Colombia: The ‘green I want you green’ from Medellín | Future Planet

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It took just 20 years. In two decades, Medellín went from being on the map under the title of the most violent city in the world to receiving the “Nobel of cities”, the Lee Kuan Yew World City award in 2016. A walk through the second capital of Colombia is enough to perceive how the vegetation is stealing space from the concrete and the pedestrian –and increasingly the cyclist– from the car. An example of long-term environmental projects and a town hall with a common green horizon, the city of eternal spring wants to be an example of sustainability, ecology and responsible mobility.

Few love their land as much as the paisas. The pride of someone who was born or raised in Colombia’s second largest city is felt in the way its citizens take care of it (and promote it). In the municipal nursery, Juan Camilo Hernández Serna, a university professional from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure and another in love with his land, meets with the gardeners who guard 230 species –150 types of trees and 80 types of gardens– that leave from this point and They supply parks and green areas. In 2014, a municipal inventory had registered 400,000 trees throughout the urban area. The expert assures that the current figure must be something more than double.

He is in charge of the transformation of road corridors and parks throughout the city. “The maintenance and planting of healthy trees is what requires more and more labor,” he says. They have 50 gardeners on staff and soon, he assures, there will be 130, because “there are no hands.” Medellín’s huge urban forest captures 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year and 115 tons of other pollutants, according to a study by the EIA University. And the budget for the 2020-2023 four-year period in the strategic line of transformation towards an eco-city is 1,016 million euros. “With its pluses and minuses, here you want to invest in sustainability.”

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An Encicla user returns his bicycle in the center of Medellín, at the end of November.
An Encicla user returns his bicycle in the center of Medellín, at the end of November.Santiago Mesa

The main challenge is, according to Hernández, to expand the green ring. “The most vulnerable sectors are those with the least green areas. In the northeastern and northwestern commune there is practically no space between platform and track. And there are no parks either. It is where you have to think the most. And that is the strategy in which it is being carried out: how do you take that quality of life and those recreational areas to the margins? ”.

In 2014, a municipal inventory had registered 400,000 trees throughout the urban area. The current figure is more than double

Carlos Cadena Gaitán agrees in the challenge. Although the PhD in Green Policies and Mobility and a researcher affiliated with the United Nations University applauds the collective policies between different administrations, he acknowledges that “it is not a perfect city and there are many pending objectives ahead”. One of them, incorporating the gender perspective into mobility. “In Medellín, and in the world, the transportation paradigm has been very belligerent; we prioritize speed and individuality, a model that is very masculine. And it is that in the end the policies in this regard are still made by men for men. And that shows a lot. Their mobility style must not only be taken into account but must be encouraged, because it tends to be more environmentally sustainable, “he explains by phone.

And it is that public bicycles are used by them. According to the Ministry of Mobility, only 25% of users of Encicla – the only public and free consolidated bicycle system in the country – are women. “It has a lot to do with the perception of security between both sexes. And that is also our job to change it ”, says from his office Jhonattan Andrés Hernández Loaiza, Deputy Director of Mobility of the Metropolitan Area of ​​the Aburrá Valley.

The vertical gardens are already part of the scene of the Antioquia capital.
The vertical gardens are already part of the scene of the Antioquia capital.Santiago Mesa

With 10 years of history, 113 stations, 114,000 registered users and 2,000 bicycles in the system, a scientific study promoted by the delegation shows that the more than 15 million trips on two wheels have saved 10,500 tons of CO² in the last decade. “Encicla was a commitment to mobility and also to environmental sustainability. Everything goes hand in hand, it cannot just be riding the driver of gasoline cars in an electric car. The world has not yet dimensioned what we are going to do with the batteries ”, he explains. “The model to be replicated is that of active mobility; the one that leaves no trace ”.

The commitment of the Antioquia capital with this matter also escalated a few months ago when COP26 was held in Glasgow. Daniel Quintero, mayor of the city, announced one of the most ambitious goals on the continent. Two years ago a Climate Action Plan was approved in which it was intended to reduce 20% of greenhouse gases by 2030. After the summit, Quintero raised the percentage to 50%. “Medellín has a clear goal for 2050: to be a carbon neutral city. (…) It is time to deploy climate governance mechanisms to move forward together ”, he supported in his networks during the meeting.

“The mobility of the future is on foot and by bicycle”, Cadena ditch. “This is also going to generate a change in our lifestyles, it is going to slow us down.” But, according to the expert, Medellín “runs the risk of being left behind.” “Although it is uncomfortable, you have to admit it. And it is painful because in this region there is a deep love for the bicycle, but from sports and entertainment, not from daily use ”. For those interviewed, one of the reasons why the car continues to be a priority is the “ingrained perception” that having a car is linked to status.

Jorge Perez Jaramillo, urban architect and author of the book Medellín, urbanism and society (2019, Turner Editores México-Madrid) is even more critical of the last years of Government. “During the first 15 years of the century, we began to see the changes that people needed, regardless of political groups. But lately it is no longer the citizenship project but the mayor on duty, ”he criticized by phone. “The Land Use Plan, approved in 2014, proposed the rural and metropolitan articulation while respecting the environment, a very strong commitment to control the expansion of the population to the mountains and the construction of 400 kilometers of bicycle paths, among others. Measures were approved to build a more balanced city and with services close to the inhabitant that promote the quality of life for all. But very little has been done to carry it out ”, ditch.

Tranquility is green

Alexandra Gutiérrez Arango and her nine-year-old niece Salomé play hopscotch in the Prado neighborhood park, a recently opened space with 2,800 square meters of green areas that make their way between brick and cement structures prior to the demolitions. They take an hour and they will stay a little longer. “It’s nice to have a place like this in such a heavy environment,” she says during the girl’s shift. Experts agree that green and illuminated areas become a healthy leisure alternative that, in addition, is modifying the most conflictive dynamics to which the Antioquia capital is accustomed. For Gutiérrez, this translates into a feeling: “I stay calm knowing that the little ones in my family are in places like this.”

Alexandra Gutiérrez Arango and her nine-year-old niece Salomé play hopscotch in the park in the Prado neighborhood, Medellín.
Alexandra Gutiérrez Arango and her nine-year-old niece Salomé play hopscotch in the park in the Prado neighborhood, Medellín.Santiago Mesa

The library of Medellín trees at a click

Another key for Hernández Serna, a university professional from the Ministry of Physical Infrastructure, is to be able to classify more trees in the category of heritage: “That way they would be inviolable and prioritized.” For now, he is content with the development of the Urban Tree System, an application designed for any curious citizen who wants to know the vegetation that surrounds him. He walks through the city with his eyes fixed on the bushes and trees, mentally guessing “who is in front of him”. “This one does not ring a bell,” he says, “But it’s beautiful, isn’t it?” He takes the mobile out of his pocket and searches patiently for the location. “Every time a tree is pruned, cured or planted, the record remains here,” he says with both fingers zooming in on the screen. “That makes us feel more ours, it is our heritage.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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