When I graduated high school in 2005, I wanted to explore the world. I went off to Costa Rica, to live and work in the capital San Jose, for 6 months. This was quite a step from Roden, the village in the north of the Netherlands where I grew up. I remember finding my way in the complex bus system, the street vendors that appeared out of nowhere to sell umbrellas when it started raining, Nicaraguan immigrants building their own houses along the roads, etcetera. What makes these cities so much different than the cities I knew? These impressions got me interested in urban development.
the years in between
After finishing my urban geography degree, I worked with CITIES Foundation, Jonge Honden and Ideate to learn about people, social and urban challenges, working on solutions, entrepreneurship and of course, about myself. My personal and professional focus gradually shifted from trying to ‘understand’ cities to making an impact myself. To improve cities and develop solutions (policy, processes, services, places) that work. The process of urban innovation itself became my point of focus.
Many big problems, such as reducing waste and carbon emissions and preventing exclusion on every scale are strongly rooted in cities. Their solutions need to work within the same urban context. Solutions that improve accessibility of services and jobs, that decrease congestion and pollution, and allow people to stay or get healthy and smart. Understanding the people affected by these problems and involving stakeholders is key to developing solutions that work; that are adapted and sustainable. This is where innovation comes in. Design thinking is tailored to do just that: to design products and services that fit with needs. Products and services that work. The same approach can be used to develop policies, processes and even places.
But, isn’t it dangerous?
Medellin was a notorious city, just 20 years ago, and is still very much suffering from its scars and stigma. However, it has undergone an inspiring transformation led by a strong vision on involving the public. The government has built libraries and schools, invested in public transport and accessibility, in education and public spaces. Cable carts have minimised commuting times from the poor comunas to the center, the bike sharing program helps people to get from a to b for free without their cars.
This much celebrated process, social urbanism, has been an inspiration for many cities around the world. And for me. I visited Medellin 10 years ago and have wanted come back for a longer period, ever since. So, I did.
Me and my girlfriend have landed here last month on a single ticket, found an apartment, and are currently looking to get involved in projects. I’m planning to learn about the transformation from citizens and professionals that were part of the transformation. I will share what I learn, about social urbanism, biking, informal entrepreneurship, cable carts, public space, libraries and architecture.
Also I’m looking to make a positive impact on the cities current challenges and earn my living doing so. If this ambition doesn’t work, we will have lived in a great city and leave with many new impressions. And if we like it, we might just stay!
I’m here now. What do you want to know about the challenges and solutions of Medellin?