Social Urbanism

“Despite all the improvements, Medellín's residents continue to be displaced from their homes by inner city drug gangs and a half century of war, the world's longest lasting current conflict.”

In 2012, Colombia’s second largest city, Medellín, was voted ‘Most Innovative City’ in the world by the Wall Street Journal and CitiBank.

Through a governmental experiment in 'social urbanism', Medellín has put significant monetary investments into its poorer communities in an attempt to transform itself from one of the most notoriously violent places in the world into an innovative city of the future. 

In this series, our Sony ambassador Lianne Milton takes a candid look at the way the people of Medellín have been affected by their city’s large-scale urban development.

  • Lianne Milton

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/320, ISO: 100)

    A reflection of the neighbourhood of Moravia from the Moravia Cultural Development Center, a venue which opened in 2008 and offers music, art and cultural activities meant to improve the quality of life of Moravia's inhabitants. The neighbourhood was once the city's main garbage dump. Since 2005 the city improved pedestrian walkways, built bridges over the flood canals, opened healthcare centers and provided free public bicycles, as well as transforming the main garbage hill into a garden.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/160, ISO: 100)

    One of the remaining families on the "hill", the site of a new garden planted on top what was once Medellin's largest garbage dump. Since 2012, the city of Medellin has adopted an innovative project in the neighbourhood of Moravia to transform the city’s main garbage dump into a sustainable garden where 50,000 residents live. The new garden contains specific plants and bacteria meant to absorb gaseous toxins from the garbage. To implement the project, the city had to relocated approximately 14,000 families. Some families moved into high-rise public housing in the community, but others were moved to a remote area of the city, about an hour from their jobs and former neighbourhood.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/160, ISO: 100)

    Residents walk the path to the top of the 'hill', a former rubbish dump turned into a garden.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/100, ISO: 100)

    Residents take in the view at the top of the 'hill', a former rubbish dump turned into a garden.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/40, ISO: 800)

    The neighbourhood of Moravia.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 3.5, Shutter: 1/80, ISO: 3200)

    Homeless people and drug users gather along the Medellin River waiting for sugar water and bread from a Christian church, the Fundacion Ciudad Refugio. The city has a homeless population of around 3,500 people, and only two city shelters that can house 800 people per day.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/320, ISO: 100)

    A street scene near the Santo Domingo metro-cable in Comuna 1; the first of several transformation projects in Medellin that connect the city's poorest neighbourhoods to the metro in the city center.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/125, ISO: 100)

    A man stands and looks at cable cars going past a lookout point near the Santo Domingo metro-cable in Comuna 1; the first of several transformation projects in Medellin that connect the city's poorest neighbourhoods to the metro in the city center.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/160, ISO: 3200)

    Young people from the Santo Domingo neighbourhood hang out at the Parque Biblioteca Espana, once seen as a symbolic representation of integration in Medellin's most violent neighbourhoods but now in a state of disrepair with black construction netting strung up to catch the pieces of the facade from falling. Large numbers of residents were evicted when the library was built.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 100)

    A farmer walks up a hillside near the 46-mile-long concrete walking and cycling 'greenbelt' which encircles a valley on the edge of Medellin and is designed to curb urban sprawl. Not all residents are enthusiastic about the project. Some prefer the old, dirt path that was there before. Many people living in this area are farmers displaced by the half century long conflict in Colombia.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 100)

    A young woman takes a break on a section of the 46-mile-long concrete walking and cycling 'greenbelt' which encircles a valley on the edge of Medellin and is designed to curb urban sprawl.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/3200, ISO: 100)

    A hillside community is reflected in the mirror windows of the Parque-Biblioteca San Javier in Comuna 13; the most dangerous district in Medellin. In 2006, the city built the pubic library, a new school, public green spaces, and improved access to transportation through a cable car line and escalators connecting the neighbourhoods to the metro and the city.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/800, ISO: 100)

    A woman leaves the 384-metre-long escalator in Comuna 13; the most dangerous district in Medellin. In 2006, the city built a public library, a new school, public green spaces, and improved access to transportation through a cable car line and escalators connecting the neighbourhoods to the metro and the city. To implement these changes, the military and paramilitaries conducted 17 operations to drive out the leftist guerrillas that once controlled the district and the main highway that connects to the coastal ports. In 2002, the last and final military advancement called Operation Orion killed 17 people. Throughout these operations, hundreds of residents disappeared. Residents were caught in the deadly crossfire between violent police, army, paramilitary and guerillas. Comuna 13 is the only district with a military base that regularly patrols the area.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/2500, ISO: 100)

    A 384-metre-long escalator in Comuna 13; the most dangerous district in Medellin.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/640, ISO: 100)

    A member of an army unit stationed in Comuna 13, the most dangerous district in Medellin, walks between washing lines on the roof of one of the buildings. There are eight bases with 140 soldiers in the district. In 2006, the city built a public library, a new school, public green spaces, and improved access to transportation through a cable car line and escalators connecting the neighbourhoods to the metro and the city.

    Open fullscreen
  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 100)

    Members of an army unit stationed in Comuna 13, the most dangerous district in Medellin, Colombia. There are eight bases with 140 soldiers in the district. In 2006, the city built a public library, a new school, public green spaces, and improved access to transportation through a cable car line and escalators connecting the neighbourhoods to the metro and the city.

    Open fullscreen
  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/200, ISO: 400)

    Marta Chica Lopez, 27, points to a dead chicken near the chicken coop. Her son, Juan Esteban, 6, left sits on her knees. Her daughter Luciana, 2, center, and nephew, right also look on at their home in the neighbourhood of Moravia, a former garbage dump. Marta grew up in this two-story house that her grandfather built 24 years ago out of a patchwork of wood scraps. Since 2012, the city of Medellin began an innovative project in Moravia to transform the city’s main garbage dump into a sustainable garden where 50 thousand residents live. The new garden contains specific plants and bacteria meant to absorb gaseous toxins from the garbage. To implement the project, the city had to relocated about 14,000 families. Some families moved into high-rise public housing in the community, but others were moved to a remote area of the city, about an hour from their jobs and former neighbourhood.

    Open fullscreen
  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/400, ISO: 400)

    Francenny Acevedo, 14, plays with her cousin, Derick Yisslan, 2, on their balcony in Nuevo Occidente, a massive social housing complex of mostly displaced or forcibly evicted families in Medellin. 18 family members live in a 70 square meter apartment given to them by the city in order to relocate the family from Moravia, a former garbage dump turned garden. The family's world takes place mostly inside their apartment. The children do not play outside because the parents say it’s too dangerous with speeding motorbikes and bad neighbours. The family says the city promised parks and programs for the children, but they never came. They often miss their old neighbourhood.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/250, ISO: 1600)

    Esica Garcia Acevedo, 32, and her daughter, Migadnia, 8, look out the window of their flat in Nuevo Occidente, a massive social housing complex of mostly displaced or forcibly evicted families in Medellin.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/1250, ISO: 100)

    A gardener plants in a garden bed in Moravia, a former garbage dump.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/800, ISO: 100)

    Marta Chica Lopez, 27, and Luciana, 2, walk through the garden that was once a garbage dump in the neighbourhood of Moravia, where she grew up. Marta lives in a two-story house that her grandfather built 24 years ago out of a patchwork of wood scraps. Since 2012, the city of Medellin began an innovative project in Moravia to transform the city’s main garbage dump into a sustainable garden where 50 thousands residents live. The new garden contains specific plants and bacteria meant to absorb gaseous toxins from the garbage. To implement the project, the city had to relocated about 14,000 families. Some families moved into high-rise public housing in the community, but others were moved to a remote area of the city, about an hour from their jobs and former neighbourhood.

    Open fullscreen
  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/1250, ISO: 100)

    From the metro-cable, a view of Nuevo Occidente, a large social housing complex of mostly displaced or forcibly evicted families, in Medellin.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/250, ISO: 1600)

    Gloria Acevedo Restrepo's family in Nuevo Occidente, a massive social housing complex of mostly displaced or forcibly evicted families in Medellin.

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  • Medellín

    Lianne Milton

    Medellín

    Sony α7S, 35mm f/2.8 lens, (F-Stop: 2.8, Shutter: 1/1250, ISO: 200)

    Nuevo Occidente, a massive large housing complex of mostly displaced or forcibly evicted families, in Medellin, Many people living here were relocated from Moravia, a rubbish dump turned garden, which the city put in place to improve the lives of local residents.

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Lianne Milton

Lianne Milton

“What I love about photography is creating, connecting, collaborating and discovering interesting moments to share with the world.”

Lianne Milton is an American editorial and documentary photographer based in Brazil. 

Her work focuses on the effects of politics on people and their environments, in places such as Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the United States. Her most important project to date, La Vida No Vale Nada, which examines the effects of post-civil war violence in Guatemala, was awarded the 2013 PDN Photo Annual in documentary and 2012/2013 Latin American Photography Award, among other recognitions. 

Social Urbanism is Lianne’s second series for #FutureofCities. The story takes a candid look at the way the people of Medellín have been affected by their city’s large-scale urban development.

In her first #FutureofCities story, The Big Pool, Lianne explored the Piscinão de Ramos, an artificial pool in Rio de Janerio’s highly polluted Guanabara Bay.

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