Failures in Participatory Design in Medellín, Colombia and the resulting opportunities
“One did not want to be in the street playing when a shoot-out began, in the middle of the bullets flying over-head, with people falling at your feet as happened to me several times. I remember seeing them wounded and in agony.”
Cielo is a worker in the Centro de Desarrollo Cultural (Cultural Development Centre) in Moravia, Medellin where the government attempted to intervene and end the violence and poverty, that the neighbourhood faced since its construction on top of a rubbish dump in the 1970s.
In what was one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in the country, empty, crumbling houses stand alongside red flags that mark where others were bulldozed. Among the garbage and rubble, some defiant families hold strong - refusing to move from their homes, their land. The flags and empty shacks are symbolic of the governments failed attempt at relocating the most vulnerable away from the precarious and hazardous dump.
The participatory process that is now applied in all public projects throughout the city had become a tokenistic method of winning over communities rather than the people-centred, sensitive tool it could be.
The one true success that did come out of this failure however is the cultural centre where Cielo works and where the youth of the area can practice safely. A monument to the spirited, arduous and often dangerous work of many community leaders - who recognised the need to take matters into their own hands due to the absence and failure of the government - the proud red-brick building was designed by Rogelio Salmona, the most recognised Colombian architect of the last century and was funded by the community and private investors.
“It is down to the internal organisation and impulses from the community. We don’t want this to be forgotten. We want the community to take the credit for these changes.”