Promotional materials refer to Medellín — a place that once had the highest homicide rate in the world — as “The most innovative city in the world.” “A city for life.”.
Look past the Colombian city’s sloganeering, though, and there are concrete accomplishments:
- The country’s only urban rail system, the centerpiece of a large multimodal transportation network.
- A riverfront that’s slowly opening up.
- A former jail turned into a university in one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
- Hundreds of new public spaces, from parklets to giant downtown plazas.
Last year, when the city hosted the 7th World Urban Forum, it was constantly held up by architects, policymakers and urban planners as a model of sustainable development and social equity.
“Medellín was 20 years ago in the darkest night, and now we have light,” says current Medellín Mayor Anibal Gaviria. “You don’t need a lot of money … . You need creativity and you need emotional capacity, you need will, and of course, you need courage. And a lot of love, love for our people.”
The other key element is continuity of purpose. “In the last 12 years we’ve had three mayors,” Gaviria said. “Transformation of society is possible only if you have several good governments, successively synchronizing.”
In other words, mayors must be willing to work on projects that they may not get all the credit for — and have a vision that goes beyond winning the next election.