Sunday, May 01, 2011

Urban planning success

The current problems with drugs and violence in Mexico have heightened interest in Colombia and the successes of the Uribe regime.  Francis Fukuyama and Seth Colby provide some interesting observations in the May/June 2011 Foreign Policy ("Half a Mircale: Medellín's rebirth is nothing short of astonishing. But have the drug lords really been vanquished?")

Notably included are urban planning successes in Medellín.

... It would take a political revolution, however, to turn the ideas into a real-world policy agenda. This revolution was led by a newcomer to politics: Sergio Fajardo, a professor with a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Wisconsin who became mayor in 2004, boosted by an unorthodox coalition of business people, grassroots community organizers, and the middle class.
Telegenic with his trademark blue jeans, open shirt, and curly locks, Fajardo began writing a regular column in the 1990s for the Medellín newspaper El Mundo about local politics. "We realized," Fajardo told us, "that politicians are the ones who make important decisions in society whether we like it or not, so we said to ourselves that we have to get into politics. Instead of saying how things should be, we said this is the way it is done." In Fajardo's view, Medellín had two fundamental, and related, problems: extreme inequality and a culture of violence. Fajardo believed that policies aimed at repairing the city's damaged social fabric could alleviate both.
The most striking feature of Fajardo's approach was his plan to erect high-quality public architecture in Medellín's poorest neighborhoods. "Architecture sends an important political message," he says. "When you go to the poorest neighborhood and build the city's most beautiful building, that gives a sense of dignity." Fajardo and his colleagues believed in social urbanism: the idea that modernist buildings and transportation systems of the sort Libia Gomez now enjoys would help bridge the enormous gulf of distrust separating the poor from mainstream society. In barrios like Santo Domingo and Comuna 13, the city created digitized maps of every street and building, noting where drug gangs operated and money flowed, and devised architectural features to disrupt them.

This sounds like "broken windows" on steroids.  Pay attention to appearances in a credible way and good things happen.  Good things here happened in the context described in the rest of the piece.


I should be clear.  I am not referring to "broken windows" in the Bastiat parable sense, which parodied the idea that there are stimulative benefits from destruction.  I meant to refer to the Kelling-Wilson idea that physical repairs signal that there is civilization rather than anarchy.