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Area of interest: Moravia and surroundings

Moravia is located at the very urban core of the city. It is a settlement of approximately 104 acres in area, with around 40 000 people and according to report, the current public space index is of 0.37 sqm/person. An interesting and at the same time characteristic is that the “barrio” grew in an area that was designated as the city’s dumpster.

The settlement grew as an enclave, separate from its surroundings, yet encircled by large gestures of public space and transportation nodes. Located near by are the Botanical Garden, The Planetarium, Music Center, Parque de los Deseos (the Park of Dreams), Parque Norte (North Park), a couple of metro stations, the North Terminal (for ground transportation), the University of Antioquia (a public university in the city) and the more recently constructed science museum: Parque Explora.

There are various sectors in the settlement itself (each one consisted of its own identity and origin)- El Bosque, Moravia Centro, Llanitos, Milan, la Playa, el Oasis and el Morro. The last 2 mentioned are sectors located on large mounds of garbage!!

Moravia began as a linear settlement bordering Medellin’s railroad, adjacent to the North Station in the early 1900s (a big reason for this was the solidity of the soil next the railroad, which contrasted to the humidity and instability of the surrounding ground). As the settlement grew (especially in the 1950s due to the political war and violence that was taking place in the country’s rural areas), so did some of the industries and institutions around it. Because of the lack of waste management in the city, Moravia slowly (and informally) became the wasteland for its surrounding area, and in the late 1970s, the city declared it as the official city’s dumpster.

Moravia in the early 1900s; looking North (The Parque Norte can be seen on the bottom of the photograph)

Although it may seem contradictory, more people began to settle in the area since having a dumpster also meant opportunities for employment- recycling, garbage recollection, etc. As such, the settlement continued to grow and the proximity to the railroad made it one of the first areas newcomers would seek. This proximity to the main transportation system also meant that Moravia also became home to a large black market and “pirate” activities.

Colombia is a very interesting and at the same time complex country to look at since the country’s recent history (the last 60 to 70 years) is very much tied to an internal war with Guerrilla, Paramilitary groups, and Drug Cartels. Paralleling the country, Moravia’s history is also tied to the violence and manipulation incited by these groups. The proximity to the Universidad de Antioquia and the Universidad Nacional (which share similar ideals to communist and Guerrilla groups in the 1950s and 60s- before they united with the Drug Cartels and became a simple terrorist group) led to strong ties with the ELN, M19 (two Guerrilla groups) and obviously the University. On the one hand, these ties helped the settlers defend themselves (physically and politically) from eviction; and on the other, they lead to land trafficking as the Guerrilla would illegally sell to the newcomers in the area. In parallel, Pablo Escobar, the famous leader of the Medellin Drug Cartel, used this settlement (as well as others) to legitimize his actions and political campaign, “Medellin without slums” (Medellin sin tugurios). He constructed Moravia’s soccer (futbol) field and even constructed the equivalent of a small town in order to relocate families in great need, or in the case of Moravia, families who had lost their home after a fire (as one can imagine, these were quite common in Moravia, particularly in the Oasis and Morro sectors).

Moravia grew through auto-construction yet remained very hermetic, disconnected to the surrounding (formal) city’s infrastructure (water, sewage, electricity, streets, etc) and even city life. There were many environmental problems, as well as unemployment. As the city’s dumpster, the area smelled horribly (and still smells), and many gazes- toxic and very flammable- were constantly being dispersed in the air. Nevertheless, one would find grass, flowers and trees growing over the garbage mounts, and some of the residents would even grow crops (not realizing the levels of toxicity at stake).

In 1983- the city closed the dumpster and a land rehabilitation process, accompanied by eviction and displacement, slowly began to take place.  In the 1990s, the violence in the settlement grew as local bands, and militia groups linked to Guerrilla, began to form and fight for power. These internal battles made Moravia, according to homicide and other violence statistics, “one of the most dangerous barrios in the World”.

Around the same time, the country witnesses the first de-mobilization process for the Guerrilla, and the first planning interventions took place in Moravia. Moreover, the Habitat School at the Universidad Nacional (the largest public university system in Colombia) began, with the support of the municipality, a thorough documentation and investigation the area. The school ended up with an impressive analysis and proposal for the different housing typologies, population densities, access and circulation, use of space, income levels, etc. This study, although published, was not followed faithfully in the government interventions (close to the year 2004).

In the next post, I will describe the actual interventions and my experience in the area.

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