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American Society of Landscape Architects

 

January 2007 Issue

 

Barefoot in the Park
A new park lies at the heart of a reviving Colombian city.

By Jimena Martignoni

Barefoot in the Park Carlos Tobon

In Colombia, Medellin is known as “the city of everlasting spring” because of the pleasantly warm weather it enjoys year-round—a kinder moniker than “base of the world’s strongest drug-trafficking organizations,” which is how the city was better known internationally in the past, especially in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nowadays, the peace process that the national government started in the late 1990s has achieved meaningful changes in the sociopolitical scene here, turning a once-scary place into the home of an increasingly optimistic community. The process began in 1998 with President Misael Pastrana, who started a dialogue with Colombia’s guerrillas and armed groups to force them out of the cities. The current administration of President Alvaro Uribe Velez took the process to the next level, and the results are finally showing. In Medellin itself, three consecutive mayors have been responsible for the city’s turnaround: Juan Gomez Martinez (1998–2000), under whose administration the Barefoot Park project was born; Luis Pérez Gutiérrez (2001– 2003); and current mayor Sergio Fajardo Valderrama, who has worked the hardest to foster a holistic physical and social transformation of Medellin by creating a more integrative plan for the city. The results of their efforts are tangible: It is now far easier for residents and visitors to enjoy the celebrated weather in carefree comfort and even to take a pleasure drive without fear through the luxuriantly green landscape in the mountains around the city.

Parque de los Pies Descalzos, or Barefoot Park, is a 4.7-acre public park completed a couple of years ago in the heart of Medellin. The park was named for the spontaneous response of kids who, when visiting for the first time, kicked off their shoes to experience the site’s different water features and varied ground surfaces of sand, grass, and stone. Today the park offers guided walks for schoolchildren and tourists, who are urged to take off their shoes to enjoy the park more tangibly.

Barefoot Park was born in 2000 as part of a set of social and cultural programs promoted by Medellin’s Fundacion Empresas Publicas de Medellin, or Public Enterprises Foundation. Empresas Publicas de Medellin (EPM) is an administrative and financial group created in 1950 when the essential public utilities of Medellin (electricity, drinking water, and telecommunication) merged to form a single organization. Since then EPM has been providing public services to the city and, having acquired stock in other large companies, has become the strongest financial force in Medellin.

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