It is very easy to walk around Perpetuo Socorro and be amazed. The astonishment that accompanies each new route increases as visitors experience the transformation of its streets, walls and corners. In the same way, the ideas originated years ago in some corner of Medellín, they now come to bloom in these streets and continue to grow.
The first thing that stands out to the passer-by is the colors in the neighborhood, the artistic interventions, the plants that have started to opaque the concrete, and the architectural designs of its buildings and premises. One of those buildings is protected by a group of mirrors that reflects everything that happens around it and, if you look at it from a closer standpoint, you will see the dream come true of a community that works, following a path, where good ideas, economy, and sustainability are always along the same road, together in a creative district.
This building was the first of its kind to open its doors in this area of the city. Mateo Jaramillo, Mattelsa‘s founder, chose this structure on 35th Street, in what used to be an industrial neighborhood, to be the headquarters of his company. “We were looking for a place that had some of our identity and we needed a strategic location. That’s why they started searching for areas of Medellín where there was an established economic structure already in place, such as the Provenza or Laureles areas. However, the first one was discarded because of its distance to the Medellín Metro system and because it has a hillock access, not so friendly for a traditional bicycle ride. “We also searched in the northern area, near the Ruta N district, and in Llanogrande, until we came to the conclusion that there was no space in Medellín to which we really belonged or a place where we could come to be part of a transformation,” recalls Mateo.
A year later, Mateo arrived at a place he then could see with a different set of eyes, Wynwood, Miami’s arts district, an area that began its metamorphosis at the beginning of the millennium to become a community with more than 400 businesses and 200 murals, a business industry based on arts and a major destination for innovation and urban/street art. “There, we had serendipity. If you feel you don’t fit in this world, it’s because you’re here to create one! We repeated this to ourselves and decided to create our own “Wynwood” and find an area to promote a sustainable district from scratch.
With this new perspective, they found an urban jewel, the “Perpetuo Socorro.” A sector with three and four lane streets, low vehicle flow, near downtown Medellín and a 40 minute walk from the first “Parque de Laureles” square and another 40 minutes to El Poblado Square. Mateo says that “the best thing about it is that it is flat and easy for everyone to access by bike and it is close to two Metro stations. So we began to dream about a place with schools, markets, offices, producers, restaurants, cafes, everything coexisting under the principle of sustainability. And today it is possible because, when you start to understand the magic, and then you meet the “magicians,” everything falls into place. The first “magician” to appear was Jorge Mario Aristizábal, CEO of Conconcreto, who put the creative district on the table.”
A warehouse for meetings and perpetual talks
Mattelsa came to the area as a magnet to attract the curiosity of other entities, that with no second thought, joined this creative journey. Comfama was one of them. This company entered the big leagues by renting a warehouse, near the General Hospital of Medellín, to turn it into a house of creativity. The current manager of this project, Ana Isabel Maya, says “it is the place where everything can happen, where the creator can experience, make him/herself visible, connect with others and feel that he/she has a place of his/her own. Because of its versatility, we call it the trans headquarters of Comfama: the one that transforms and transgresses.”
With Mattelsa and Comfama, the space was opened for a new conversation with the Medellín Mayor’s Office and other entities that also sought to establish their headquarters in this collective construction. Thus was born the “Corporación Perpetuo Socorro,” of which the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) and the Almacentro Shopping Center are also part. The Secretariat of Economic Development of the Municipality established the zone as the Economic and Creative District and the Orange Development Area (ADN, for its acronym in Spanish) of the capital of Antioquia in 2019.
Strengthening and energizing the Orange Economy in the city is one of the tasks undertaken by the Agency for Cooperation and Investment of Medellín and the Metropolitan Area (ACI Medellín) which, as stated by its Executive Director, Eleonora Betancur, “…plays a key role in attracting international companies or organizations that seek to understand the strategies and benefits offered to companies in the creative sector. In this way, we work for the real estate, social, cultural, and productive development in the more than 30 hectares that make up Perpetuo Socorro.”
ACI Medellín sets its sights on cultural and creative ideas as the main engine to promote the Orange Economy in the capital of Antioquia.
Erika Jaramillo, Director of the Corporation, emphasizes that Medellín needed a space where culture and the creative economy could be discussed. “Gathering all creators in the same place will make us more competitive so as to achieve a great creative district for Medellín and the world, with benefits that go from promoting local purchases, avoiding smuggling, generating new jobs, boosting the local and national economies and promoting culture and identity. Without culture, there is no identity, neither individual nor national.”
Talent with “Pauer”
In 2018, Comfama was already working on planning a strategy with Ruta N, focused on creative ventures and their role in generating new jobs. They called it ELPAUER (Phonetic spelling of “The Power”). Today, it offers support in the generation of business models and the development of administrative skills, as well as access to financing for the 90 creators who are part of its portfolio. Ana Isabel Maya, also in charge of this alliance, underscores the creation of community among the creators and their learning processes.
She agrees with Alejandro Santa, musician and general director of LaMúsica.fm, a virtual music store that is part of ELPAUER’s portfolio. “We are very eager to work to create things and make Medellín that place where proposals do flourish, and to achieve this we need these spaces where we can undertake and learn all the time.”
Alejandro started his project thirteen years ago dreaming of being able to live of the music business. “We started asking ourselves how we could sell and distribute. We didn’t know anything about rights; the digital worlds had generated many gaps.” So he decided to focus his energy on the music industry and the construction of an ecosystem that generates sustainability and productivity. This is also a pedagogical process with other musicians who don’t know how to monetize their work.
Today, “ELPAUER” is part of the strengthening offer of Ruta Naranja, a space created by Ruta N and the Medellín Mayor’s Office, where creative people can develop their business ideas. One- hundred and six jobs and an innovation lab welcome good ideas.
Ruta Naranja Innovation Lab. Methodologies designed for the development and testing of creative products or services are implemented here.
Photo: Ruta Naranja Project – Ruta N.
A long-lasting district
Another objective of the Corporación Perpetuo Socorro is to make the Creative District of Medellín a green district. Sustainability, from all perspectives, is a priority task; that is why it represents one of the major principles in this process. “We are advocates of sustainable mobility with the use of bicycles and public transportation. We are under a reconfiguration of space, with more sidewalks and fewer streets. In one year, we already have two EnCicla (city’s bicycle program) stations, two bike paths, two parks and a street that used to be for cars is now a public space,” adds the director of Corporación Perpetuo Socorro.
The Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) was also involved in this task. Juliana Restrepo, Dean of the School of Architecture and Design of UPB, explains that “the University leads the urban development board for the Perpetuo Socorro, which aims to establish guidelines and proposals for the development of the neighborhood, in terms of physical infrastructure, green infrastructure, and mobility.”
Erika adds that this urban renovation has a greater purpose than simply adding square meters and beautifying spaces. “Here, the content goes first and progressively, the urban transformation will come, one that has the commitment of the more than 30 creators who are already in the neighborhood.” Photographic studios, dance academies, co-working spaces, restaurants, cafes, health markets, artisan breweries, and the list goes on.
“Distrito Cafetero” is a 360º experience center where visitors can learn about the different stages of the coffee process.
Photo: Sebastián Ortíz.
“Distrito Cafetero” was one of the first undertakings to reach Perpetuo Socorro. They have four brands of their own coffee and work with another 40 in the entire department of Antioquia. “We arrived at the neighborhood attracted by creativity, culture and business,” says its manager, Sebastián Ortiz. “These three guidelines move most of the companies that are working here to deliver a more evolutionary vision of the city.” Sebastián highlights the value this represents for foreign investors. “On our side, we have the representation of a French company that has been in the market for 100 years manufacturing espresso machines and we have done very well with them. Foreign companies and investors are seeing a business opportunity in the local creative ideas. And the fact that a special district is being created for culture and creativity makes the offer even more attractive.
The Executive Director of ACI Medellín, Eleonora Betancur, says, “There are different companies, delegations, governments and international associations that come to Medellín to learn about the city’s strategies in terms of innovation and creativity.” And the creative district is the first place on the list to show them.
Beyond the tax benefits of being declared an Economic and Creative District and “ADN,” Perpetuo Socorro “becomes a node where cultural, social, economic and tourism converge, generating creative consumption dynamics for locals and visitors,” concludes Erika. All of this is driven by content and ideas that, in turn, promote systemic improvements in the quality of life of all citizens.