Medellin, Colombia, project

July 21, 2008
Bowling Green, Ky. – Faculty and students from Western Kentucky University’s Department of Geography and Geology returned this past weekend from 10 days in Colombia studying community change in Medellín.

Department Head Dr. David Keeling is the lead investigator for the American Geographical Society’s Bowman Expedition to Colombia, now ending its first full year of analysis.

The AGS Bowman Expeditions were established in 2005 as part of the Society’s broader goal of combating geographic ignorance in all sectors of society. The Bowman Expedition to Colombia is the third of these projects, following successful research in Mexico and the Antilles.

With full funding, the AGS would send a geography professor and two or three graduate students to every country in the world for a full semester each year, with teams rotating on a five-year cycle so that each country could be understood by five separate teams. Each team would collect open source GIS data and conduct one research project of the investigator’s choice.

Accompanying Dr. Keeling to Medellín were History Instructor John Dizgun and Brian Blickenstaff of Claremont, Calif., a Southern Mississippi University geography graduate student, as well as researchers from the WKU-GEOSCIRE Research Center in Bogotá.

Dr. Jerry Dobson, professor of geography at Kansas University and president of the American Geographical Society, along with Dr. Geoff Demarest from the Foreign Military Studies Office at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., also joined the WKU team in the field. The research team met with the mayor of Medellín, government officials in planning, housing, security, transportation, and reconstruction, and with neighborhood leaders in Comuna 13.

The goal of the Medellín project is to create a virtual geographic and historical Atlas of Comuna 13, a neighborhood in the city afflicted by terrible violence over the past 20 years. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, a period when narco-traffickers such as the infamous Pablo Escobar terrorized the city, murder rates in the neighborhood of Comuna 13 soared past 400 per 100,000 inhabitants (the world average is eight per 100,000).

After the death of Escobar in 1993, paramilitary gangs and guerilla groups like the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia), ELN and CAP, among others, seized control of the community and murder rates again soared. An alliance of national police, military and local security forces finally broke these groups’ stranglehold on the neighborhood with a series of operations in 2001 and 2002, culminating in Operation Orion.

Since 2003, the neighborhood of Comuna 13 in Medellín has enjoyed a minor renaissance, with enhanced security through local policing, new schools and medical clinics, a community library, and other infrastructural improvements. The WKU-led AGS project in Medellín will assess these changes in the context of the neighborhood’s geography and history, with the goal of producing the virtual atlas and several academic journal articles.

More information about the project is available online at

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For information, contact David Keeling at (270) 745-4555.

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