6 cities on 5 continents that are models of urban renewal
What makes a city great? Whether you’re living in Durban, South Africa, or Medellín, Colombia, perhaps no two people living in one place will have the same answer. But ask residents across different cultures and regions about challenges facing their own cities, and common issues will emerge, like the need for more affordable housing, better public transportation and access to resources and services.
Far too often, city initiatives don’t actually address the needs of residents — and sometimes they create even bigger problems, especially for those who are most vulnerable. Take Vancouver, B.C. Though it’s often regarded as one of the healthiest cities in the world, some projects to make the city more livable, like the addition of luxury housing, have contributed to gentrification and driven rental prices out of reach for many, raising the question: “Healthy and livable for whom?” said Andy Hong, the director of the Healthy Aging and Resilient Places Lab at the University of Utah.
Several cities across the world are now reinventing themselves to make life better for all residents — and in the process, carving a path for the rest of us to solve some of the most pressing urban design challenges. Medellín, once considered one of the world’s most dangerous places, has become a model for urban renewal through the creation of visionary public architecture and transportation infrastructure, where residents in rural areas can access the city center, along with the jobs and services available there, by cable car.
Here’s what we can learn from Medellín and other cities that are breaking new ground in urban transformation.
Shortening commutes with cable cars
Few cities have changed as significantly, and as quickly, as Medellín. After decades of political unrest, economic turmoil and violence at the hands of drug cartels, new leadership in the 1990s ushered in a turning point. Under Colombia’s new national constitution, adopted in 1991, the government of Medellín focused on targeting inequity.
The city built transportation infrastructure to give its poorest residents access to the city center. Then it commissioned renowned architects to create new parks and buildings, including visually stunning libraries and museums, to be placed in the most neglected neighborhoods. A toxic dump that was a fixture of one neighborhood was replaced with the Moravia Cultural Center, which offers arts programming and is surrounded by parks and gardens. Elsewhere in the city, new parks and library facilities turned neighborhoods marked by violence into places of pride, with computer labs, recreational centers and public housing.
“In the face of the crisis, society asked itself appropriate questions and embarked on a path of solutions,” said the architect Jorge Perez-Jaramillo, a former planning director for the city from 2012 through 2015.
The poorest neighborhoods were high atop steep mountains, far removed from the city center. There was no easy or inexpensive way for people to commute to town for work and access to resources, since the building density and mountains made it impossible to build new train lines. In 2004, the city began adding a system of gondola lifts in the sky, connecting the steep mountain towns to other areas, dramatically reducing the cost and time it took to commute.