in such an isolated area, it is somewhat insulting to working-class residents and those worse off in squatter communities to be offered a radically out of place library, completely alien amidst the vernacular, hillside architecture. Paraphrasing Mike Davis from his influential City of Quartz, Hylton adds: this is the classic architecture of pacification, with security function built into [the] design (Hylton, Medellín Makeover, 87).

Of course, such concentrations of wealth must also be accompanied by places of excessvie commodity consumption. Not everyone in the upper-class is a capitalist (uses their money to buy labor power). Medellín's shopping districts are very much akin to any American city: clean, safe, artificial and full of open space giving shoppers the illusion of a publicness. The below image could very well be from downtown Phoenix's shopping and entertainment district.


(Photo credit: panoramio.com