Through innovation and development, Colombia’s second-largest city is still working to leave behind Pablo Escobar’s legacy of violence.

The area around the Universidad de Antioquia campus (buildings with orange roofs) has been designed as a hub for innovation and education in Medellín. (Andrés Ángel Gómez for Infosurhoy)
The area around the Universidad de Antioquia campus (buildings with orange roofs) has been designed as a hub for innovation and education in Medellín. (Andrés Ángel Gómez for Infosurhoy)


It has gone from being one of the most violent cities in the world in the 1990s to a global reference for development and innovation.

“Through their own initiative, the public and private sectors and the community in general decided to come together to get ahead,” said Juan Esteban Correa, coordinator of Urban Formulation for the Medellín Innovation District. “That’s what has made Medellín one of the most innovative cities in the world today.”

Through the “Medellín Innovation” campaign and investments in excess of US$389 million over the next 10 years, Medellín Mayor Aníbal Gaviria’s administration is focused on turning the city into a South American capital of innovation and technology.

“‘Medellín Innovation’ is more than an urban renewal project. It’s an economic renewal project,” Correa added. “The city is interested in a knowledge-based economy, so we’re working to make the shift that will provide us with greater stability and also establish Medellín’s position as an important global city.”

Medellín also is the first in Colombia to introduce a Film Commission to promote the city as a location for major film productions.

“We’re going to offer competitive incentives so that everyone who makes films here can do so easily and save on production costs,” said Francisco Pulgarín, an advisor to the Film Commission.

The commission also has proposed a project to work with universities on creating a film school that will train directors and screenwriters, as well as film technicians.

Film stars including Elijah Wood, who starred in The Lord of the Rings and has his own film production company, are interested in filming in Medellín, according to Pulgarín.

“They’re already doing pre-production and will quite possibly film here in the coming year,” he said.

Full speed ahead

Medellín is the only departmental capital in Colombia with its own subway system.

It also is the first Colombian city to implement an integrated transportation system, which includes the Metrocable gondola system that runs along its mountains, enhancing mobility for thousands of residents.

“In the 1990s, when the Metro system began to operate in the city, there was talk of a culture of death. That was the popular mood at the time,” said Jairo Gutiérrez, a social management professional with the Metro system. “As a result, the Metro’s entry into operation represented something very important to the people: being a citizen of the first world, with first world technology that provides integration in terms of transportation throughout the rest of the city.”

The Medellín Metro is currently working with the Tranvía project, through an investment of $607 billion pesos (US$311.53 million). The Tranvía will connect three Metro stations with two gondola lines, with a capacity to handle 82,500 passengers daily.

In addition, the stations in the neighborhoods of Miraflores and Alejandro Echavarría will feature gondola lines that extend over 1,050 meters, designed to transport 1,800 passengers hourly.

The example of Medellín

Medellín is considered to be the city with the best quality of life in Colombia, according to the Ciudades Cómo Vamos network, a citizen oversight program.

Eighty-eight percent of Medellín’s population is satisfied with the city as a place to live. The satisfaction rate in Bogotá is 56%, according to a survey by Ciudades Como Vamos, which was conducted in 10 cities in 2012.

This is reflected in the spirit of Medellín’s residents. When they talk about the city, they point to the city’s robust infrastructure, its public services, the steady supply of culture and leisure options, the ample green spaces and the warmth and friendliness of its people.

In addition, the number of violent deaths has declined sharply the past two decades. In 1991, with the city under the control of the drug lord Pablo Escobar, the murder rate was 380.6 for every 100,000 residents. In 2012, it stood at 52.3 per 100,000 residents, according to the Medellín’s Citizen Council for Security and Justice.

*Editor’s Note: This is the last of a three-part series on Colombia’s transformation 20 years after the death of drug lord Pablo Escobar. On Dec. 18, Sylvia Zárate wrote about the most shocking crimes committed by Escobar against the Colombian people. On Dec. 19, Zárate and César Mariño chronicled the success of Colombia’s drug policy following Escobar’s death in 1993.