Transforming Medellín: architecture and urban design as agents of social change


This article examines the transformative impact of Sergio Fajardo’s mayoral administration (2003–2007) in Medellín, Colombia, focusing on architecture and urban design projects that have promoted equity. Central to this urban renaissance was the Proyecto Urbano Integral (PUI) Nororiental, which revitalized informal settlements in the city’s northeastern zone. The initiative leveraged financing from Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM), a city-owned utility company, ensuring sustainable investment in public works without reliance on international loans. This financial model enabled the redistribution of funds to Medellín’s poorest neighborhoods, fostering transparency and combating corruption. Key to this urban strategy was the involvement of the Empresa de Desarrollo Urbano (EDU) which implemented the PUI with an intersectional planning approach combining public transit, education, culture, recreation, health, and safety initiatives. The PUI emphasized community participation through “Imaginary Workshops” promoting ownership and engagement among residents. The PUI Nororiental, enhanced by the Metrocable transit system and associated public spaces, has successfully integrated isolated neighborhoods while reducing violence and fostering social cohesion. Despite critiques of high costs, this article argues that quality public spaces and civic buildings promote community pride and destigmatization. Medellín’s “social urbanism” serves as a model for addressing inequity in Latin America and the broader Global South, demonstrating how architecture and urban design can drive social change.

Keyword : Latin America, informal settlements, urban design, architecture, equity

How to Cite
Meninato, P., & Marinic, G. (2024). Transforming Medellín: architecture and urban design as agents of social change. Journal of Architecture and Urbanism, 48(1), 83–90.
Published in Issue
Jul 8, 2024
Abstract Views
PDF Downloads
Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Archer, J. (2005). Social theory of space: Architecture and the production of self, culture, and society. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, 64(4), 430–433.

Calderon Arcila, C. A. (2008). Learning from slum upgrading and participation: A case study of participatory slum upgrading in the emergence of new governance in the city of Medellín–Colombia. KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Planning and Environment, Division of Environmental Strategies.

Corburn, J., Asari, M. R., Pérez Jamarillo, J., & Gaviria, A. (2019). The transformation of Medellin into a ‘City for Life:’ Insights for healthy cities. Cities & Health, 4(1), 13–24.

Devlin, M., & Chaskel, S. (2010). From fear to hope in Colombia: Sergio Fajardo and Medellín, 2004–2007. Princeton University, Innovations for Successful Societies.

Dovey, K. (2010). Becoming places: Urbanism/architecture/identity/power. Routledge.

Echeverri, A., & Orsini, F. (2015). Informality and social urbanism in Medellin. Editorial EAFIT.

Finchelstein, D., Gonzalez-Perez, M. A., & Salvaj, E. H. (2021). A comparative analysis of the internationalization of sub-national and Central State-owned enterprises: Shreds of evidence from Latin America. Multinational Business Review, 30(2), 259–288.

Imparato, I., & Ruster, J. (2003). Slum upgrading and participation: Lessons from Latin America. World Bank.

Kimmelman, M. (2012, May 18). A city rises, along with its hopes. New York Times.

Low, S. (2017). Spatializing culture: The ethnography of space and place. Routledge.

OECD. (2017). Multi-level governance studies making decentralisation work in Chile: Towards stronger municipalities. OECD Publishing.

Muñoz Gielen, D., & Krabben, E. (2023). Public infrastructure, private finance: Developer obligations and responsibilities. Routledge.

Sassen, S. (2010). The city: Its return as a lens for social theory. City, Culture, and Society, 1, 3–11.

Trancik, R. (1986). Finding lost space: Theories of urban design. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Universidad EAFIT. (2013). Medellín, Colombia.

Werthmann, C. (2021). Informal urbanization in Latin America: Collaborative transformations of public spaces. Taylor & Francis.