After gondalas, urban escalators and libraries in poor areas, a massive 46-miles urban park around the city is the new flagship of Medellín’s urban renewal. It offers jobs, provides citizens with new recreation, sports- en meeting facilities and helps to control the city’s sprawl.
‘The border was right here’, says Juan Villamizar as he firmly plants his shovel into the soil. This was a border that no one saw, but everyone knew was there. Villamizar shows a scar on his hand — a reminder of a blow he received from a machete when he crossed this border without permission, entering the territory of a rival gang. He was lucky; countless others from his neighborhood didn’t come back from such excursions at all.
Juan Villamizar lives in La Sierra, for a long time one of the city’s most violent areas, where gangs linked to urban guerrilla and paramilitary groups fought for control. After 12 years running drugs for a gang, he recently traded his pistol for a spade and a set of overalls. Together with more than 5,000 local residents, he is working on Medellín’s latest mega-project: El Cinturon Verde Metropolitano, an enormous urban park lining the upper reaches of the hillsides surrounding the city. ‘Five years ago, it was a war zone over here,’ he says. ‘We felt forgotten — the only option was crime. Now, there are opportunities, and we are working on the future, together.’
Research & reporting: Stephanie Bakker
Photography & camera: Yvonne Brandwijk
Editing: Maaike Holvast