Franziska von Blumenthal
UCL Institute of Education
This study explores the effect of social urban interventions on the neighbourhoods in the northeastern zone of Medellín and asks whether these effects can positively affect the environments of adolescents and keep them distanced from the illegal groups that continue to exert influence in the area. Educational infrastructure, transport services and upgrading projects sought to minimise the influence of criminal actors in the area and provide better opportunities to residents. Whilst homicide and violent crime rates have dropped, qualitative data measuring youth perceptions of safety, the neighbourhood and educational prospects does not exist. Adolescents participating in the study demonstrate little faith in formal authorities and institutions and express a complex relationship with illegal groups whose presence is described as a necessary evil. The interventions of Social Urbanism have done little to curb the influence of these groups and educational facilities have had limited success in supporting out of school learning, particularly after the closure of the Spain Library – an iconic feature of the social change the urban policies represented. Physical distance from the presence of illegal actors (in the case of students studying outside the neighbourhood) proved positive, with students demonstrating higher educational and life aspirations. The adolescents perceive the interventions necessary but also self-serving for the local government looking to promote and export the city’s global brand. Strict and confusing behavioural codes within facilities and a continuous deficit in quality educational services drive questions as to whom the interventions serve and fuel mistrust amongst the adolescents who feel they are perceived as guilty until proven innocent. The blind conformity to behavioural rules in public spaces and facilities is perceived as not unlike the actions of the illegal groups, leading adolescents to navigate an environment in which they are simultaneously potential victims and perceived perpetrators.