MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA — The Medellin Metrocable, an aerial tramway system regarded as a model of urban integration for other mountainous Latin American metropolises, is providing a better life for marginalized populations of this Andean city who previously lacked easy access to downtown and other economically vibrant areas.
The opening a year ago of a second Metrocable line to service the Comuna 13 slum has enabled the inhabitants of that overcrowded, scarcely-paved community high in the hills west of downtown to feel a part of Medellin, Colombia’s business hub and second-largest city.
Cities like Rio de Janeiro and Caracas where millions of inhabitants of hillside slums are poorly integrated into the rest of the metropolis have already shown an interest in the Medellin system, which was built with French technology at a very low cost.
The Comuna 13 line spans a distance of 2.7 kilometers (1.7 miles) and is capable of transporting some 25,000 people per hour along the 11-minute route.
Several support pilings, which rise from steep mountainsides, support the steel cables on which 90 eight-seat cabins move at an average speed of 16 kilometers (10 miles) per hour.
At the foot of the mountain, the Metrocable links to the Medellin Metro, enabling commuters to work downtown and avoid interminable climbs up or down the mountainside of as many as 600 steps.
In the 1980s and ’90s, Medellin was considered the world’s most dangerous city with an average of 6,500 murders a year.
The bloodiest urban chapter in Colombia’s decades-old armed conflict occurred on the streets of the capital of Antioquia province and Comuna 13 was the most violent area of all due to the combined effects of drug trafficking and leftist guerrilla and far-right paramilitary activity.
The security presence in that slum, currently home to 130,000 people, was non-existent until the late-2002 “Operation Orion,” a massive military-police sweep that left dozens dead – including innocent civilians – and gave authorities renewed control over that district.
“We’re repaying a social debt we had for many years … because the state lost credibility,” Jose Fernando Jaramillo, architects’ coordinator for the Comprehensive Urban Project in Comuna 13.
The municipality, under then-Mayor Sergio Fajardo, invested close to $45 million to build the second Metrocable project, which followed on the heels of the first successful line that serviced Santo Domingo Savio, a marginalized community in northeastern Medellin.
The Medellin municipal government plans to spend a total of $361 million to remodel Comuna 13, taking advantage of the Metrocable’s impact.
Thus far, a modern library, public parks, sporting complexes and health facilities have all been built, while some of the rundown public schools in that sector have been renovated.
“I’ve lived here for 25 years and this was a totally inhospitable place. The access routes were roads. There was a lot of violence up until Operation Orion, when the state came in and began investing in these very marginalized neighborhoods,” Luz Marina Giraldo, a local community leader, told Efe.
Comuna 13 “now has more dignity and the quality of life has improved. Before there was practically no hope; for me this is a miracle,” she added.
Medellin currently is planning to install two new lines with the aim of incorporating more marginalized community into the life of the city.
The Metrocable, a system that can be set up in different places around the world thanks to its low cost and structural versatility, has gained recognition as a valid model of social and urban integration.
By Albert Sallord, Latin American Herald Tribune