5 February 2012


Beth Broome, Architectural Record: Escaleras Electricas, Medellín, Columbia

Beth Broome, writing for Architectural Record took a recent trip to Medellín, once known as a drug-trafficking capitol, now known for its extensive infrastructure projects. She writes about a new public escalator servicing a hilly part of town; my impression was she finds the presence of the new engineering to be perhaps a little disconcerting.

The escalator project is part of a longer procession that begins at the end of the Metro’s B line, and, via new sidewalks and parks and the like, goes up and up to the top of Communa 13, which spreads across the steep mountainside. (There are few roads here, so people get around on footpaths and long runs of stairs.) The project’s piece de resistance, of course, is the string of six escalators that carries residents 12 stories up the hillside. Shiny and bombastic, the machines, a marketing banner for the city, steal the show.

The neighborhood is run-down, and not known for being the safest place in the community. I was captivated by the thought that they did this, and I recalled another urban escalator that was met with some skepticism at its beginning. The escalators at Mid Level, Hong Kong.

It too was not warmly received when it first opened. It was considered to be a waste of resources allocated towards transportation in the city. However, since it first opened up in the early 1990s, its ridership is double of what was originally anticipated.

From the Danish website
Sustainable Cities:

Nevertheless, some huge benefits were suddenly realized as private developers and entrepreneurs began developing the “second level” that the escalator system had created.

It turns out that given the topography and density of the city, that there was simply no better way to accommodate all of the people coming and going through the neighborhood. By giving quick and effortless access, all kinds of possibilities opened up. The economics of the neighborhood were transformed.

Photograph by yeowatzupon Flickr: Mid Level Escalators, Hong Kong

Cities are created by many thousands of big and little decisions and commitments. Building a gleaming escalator in the middle of a poor hillside neighborhood may seem quixotic at best, and a horrible mis-allocation of resources at worst. I believe that the Medellín government, if it can maintain its commitment, will have made a wise choice. If the new escalator system is well cared for over time, I am quite certain that this neighborhood will flourish.

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