SEP 9, 2017
At this point, it’s cliché to say Medellín, Colombia, is a prime example of what urban planning can achieve. But seeing the city through the eyes of a bike evangelist from one of the most perfectly designed cities in the world, you’ll appreciate that success on a whole new level.
That’s what Mikael Colville-Andersen does in the first episode of his new documentary series “The Life-Sized City.” The CEO of the Copenhagenize Design Co. and one of the world’s leading consultants on bicycle infrastructure, Colville-Andersen travels from his hometown of Copenhagen to Colombia’s second city to explain how this urban center went from being the murder capital of the world to a symbol of hope for Latin America.
In Colville-Andersen’s eyes, real-life Medellín doesn’t match its caricatures, neither a haven for drug lords nor the model of urbanist perfection. He showcases the life-changing urban projects like the cable-car or the public escalators that have made life easier for the poor communities in the hills, as well as the still very real car dependency in the city. This, of course, is not unintentional. In this first season of a show that highlights examples of cities improving toward a human scale, he conspicuously avoids traveling to Danish cities, instead favoring urban centers that are far from perfect, but with a lot of lessons, conflicts and, above all, promise.
CityLab spoke to Colville-Andersen via email about the Medellín and the TV series—which premieres September 10 on TVO in Canada, and soon after in other countries.
You filmed episodes about Medellín, Toronto, Paris, Bangkok, Tokyo, and Tel Aviv. How and why did you choose these cities in particular?
We wanted to present cities with a varied typology. If we filmed cities that were close to fulfilling the criteria of a life-sized city, we would spend years circling around Scandinavia and perhaps The Netherlands. Not exciting television. In the first season, Tokyo is our most life-sized city, but we have a rough selection method for the others, trying to spread the concept out globally. A famous city, Paris; a chaotic city, Bangkok; a North American city, Toronto; a surprising city, Medellín; a divided city, Tel Aviv. These typologies are not carved in stone, but they help us present a list of cities that offer the viewer a bit of everything.
The desire for a life-sized city is universal among urban citizens. It exists in the most interesting and unusual places. We want our cities to improve, and citizens are taking matters into their own hands. Both through bottom-up influencing of policymakers and policymakers inspiring citizens.