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Salvaging Comun 13—Medellin, Colombia

The price tag on hope

Back in the early part of this new century, Comun 13 was still the most dangerous neighborhood in a notorious city called Medellin. Things have changed.

Comun 13, along with most of Medellin, has put on a new face with bright eyes and an ongoing conversation about a brighter future up the hill in Barrio San Javier.

Pop culture is alive and well in San Javier. Street art and music have rescued the neighborhood

Hope begets pride and pride begets quality of life.

No one here will tell you that the job is completed. There is still danger about. There is still poverty. But now there is real community and a drastic cut in the social ills that plagued this once steep, crime-ridden hill crammed with brick houses and winding stairways.

Art, along with Hip-Hop, saved the city. It gave people an outlet to express themselves. We’re not talking some strung-out bozo with a can of spray paint.  We’re talking about exploding talent gracing these once dodgy walls and perilous walkways, once home to guerrillas, drug cartels and paramilitary killers. All the gangs aren’t gone. All the hoodlums aren’t gone but at least now people aren’t afraid to come out of their houses at night.

Stairways that once led to danger now lead to a cold beer and vibrant commerce

It all started by building well-stocked libraries with workshops and internet access right there in the long ignored slums. Then came the roofed escalators (part of the Metro that carries millions of people per day) which allowed easier access to other parts of town and encouraged general assimilation and employment all over Medellin.

Street art abounds in Comun 13

Then came the tourists who now flock to this quirky, spectacular area creating an burgeoning economy within the reinvigorated community. Bars, coffee houses and restaurants (quaint epicenters for idle hours) are popping up daily. Knowledgeable residents charm the visitors and delve into the dark history that, until recently, dominated the scene here. Soccer fields and basketball courts beckon in what was vacant space. Houses are again being painted. Streets are cleaned. People are moving back.

This miracle on a hill west of Medellin was not cheap but it appears to have been a stroke of genius. Cities in the US would do well to take note, even though they are under the thumb of a nation that spends billions on bombs and little on brains. Some of the more progressive locales already understand that a better life is something we all deserve and that without community there is nothing.

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has found an anomalous champion in what was once a ghetto of despondency.

– Kevin Haley