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POBLADO, MEDELLÍN AND SLUM CLEARANCES

Have you noticed entire neighborhoods are just disappearing before our eyes?

The housing of the poor being systematically destroyed in swanky Poblado, Medellín, Colombia in 2019.

In the late nineteenth century, London carried out the systematic destruction of the housing of the 'poor' - an architectural and social cleansing project now referred to as the 'Slum Clearances'. Although this was done in the name of ridding the city of London of inadequate housing conditions, in reality it was not done to benefit the under-privileged evicted tenants, but to get rid of them.


This attitude of the wealthy land-owning and / or freehold owning class towards those whose rather more precarious housing offends their aesthetic sensibilities, is repeated today in the neighborhood of Poblado - Medellín's wealthiest neighborhood (if you don't count Alto de Las Palmas, which technically is now part of nearby Envigado).


The 'Slum 'Clearance' of Aldwych and Kingsway in Victorian era London, England.
Many people, it seems, do not want to be reminded of the reality of the housing conditions of the most vulnerable sectors of the Colombian population, and certainly do not want this as their 'view', let alone as their neighbour. The strategy of merely 'getting rid of the other', 'making them disappear', rather than trying to aid them or attempt to live in harmony with them, seems entrenched.

For the most part, Poblado is a neighborhood of the city characterized by orange towers oozing with luxury. Apartments here have numerous terraces, bonsai gardens, and jacuzzi spa facilities as standard alongside multi-story carparks for families with more cars than offspring. However, because of the way Poblado began, (as an area of the hillside where families built fincas to escape the now out of fashion neighborhood of Laureles), there is a culture of disposable housing in this part of town. Here it is onwards and upwards; often literally. Indeed, one is reminded of J. G. Ballard's novel 'High Rise':


“They thrived on the rapid turnover of acquaintances, the lack of involvement with others, and the total self-sufficiency of lives which, needing nothing, were never dissapointed.” ― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise 

Less wealthy inhabitants began to establish little businesses in Poblado such as tailoring services and cobblers to cater for the wealthier 'neighbours', but as space became scarcer, and land prices increased, the wealthy no longer wanted to be situated too closely alongside persons they considered should belong 'somewhere else' - wherever that is. Oddly, despite Poblado's 'prestige', basic infrastructure in this part of Medellín is rather inadequate. Currently roads and bridges have to be inserted in, to mixed effect, and pavements are not standard, since Poblado is a neighborhood where if you have to walk somewhere because you don't own a car you really shouldn't be there in the first place. Shall we have some more Ballard?


“A new social type was being created by the apartment building, a cool, unemotional personality impervious to the psychological pressures of high-rise life, with minimal needs for privacy, who thrived like an advanced species of machine in the neutral atmosphere. This was the sort of resident who was content to do nothing but sit in his over-priced apartment, watch television with the sound turned down, and wait for his neighbours to make a mistake.” ― J.G. Ballard, High-Rise 

Where do these defenseless families whose homes have been decimated go to? Does anyone else wonder? Are they resettled? Of course not. Many of these people have built these houses with their own hands, and they have achieved this gradually as their fortunes allowed, buying a few bricks at a time and knowing they would never be able to plaster the walls. They always knew that their labour could be destroyed in an instant, but they needed to put a roof over their children's heads somehow. These people never get the support they need from local government to live in a better-built home, they just dissolve into the ether, which was always the plan all along.


'Slum clearances' to build the Blackwall Tunnel in Victorian era South London, England.

To the people who say, "but they are building roads and water pipelines", I say: "but they aren't knocking down the fancy apartment blocks to build them, are they?" It is always the poor and disadvantaged who lose out when the wealthy decide they don't want to acknowledge their existence or see their laundry hanging from a street-visible washing line. Often illiterate, and without access to any state protections, the stories of these evicted people become lost to history; untold and silent but for the ghosts and the cut-corners faulty construction practices which haunt the luxury buildings which replace them. 


But isn't there a karmic and political relationship between the way the poor and 'the other' are treated in Colombia and the frequent cases of necessary controlled explosions of new-build apartment towers found to have shoddy workmanship and corrupt planning? There appears to be an attitude from the developers and rich neighbours of "well, I don't have to live in it / look at the victim(s) in the face so who cares? I'll just take the cash for selling off my land or cut costs and then I'll run. If I don't have to see the other's suffering, then it is as if it isn't happening."


I'm not sure how many see or care about the connection.