An Urban Transformation

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“The kids were cheering me on.”

I had the pleasure recently of visiting Comuna 13, a neighborhood in Medellin that has had a difficult history with gang violence and the illegal drug trade but which is showing signs of both progress and renewal. Due to the investments made by both the local and city government, Comuna 13 has become a hotbed for beautiful street art and graffiti murals, which has attracted many local artists to make a positive mark on this community. Many of these artists are from Medellin and grew up in the neighborhoods of Comuna 13. Rather than discuss the past of Comuna 13, I would rather talk about why this particular community is poised to have a brighter future.

Beyond just the new street art and the graffiti murals that you can find around Comuna 13 are the relatively new escalators that connect the San Javier metro station to the communities located in the hills surrounding this transportation hub. These escalators make it a lot easier for both students and workers to gain easier access to the rest of the Medellin metropolitan area and are an easy way to get from point A to point B. The escalators are free to use for all people including the tourists who come to visit this part of the city.

While the escalators are not so numerous, it is possible that more of them will be added to other parts of the city in the future if I were to haphazard a guess. Medellin can set an example to other urban cities on how to connect neighborhoods efficiently with the use of escalators, especially those with sloping hills and steep mountains within the city limits. For the elderly and children as well, these escalators can be quite useful in helping them get around the neighborhood without too much trouble.

If you don’t feel like taking the escalators, there are concrete staircases adjacent to the new escalators so you can choose which way you want to go up or go down. The escalators are weatherproof as well which is quite genius when you think about. On your way to the metro, the overhang, which is a bright, fluorescent orange color, will protect you fully from the elements such as rain, snow, hail, etc. It only takes about five to ten minutes to get from the top of the escalators to the bottom of the escalators so if you’re in a rush, you won’t have to go through too many escalators to get to your final destination.

The city government of Medellin and local police has done a great job in my opinion with regards to keeping this part of Comuna 13 safe and secure. I noticed during my visit that locals and volunteers are instrumental in helping to keep the area around the escalators clean and orderly. There are park benches and small parks nearby to encourage community get-togethers as well as the fact that there is a big slide where the local children can use to slide up and down to have some fun in the neighborhood. Being the kid at heart that I am, I partook in one of the slides because it is pretty enjoyable and you do go down at a pretty fast speed.

Beyond just the new escalators, the cool slides, and the park benches, there are also now a few library parks, which are free for members of the community to enjoy, explore, and learn. In addition to being places for education, the libraries are great meeting places for the community and can strengthen neighborhood ties. You can also hold cultural, recreational, and educational activities such as group English classes or a family birthday party. Books in these libraries are free to borrow and use.

Everyone can use them regardless of their age, educational level or social status. The mind is a terrible thing to waste and because of the twelve library parks in Comuna 13 and other parts of Medellin, city residents here have a real chance to learn new things and satisfy their curiosity. One particular volunteer group that I’m interested in learning about is called ‘Stairway to English’, which provides free English classes with native speakers to members of the Comuna 13 community.

My visit to Comuna 13 left quite an impact on me. I did go through an organized tour this time, which I do recommend to people visiting this webpage. It was really useful to learn about the history, background, and the progress being made for this part of Medellin. Medellin is quite a large city and it can be easy to get caught up in only staying within your own neighborhood and to not see other parts of the city. Personally, I do hope that other escalator projects in urban areas will become popular in Colombia and other parts of the world.

Human beings are increasingly becoming more urban with over 70% of the world’s population projected to be living in cities by mid-century. This puts the onus on local, city, and national governments to adapt to this reality and try to make life easier and better for the millions of people who call a city their home. Other cities should take note of the social progress being made in Comuna 13 and I can only hope that more and more residents of Medellin will be able to improve their lives in different ways because of urban projects like building library parks or constructing escalator routes.

If you’re in Medellin sometime and you’re curious to check out the positive urban transformation that is ongoing in Comuna 13 and other parts of the city, I would recommend using Comuna 13 Tours, which has a very knowledgeable, kind, and helpful staff members who are bilingual and want to share their city with foreigners out of the goodness in their heart. This is not an official endorsement and I don’t get paid or receive any benefits from mentioning this tour on my website.

I’m doing it because I really enjoyed the experience I had recently with them and I think other visitors who come to Medellin should do the same based off my positive experience using this tour group. Perhaps, most importantly of all, you’ll meet a few locals during your tour and you can see how hospitable, kind, and open they are in Comuna 13. My only advice is to be careful about your photo taking, and to be respectful of both the tour guide and the locals who are kind enough to take some time out of their day to share with you. I look forward to visiting Comuna 13 again someday and I hope to use that giant slide again too.

For more information: http://www.comuna13tours.com/

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A Wealth of Knowledge

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“The sharing and exchange of knowledge is easier now than it has ever been in human history.”

There has been no other time in human history than in today’s era where the average person with access to the Internet can seemingly have unlimited amounts of information available to him or her. When you truly think about the magnitude of it, untold amounts of data are being created every day. According to IBM, “The current estimate is 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day and over 90% of the data in the world today has been created in the past two years alone.”

A common response nowadays from both family and friends when I ask a question to them about a random query is not a straight-forward answer but rather an off-handed suggestion to “Google it.” Living in this era of ‘Big Data’ can be quite overwhelming to the average person but one could also look into it as an opportunity to gain knowledge and further ones’ understanding on a limitless amount of subjects with the simple click of a mouse. The Internet is an amalgamation of thousands of libraries of Alexandria at the beck and call of one’s fingertips.

Compared to past ages when information and knowledge was more exclusive and harder to come by, today’s era allows everyone with an Internet connection to search and find information to their heart’s content. Instead of going to a library to find what you need on a subject, websites like Google, Wikipedia, and other online encyclopedias have largely replaced the main role of the physical library. I remember when I was younger and in my high school days having to seek out certain books in order to write a research paper or complete a book report.

However, now more than ever, you can easily find the sources of information you need online in order to facilitate your research and evidence. While I love libraries and hope that they never go out of style, the reality is that online encyclopedias and eBooks are largely replacing their original purpose. In order for libraries to stay relevant, they need to start incorporating computers, free Wi-Fi, and technical classes in order to remain useful.

From the 18th to the 20th centuries, universities and colleges across America were the standard bearers and purveyors of higher education. Originally for the elite, wealthy, and well connected, those students who were able to get accepted and afford undergraduate and graduate studies believed that they would have an advantage in the job market and in achieving the American Dream. More recently, as colleges and universities have become more inclusive than exclusive, tuition prices have inversely risen as well.

While higher education has become accessible to more and more young Americans, it also has become more expensive especially over the past decade. These events have led to an ongoing debate as to whether college is really worth the price tag and whether the average student gains anything from earning a four-year degree. With student loan debt at an all-time high of $1.3 trillion in 2015 in the United States and tuition rates at both public and private universities continuing to rise, people are beginning to look for alternatives to the current higher education system.

Over the past decade, there has been a drastic proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) provided by both private companies and traditional universities. At a much lower price and sometimes free, people from all over the world can sign-up for these courses and partake in lectures, tests, quizzes, and papers as if they were actual enrolled undergraduate and graduate students at the physical form of the university. As the credentials and certifications bestowed upon these courses continue to increase and become more widely accepted, we may begin to see ‘the end of college’ as we know it.

Examples like Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, Udacity, etc. and other MOOCs have leveled the playing field. Tech entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley have allowed students from all over the world to access unlimited online courses to further their academic knowledge at a lower price. With the subsequent rise in online university programs for undergraduates and graduates, the physical college experience of dormitories, lecture halls, football stadiums, etc. may become less appealing to students as tuition prices continue to increase. While the social and networking benefits of college life are numerous, they may not be enough to compete with this era of free information that we are living in.

Compared to past decades, we’re living in a time when access to the Internet is at an all-time high and is increasingly rapidly due to the rise of mobile technology. Traditional havens of knowledge such as the library or the public university will have to adapt to stay relevant in this unlimited information age. In a worldwide job market that is evolving rapidly and where the average child today will work in an industry not yet created, the free exchange of knowledge must continue to spread through the worldwide web.

Countless others and I have benefited from taking online coding courses on ‘Codeacademy’ to learning new languages on ‘Duolingo.’ As MOOCs and online universities continue to develop their courses and credentials, we may begin to see an era where the average person can earn a degree or two without breaking the bank. MOOCs are cheaper, less time intensive, and can adapt more easily to the rapidly changing employment market.

A well-educated population is now more possible now than ever with the wealth of knowledge and information that is available. That fact is evident but it also is up to the individual to be willing to search for that information and actually apply it. Instead of getting frustrated with people asking me to ‘Google’ the answer, I find that it’s worth the hassle because it’s often true that I will find the answers I’m looking for and in greater detail than if I were to ask a friend or family member for a quick description. That’s the power of the Internet. That’s the wealth of knowledge that we are able to take advantage of.

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Sites Mentioned