Comuna 13, Medellin

One of the most interesting places we visited in Medellin was Comuna 13, a changing working class neighborhood built into a steep hillside. We very much wanted to see the neighborhood because it's well know for both street art and a newly built series of outdoor escalators that are part of the city's ongoing program to improve social conditions by linking outer (or economically deprived neighborhoods) with the center. These public transportation initiative have become symbolic of the so called "social urbanism" in Medellin, which combines  access, new public buildings symbolizing a returning presence of the state, and improved public spaces.

Comuna 13 was notoriously the most dangerous part of a very dangerous city, but just as things have changed for the better in Medellin as a whole, they've changed in Comuna 13 too. This report from 2011 outlines how bad the  situation was for residents.  Clearly the city is very proud of the escalators which have garnered international press and have become their own tourist attraction.  But the   question remains have they made an economic and social impact on the neighborhood?
This is a densely populated neighborhood with small homes packed in tightly. There are small steep stairs climbing up the hillsides in-between the houses and I could see that it would be easy to get lost up here if you didn't know where you were going. In a way it reminded me of Naples or Rio.
This may be a working class neighborhood but you can see the pride many people have in their homes. These people have created an incredible hanging garden on their house. We found people friendly and many of the doors were open to people were sitting in the doorways or out in the street. One woman told me she'd lived there for twenty years and had migrated from the coast where she was from. The guide looked nervous as D. suggested walking back down through the neighborhood rather than taking the escalators back down the hill. "I've never done that" he said.
Here you can see the series of covered escalators making their way down the hillside. This is a regulated public space and the escalators are patrolled by a security team in distinctive red jackets who are employed by  the local transportation company.
The escalators didn't seem very busy when we were there but then perhaps most people were at work.
As we found all over Medellin,and very often in Colombia, the views were spectacular. 
There was lots of street art everywhere, much of it commissioned in the last few years.
Overall the neighborhood was very colorful, a man told me these decorations were up for Christmas.
Quite a lot of the houses were painted too as you can see below.
There was much more street art much of it sponsored by the city.
It isn't all commissioned, I liked the old school graph below.
When you are walking around the neighborhood in the narrow stairways and alleys you sometimes catch sight of the expansive view.
In several places the street art matches compliments the colors of a nearby house, I'm not sure which came first the pink house or the grafitti?
Because we were only in Medellin for a short time we visited Communa 13 with our city guide, but our preference would have been to spend more time here. There is  a company called Communa 13 Tours  which looked promising, though I don't think it's a local operation.  There's also a graffiti tour which I'd certainly check out if we went back. 
I'd highly recommend visiting Communa 13. You can stop for a homemade icecream in the small shop near the entrance to the first escalator. I loved both the green mango and the passionfruit. Or you can buy them directly from people's homes. You'll see the small sign in the window. 
As we got into our car to drive on to see another part of Medellin I saw this woman on the telephone and I couldn't remember the last time I'd see someone using a public telephone... 


Laura said…
This is great!! Such a good idea to paint murals in areas like this. And your comment about the pay phones made me laugh - here in Guatemala people use their mobile phones to find a phone number and then actually call the person from a payphone!
Thanks for the comment Laura - interesting to hear how they use the phones in Guatamala!