“Corredores de Agua, Corrientes de Poder,” or “Corridors of Water, Steams of Power,” is a project proposal embedded in the community of Santa Cruz, a barrio located in Medellín, Colombia. The proposal was part of the “Santa Cruz Visible” project, a partnership between the Design and Urban Ecologies program at Parsons, Corporación Cultural Nuestra Gente (Casa Amarilla), an activist community group in Comuna 2 Santa Cruz, and the URBAM program of EAFIT University located in Medellín, Colombia.
The research phase of the project consisted of extensive historical and contemporary analysis of social, political, economic and land-use processes, on both a local and global scale. Additionally, with on-the-ground fieldwork and input from local agents we looked to develop a community urban action plan around issues of new labor relations while fostering networks of economic sustainability, social cohesion and land-use projects of community development that lie within the mission of Casa Amarilla’s Community Development Project.
“Corredores de Agua, Corrientes de Poder” was one such project of the community action plan that was centered around the several creeks that run through the neighborhood. Research began by looking at the history of Colombia through the lenses of political economy, social infrastructure and communal processes. Through a graphic timeline I was able to diagram the relationships of land tenure, politics, economy and exchange. with the objective of identifying points of ‘rupture,’ or contributing events which shaped the definition of a new system.
Engaging Local Agents
Specifically, Law 388 of 1997 served as a natural rupture point enabling me to zoom in on Medellín and Santa Cruz. The law enabled a top-down city effort creating a process for the formalization of ownership in the informally settled comunas, and led to local land-use and infrastructure development projects including social housing, street paving, and the development of public libraries.
Focusing on the politics and economy of tenure formalization, my research showed a complicated power dynamic revealing a developing class divide of renters and owners. Additionally, local fieldwork revealed that the ‘home’ in Comuna 2 serves as a major focal point of communal processes, and these top-down formalization efforts show a disruption in those processes and has led to a unique form of gentrification as well as rising utility costs.
Local research revealed that due to political, economic and social conditions in Medellín, and Colombia in general, the creeks have become a site of dense informal settlement and low-income enclave, a polluted health hazard, an environmental risk due to the steep geography and history of flooding, and invisible boundaries separating often competing factions of neighborhoods. The project sought to address these issues by proposing the development of a series of local water cooperative networks–local community groups, sponsored by the city, which directly benefit from an integrated creek management plan.
The plan itself calls for the implementation of water capture and remediation techniques through a series of locks constructed along the route of the creeks, which also serve as a flood control mechanism when combined with other methods such as greywater capture and silvo-pastoral systems. The plan allows for the cooperative networks to use the creeks as a public water utility, enabling a ‘middle-out’ form of community ownership, lessening the reliance and burden on Colombia’s national utility coporation EPM, and uses the creek as a public use and educational space, strengthening communal processes and breaking down invisible neighborhood boundaries.
Santa Cruz Visible. Parsons School of Design, The New School. New York City. May 2014. View in Issuu