Colombia–Where everyone knows you’re visiting just because of Narcos

I’ve always thought of Colombia as an innovative place from the very first moment I learned about Ciclovias through my Sunday Streets experiences in San Francisco and the worldwide BRT model that is the Transmilenio in Bogota.

Leave it up to some good ol’ American drama to lead me to even more city planning innovation hidden in Colombia. I watched Narcos and was compelled to Google “Pablo Escobar,” which led me to other background and history of life in Medellin after his death. The city bounced back through some government interventions, including the construction of public escalators and gondolas that scaled the steep hillsides of the “city of the eternal spring.” This infrastructure allowed those in the hillside, mostly the poorest and previously isolated from the central city, to access vital resources that were inaccessible. Libraries and public spaces were also built around the city, providing people with places to be and things to do. The city built bridges between neighborhoods that were previously divided by gang violence.

Allow me to share a moment of geekiness: a lunch & learn with the former Director of Planning of Medellin, who helped with all these incredible city planning efforts And that will be my last city planning moment for this post. Now for the fun and pictures!

Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see most of what I had intended on seeing at Medellin. I wanted to go to the public escalators; didn’t see those. I drew up a plan to get to the gondolas/cable cars; never made it. I “starred” the famous public library on my Google maps; didn’t happen. In any case, I was able to partake in the Medellin version of Ciclovias, watch the Warriors win at an Irish pub, and visit a nearby town that has a beautiful display of culture: Guatape.

I realize that I am glossing over or completely skipping some parts of my trip. While Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, and Cusco were highlights of my trip, those destinations have been extremely well-visited by the world. I was drawn to the history of Medellin and its transformation, so I focused on this city. Maybe in the future I’ll find another blog post in which I can incorporate my experiences at Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, or Cusco to share. For now, I’m just overwhelmed with the thought of sharing my entire trip.


Me and my travel buddy, Ryan


Travel is fatal to prejudice

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”
A recent two-week trip to South America lent support to this quote. I’ll admit that part of the reason I travel is to get the Snap, the Gram, or the beautiful pictures, but most of the reason is to learn about other cultures and to get to know how other communities are maybe not so “other” after all. Having a mind curious for city planning, I also travel to see how people in other parts of the world approach city and transportation planning, community engagement, and  social and environmental justice.

This time, the destinations were:

Peru: Lima, Cusco, Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca

Colombia: Medellin, Guatapé, Cartagena

The choices of destinations in Peru are pretty self-explanatory–places that have seen a rise in tourism in recent years or are known landmarks representing the culture and history of the country. Lima is known as a world city. The city also has a reputation for dreary weather and being unexpectedly average with regards to buildings and environment, at least from what I gathered during my pre-travel research. This is when the actual traveling comes in to help confirm or dispel any preconceptions of a place and its people. I tried not to carry any of these preconceptions with me on the trip, regardless of whether they were positive or negative.
Flying into Lima
It turns out that Lima has quite a nightlife and active use of public space. Upon the recommendation of the hotel’s front desk, I took a stroll along the boulevards, where the center median is wide enough for bicyclists, pedestrians, benches, trees, and landscaping, much like what I had seen in Havana, Cuba. Lima on a Friday night was full of people. What caught my attention was the crowd of people surrounding an amphitheater in a park. People were invited to sign up to sing or play a song and dance in the center. Several hundred feet down, dozens of cats roamed Parque Kennedy as passersby fed them. Couples lined the malecon, embracing each other at El Parque del Amor or eating a snack along the edge of the wall (also very reminiscent of Havana).
Just another Friday night in Lima
So Lima may not have the sexy architecture that is ubiquitous in other world class cities, but it has the people to make it a welcoming and lively city. Granted, I was in the most touristic part of Lima, but that should not detract from the fact that locals and visitors come to enjoy these public spaces.
El Parque del Amor
I’m realizing now that my South America trip reflections are going to require more than a couple of posts–there is too much to share. To be continued…