“This is Tierra Amada (beloved land), where the hummingbird makes you very happy,” so does Doña Gloria González to all who arrive at her house, located in Altavista, one of the five townships of Medellín. “And I give everyone a lot of affection with coffee or tea.” She prepares them with plants that she takes directly from her garden. She has lemon grass, basil, citron, stevia, nettle, sage and mint. She also has other plants that she directly brings to her kitchen, such as coriander, corn, and beans. “During the entire pandemic, I never had to go to the store to buy beans. It is better to get food from here, from my house,” she says with a sense of pride.
Taking food from nearby crops is no longer the privilege of some European countries or cities like Seattle, in the United States, pioneers in the implementation of urban edible gardens. Medellín is moving in giant steps in the exploitation of the territory to transform it into green and sustainable landscapes, with abundance of life, biodiversity and the possibility of sustenance for many families.
These ecogardens or ecoOrchards are just the tip of a pencil the city uses to write a new page in the history of its struggle to protect the environment. According to Sandra Muñoz, Secretary of the Environment of Medellín, “The city is committed to making its territory ever more sustainable, so we are formulating the Climate Action Plan (PAC for its acronym in Spanish), with the aim of developing strategies for the mitigation and adaptation of the city to the effects of global warming.”
The city’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2050. “This is an important contribution to keeping the global temperature rise to a maximum of 1.5°C, according to the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement,” adds Muñoz.
The CAP is also articulated with C40, a climate leadership network of 97 cities around the world, which are setting the path to a healthier and more sustainable future. The key here is the international cooperation and knowledge exchange promoted by ACI Medellín. “The mayors of the C40 cities, which represent more than 700 million citizens and a quarter of the world’s economy, are committed to meeting the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, as well as cleaning up the air we breathe,” highlighted in its most recent report (2019).
The acting Secretary explains that the CAP demonstrates how Medellín will adapt and improve its resilience to climate threats, especially resulting from rising temperatures and more intense rains. To date, the Secretariat of the Environment, an entity that leads its formulation and development, has a first draft that includes the diagnosis and actions to be implemented. “We look forward to delivering the Climate Action Plan to the city in 2020,” adds Sandra Muñoz.
Food Grown at Home
As Doña Gloria and her “Tierra amada,” thousands of citizens are cultivating their food thanks to the EcoOrchards project, an initiative that stems from the need to optimize the geographical advantages that the Valley of Aburrá has: solar radiation, climate, average temperature per year and annual rains.
“With them we seek to achieve mission objectives, such as the protection of natural resources, soil, the management and transformation of organic waste, training in good environmental practices and transforming environments,” explains the acting Secretary of the Environment. This strategy also contributes to the second United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 2030: ending hunger, achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.
Gloria González started her own EcoOrchard in 2019. She says that her favorite part is “when the little plants are sprouting. I always discover when a flower is born. It makes me very excited.” She began on a piece of land of the Community Local Board, accompanied by ten other women. “There, we started and managed to get the first products out. They were beautiful people.”
She now receives baskets from the Secretariat to maintain the orchard at home. “Because almost everything is cement, I find it a delicacy to have that motivation and desire for a greener city. It is also being done on a small scale so as to be achieved. We even plant edibles on the balconies,” she explains as she shares her list of benefits of the ecoOrchards for her community: to avoid hunger, diminish violence, improve the quality of life and increase our love for the earth.
The ecoOrchards want to educate in composting practices, to identify their benefits in reducing organic solid waste that reaches the landfill.
Due to the pandemic, interest in producing food from home, and also in applications for the implementation of orchards, has increased. Therefore, the Secretariat has strengthened training through partnerships with institutions such as the Urban Development Enterprise (EDU, for its acronym in Spanish), the Secretariat for Youth and the Remington Educational Institution. “By September, there were about 4,200 people trained to grow their own orchards. In that month, we resumed face-to-face visits, with the aim of strengthening existing orchards and implementing new ones.”
Several secretariats have included strategies geared toward ecoOrchards: Social Inclusion, Women, Education, Economic Development and Youth. The objective is to strengthen the project and unify a collective work plan, to have a greater impact on the city.
Among the youngest, the “Terrestres” strategy was implemented. “This will serve to strengthen food security, the sustainability of the planet, and, of course, as a result, improve our mental health,” says Alejandro Matta, Secretary for Youth. 441 young people between the ages of 14 and 28 have already received the first kits. Thus, the participation of the whole community in the construction of an Ecocity is reaffirmed.
What is an Ecocity?
The fourth strategic line of the Plan for Development “Medellín Futuro 2020 – 2023” focuses on the creation of an Ecocity, “a commitment to the recognition of the interdependence between human beings and ecosystems in general, to promote alternative forms of production, reproduction of life and habitability in the territory,” as read in the document.
The main objective is to definitively link Medellin into dynamics for environmental sustainability. To achieve this, goals were established from four components:
- Sustainable and intelligent mobility.
- Public utilities, alternative energy and solid waste utilization.
- Conservation and protection of all life forms.
- Ecological urbanism.
The quality of the air in the city and the growth of the number of vehicles create new challenges on mobility for the capital of Antioquia. In the construction of an Ecocity, the objective is to consolidate mobility with an integrated transport system, which guarantees universal accessibility and generates health-friendly corridors, which protect all road actors and guarantee their safety and continuity in their commuting.
Lina Lopez, manager for Human Mobility, assures that the role of active mobility becomes a key factor in the dreamed Ecocity. “It seeks for more people to walk and ride bikes, or integrate their walks or bike trips with public transport.”
It also makes us reflect on the traditional use of streets. “We have always been told that this is a public space used for motor vehicles, but active mobility invites us to rethink that space, how those environments should be changed so that people feel welcome to use different means of transport.”
The goal is to have more lanes designed to allow the transit of bicycles, that those streets have green spaces that invite people to commute, even more walking.
Educating the community is a medium- and long-term process. Infrastructure changes are necessary and become an inhibitor to transform behaviors. If you tell people, ‘Ride more by bike and walk,’ but as you walk out to the street what you see are spaces where the use of cars is prioritized, the gap between discourse and reality is even greater”.Lina Lopez, Human Mobility Manager of the Medellín Mayor’s Office
The Mayor’s initiatives are complemented by the strategies of the Metropolitan Area of the Aburrá Valley (AMVA). Its Plan of Management 2020-2023 Sustainable Future seeks to plant one million trees throughout the territory. To date, 250,000 have been planted. The strategy was highlighted by Juan David Palacio, director of AMVA, during the recent visit of the Danish ambassador, Erik Hoeg, who experienced Medellín by bike using the Encicla public bicycle system. This project has topped close to 14 million bike-loans through October, 2020, since its inception 9 years ago. With his visit, the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín reactivated its city tours with international allies. An opportunity to show the world why Medellín wants to be at the center of the conversation and an example of environmental sustainability.