How A City Sunken In Violence Became A Center For Innovation


Medellin, and the importance of leadership

I had the pleasure to go to Medellín in February 2016. I knew it was a beautiful city, and I knew all about the problems they faced in a not too distant past. Medellín shared most of the problems  facing many Latin American countries: corruption, violence, drugs, poverty and inequality. What I didn’t know was, that I was going to leave Medellín hungry to come back and to understand how that transformation occurred.

content_large_medellin-2As a Brazilian, inequality and poverty is something that I grew up with, and the roots for inequality in Latin America date back to colonial times. Lack of education is one of the roots for povertyKnowing that, education became the center for Sergio Fajardo’s campaign, back in 2004 when he became the mayor of Medellín. At that time, Medellín was economically and socially destroyed, and it wasn’t due to lack of resources. It was more a case of government mismanagement, lack of transparency and shortage of new ideas.

I had the pleasure to meet Sergio Fajardo, last year while I was living in Boston. During dinner, he explained how the “cambio” change in Spanish — happened in Medellín. He explained that it all started with the willingness to serve the people, and listen to communities that have been left behind. Of course, Sergio Fajardo didn’t act alone. He had support coming from many different sectors of society. This group of supporters was formed in 1999 and given the name of Compromiso Ciudadano.

Compromiso Ciudadano understood the importance of politics, and knew the difference between good and bad politics. With that in mind, they knew they needed to search for political power, to transform the society in Medellín. With the Mayoral election coming, they chose Sergio Fajardo as their representative.

With a slogan “Medellín, la más educada” — Medellín, the most educated — Sergio Fajardo put education at the forefront of his electoral campaign. He believes that education is the only way to cross the walls of inequality. Architecture was one of the tools used to achieve this goal. According to Sergio Fajardo, “the quality of education starts by the dignity of the spaces.” Investing in low-income areas helped to create bridges between people, and between worlds.

Smart system and innovation being key for Medellin’s revolution

This commitment with innovation and system integration helped Medellin to reduce the crime rate from  381 homicides per 100,000 people in 1991 to 20 in 100,000 in 2015. 

Without doubt Medellin became an example for cities in the region and throughout the globe, and inspired the creation of MedellinLab. A partnership between the World Bank, USAID, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the city of Medellin. The lab was held from May 29 until June 2, 2017, aiming at exposing and sharing Medellin’s path towards social resilience and community improvement, to representatives from more than 35 cities.

Medellin showed that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel; we can use already known technologies to serve different purposes. That’s the example of the metrocable, a gondola lift system, already being used for tourism in other cities, like Rio de Janeiro, for example. However, Medellín was the first city to use metrocable as a method of mass transportation. The system is now used by tourists, curious to see this transformation. The metrocable is part of a bigger plan in Medellín. It is completely integrated with the metro, local buses, and the tranvía, a tramline or streetcar line. So, people paying for one ticket have access to four different methods of transportation, avoiding hours in traffic and walking long distances.

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