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