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PHOTOS: The Rebirth and Hype of Medellín Does Not Disappoint

It is not hard to understand why Medellín is being considered by many to be Colombia’s gem city.

From the moment I moved to Colombia, everyone I met talked about Medellín with a gleam in their eye. I half-expected to be disappointed once I finally arrived because of all the hype. Once I did arrive in the city, however, disappointment was not the reaction.

Sitting in a valley, surrounded by mountains on all sides, Medellín is an impressively modern city in the midst of a country still modernizing. Endowed with beautiful weather, clean environment and efficient work culture, it is a powerful part of the Colombian economy. For a city that a mere 20 years ago was among the most dangerous in the world, the transformation is remarkable and attests to the will of the people of Medellín.

Medellín’s transportation system consists of two grade-separated rail lines (elevated and ground-level), three metro cable lines, and two bus rapid transit lines. Maps of the metro system show a future extension of the smaller of the two rail lines.

While one of the metro cable lines is mostly for tourists, the other two have transformed commutes that used to take two hours through the winding streets of the city’s informal, working class neighborhoods into a short ride above the city that connects with the rail lines below. In addition to this, the city has a public bike share system.

While I was unable to see the extent to which the system was employed, the fact that they had it was very impressive. To go along with their bike share system, the city had a clear system of bike lanes on many of the streets. The city also has several grade-separated highways and large arterial roads, a problem in many Colombian cities.

In the first official episode of The UrbanCincy Podcast, we were joined by Natalia Gomez Rojas, a city planner from Bogotá, to discuss Colombia’s pursuit and implementation of bus rapid transit. The discussion also touched on a number of societal issues facing Colombia’s cities as they continue to develop and evolve in a post-drug cartel era. You can subscribe to The UrbanCincy Podcast on iTunes for free.

Up To Speed

How the prevalence of independent coffee shops is a reflection of where we live

How the prevalence of independent coffee shops are a reflection of where we live.

I love coffee and I especially love coffee shops. I find them to be a productive and relaxing third place in my life where I can also benefit from chance social encounters that are otherwise impossible from the comforts of your couch. Not to mention, good coffee (black) is absolutely delicious.

But so many people around the world get their coffee from big chain retailers. What does that mean for our neighborhood business districts, and what does it say about our communities if they are filled with only national chains, local chains or some sort of mixture? More from the Washington Post along with some great maps produced by MIT:

Coffee shops are unlike other community assets in that they enable us to mingle with strangers in ways that we might not in restaurants, to meet a wider range of people than we would in a bar, to linger in ways that we don’t at the grocery store, or to people-watch with an ease that would be awkward almost anywhere else. That’s not to say that coffee shops are the only places that potentially create such community (nor that they serve this function in all communities). But if high-end restaurants and organic groceries are signs of areas with a lot of literal capital, independent coffee shops are one plausible indicator of social capital.

Arts & Entertainment News Opinion

EDITORIAL: Dîner en Blanc – A Social Experiment

The Question: Would a couple pay $70 to attend an event where they do all of the work? The answer was yes for the 1,750 attendees of Cincinnati’s Dîner en Blanc, hosted two weekends ago in Washington Park.

Originating in 1988 in Paris, France, organizer François Pasquier invited friends to a dinner party. According to the Dîner en Blanc website, “So many wished to attend that he asked them to convene at Bois de Boulogne dressed in white, so as to be recognizable to one another.”

The dinner was a hit and more friends wanted to attend the following year, which created the concept of Dîner en Blanc. In 2009, Pasquier’s son, Aymeric, brought the tradition to North America with his partner, Sandy Safi.

Cincinnati Diner en Blanc
Nearly 2,000 people gathered in Washington Park two weekends ago, wearing all white, and paid $70 for the right to join in on a dinner where they prepared their own food and brought their own tableware. Photograph by 5chw4r7z.

Somewhere in those 20 years, Pasquier’s idea turned into a lofty for-profit venture. In addition to paying a $35 per person, guests of Dîner en Blanc are required to bring their own three course meal, plates, stemware, table settings, table linens, chairs, and a square table of specific dimensions, all of course, in the color white.

Attendees at Cincinnati’s second such event packed these items into their car, drove to a group meeting place, such as Kenwood Towne Center, and then loaded everything onto a bus that delivered them to a secret location. This year it was Washington Park where the haul was unloaded and set up by the guests themselves in 90 degree weather, all while dressed in their finest white attire.

First time guest, Bob Schwartz, offered this commentary, “The event is basically every party you’ve ever been to, except you’re dressed up and it’s a total pain getting there and leaving.”

Dîner en Blanc group leaders explain the high ticket price covers bus transportation to the location, permits, and other costs associated with the experience.

Park rental fees for a private event in the bandstand area are $2,500, with no need for a liquor permit as one is held by park management.To shuttle half of the 1,750 attendees, 18 charter buses were needed at$650 each. While still an expensive party to host, organizers spent roughly $25,000 on entertainment and fixed costs while earning $61,250 from admission sales.

Where does the remaining money go? Not to a charity. The  Dîner en Blanc FAQ states:

Is the Diner en Blanc associated wit a humanitarian or social cause?
What makes the Diner en Blanc so popular is that it’s a “distinct” evening. There are no sponsors, no political or ideological agendas. Le Diner en Blanc is simply a friendly gathering whose sole purpose is to experience a magical evening, in good company, in an environment which is both unusual and extraordinary.

True, it was an unusual gathering. Several Cincinnatians found the “distinct” evening to lack the one thing its description touts: class.

For two years, Dîner en Blanc has been hosted in areas struggling with issues of gentrification. Last year’s rendezvous took place in Lytle Park across from Anna Louise Inn, an affordable housing complex for women, which lost a long conflict with developers who want to convert the building into a hotel.

While the new Washington Park has been embraced by the community, critics remind that low-income, minority residents continue to feel isolated from the growth in Over-the-Rhine. Susan Jackson was concerned that the location created an inappropriate perception.

“I’m not sure white people should wear all white and gather in secret,” she commented after observing a predominantly Caucasian turnout at the event. Local blogger Carla Streeter agrees. She expressed her distaste for Dîner en Blanc by donating the price of admission to the Drop Inn Center, an organization that provides services to the homeless population.

Cincinnati is not the only city raising issue with Dîner en Blanc. Best of New Orleans ranted about the overpriced concept, while attendees in San Francisco complained of their rainy, frigid experience held in a dog park. None of this compares to the outrage in Singapore, where event organizers banned guests from bringing local delicacies, stating that these foods “were not in line with the image of Dîner en Blanc.”

Despite the negative imagery, costly tickets, and necessary labor, the mystery continues as to why excitement builds for Dîner en Blanc. Consider the appeal targeting a specific audience: suburbanites who lack spontaneous social exchanges due to the sprawl of their auto-dependent neighborhood. City dwellers are more likely to have daily personable interactions and access to unique entertainment based on their walkable environment. Taking part in a communal feast with friends sitting next to strangers in a public Downtown setting is a lure for those seeking an experience exclusive to city living.

The question remains: has society reached a point of urban dystopia where people find it acceptable to pay organizers for a face-to-face interaction? For now, word-of-mouth continues to reveal the dark side of Dîner en Blanc.

“If I want to have a picnic, I can do that any time, any day. My friends and I can dress up in all white and wave a napkin to our hearts’ content on our own,” described guest Naoko M. “You’re paying to feel like you’re in some exclusive group, a group of a few hundred people.”

Editor’s Note: This article was updated to reflect the correct price of the event.

Up To Speed

Can good design of our communities make us happier?

Can good design of our communities make us happier?.

There is enough literature available now to know that the way we shape and build our communities has a strong impact on our individual and collective happiness. Why some communities continue to ignore these core human principles is beyond me, but if we can build places based on the fundamental knowledge we already have, then we can build better places for human interaction and happiness. More from Better! Cities & Towns:

The way we design our communities plays a huge role in how we experience our lives. Neighborhoods built without sidewalks, for instance, mean that people walk less and therefore enjoy fewer spontaneous encounters, which is what instills a spirit of community to a place…You don’t have to be a therapist to realize that this creates lasting psychological effects. It thwarts the connections between people that encourage us to congregate, cooperate, and work for the common good. We retreat into ever more privatized existences.

Groupings of four to twelve households make an ideal community “where meaningful ‘neighborly’ relationships are fostered.” But even here, design shapes our destiny. Chapin explains that strong connections between neighbors develop most fully and organically when everyone shares some “common ground.” That can be a semi-public space, as in the pocket neighborhoods Chapin designs in the Seattle area.

Up To Speed

What does the decline of the nuclear family mean for America’s cities?

What does the decline of the nuclear family mean for America’s cities?.

What has long been considered to be the traditional family household in America is changing. People are living longer, young individuals are putting off marriage, women are increasingly becoming dominant in the workforce, and same-sex couples are taking a more prominent role in our society. These changes mean a variety of things socially, but it also means that our types of housing are and need to continue to change. More from Urbanophile:

As affluent people who choose to remain childless remain in more urban areas, and those who choose to have kids live in suburban ones, we’ll have legitimate matters of interest driving them apart politically. In a piece called “Geographies in Conflict” I noted how different economic geographies in the same physical space is an inherent conflict. Red states and blue states don’t just have different political points of views. They increasingly do different things. If you are Texas and are in the business of energy, chemicals, logistics, and manufacturing, the things that you need to be successful are very different from a Silicon Valley or Manhattan, which specialize in ultra-high end, high value service industries. The conflicts are as much a product of legitimate self-interest as political philosophy.

I think we’ll see similar conflicts between the needs, wants, and desires of the childless urban population and those of the suburban families with kids. It’s kind of nice to do your shopping daily on foot or by bicycle at the local market and such when you don’t have three kids to buy for and haul around with you. Bloomberg’s proposed micro-apartments in New York are an example of a market designed to cater to singles, not families. It’s not a matter of one being good and another bad. It’s merely that singles (or childless married couples) and people with children have very different priorities and concerns in life.