World’s Most Innovative City Continues To Impress
Twenty years ago if you told anyone inside or outside of Colombia that drug- and crime-ridden Medellin would be cleaned up and considered high-tech and sought-after just two decades later, no one would have believed you.
But that is exactly what is happening.
Medellin is not only no longer unsafe or unsavory, but it is establishing a name for itself as one of the world’s most progressive cities. In 2012, The Wall Street Journal made it official by naming Medellin the Most Innovative City in the world for that year.
What makes Medellin so innovative? It is a combination of unique public transit infrastructure, well-used and much-loved public spaces, and the accessibility of technology and Internet throughout the city.
Despite being Bogota’s little sister in terms of size of population and economy, Medellin’s public transit systems and infrastructure are superior to that of busy Bogotá. Medellin is the only city in Colombia that has a metro system. Although this project took 15 years to build and nearly bankrupted the city, the finished product is one of Medellin’s most prized possessions. Paisas (the locals of Medellin) have great pride when it comes to their metro, which is why it is always so clean and well maintained.
The metro, though, has a limitation, in that it runs through the lower valley of Medellin only.
The higher up the mountain you go, the poorer the neighborhoods. Historically, lack of any means of transportation up the mountain kept the city segregated and the impoverished areas poor. Steep, winding, dirt roads weave up the mountainside, but, as no one living in these poor comunas has a car, it would take people in this part of Medellin hours to commute into the city center for work.
Then, in 2003, the city built a cable car and a system of outdoor escalators to link the poorest neighborhoods in the highest parts of the mountain to metro access. These high-tech transit innovations, built very cost effectively, today shuttle thousands of people to and from work and school each day.
Public spaces have sprouted up around each stop of the metro, the cable car, and the escalators, and the cable car has been expanded to continue farther up the mountain to connect beautiful and peaceful Parque Arvi in Santa Elena with Medellin. As a result, Parque Arvi has become one of Medellin’s top tourist attractions. Even if the outdoors is not your thing, the 30-minute cable car ride to Parque Arvi is worth it for its spectacular 360-degree views of the whole of the Medellin valley.
In addition, Medellin has many bus lines, a new bus system called Metroplus, and Transvia, which is like a light rail. You have many options for getting around Medellin. This is a very commuter-friendly town.
While riding the cable car, look out for a giant black building. This is one of Medellin’s 10 library parks, built between 2008 and 2011, providing the city with public libraries surrounded by green space. These libraries are strategically placed in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, and, before each of these library parks is built, the community is consulted. The goal is to make each library park as well suited as possible to the community it serves.
Not interested in resting on its laurels, this city continues to innovate. The most elaborate public space project yet has been undertaken. Taking a page from Boston’s Big Dig, Medellin is planning to put its main highway underground and create 44 kilometers of park space along the river with bike lanes, walking trails, and picnic areas. This will be a massive feat and a makeover for Medellin.
More than 8.8 million people in Medellin are connected to the Internet, and the Minister of Communication and Information Technology Diego Molano reports that 27 million people will be connected to the Internet, most wirelessly, by 2018. Almost every café, restaurant, or shopping mall in the city has a free Wi-Fi connection. Even some of the parks, including Parque Poblado, have public Wi-Fi, too.
Medellin has begun to attract start-up businesses from both elsewhere in Colombia and abroad, this thanks to programs that provide funding to entrepreneurs and incubator programs to incentivize investors.
For the retiree or expat looking for a new life in a cosmopolitan setting, Medellin offers a Euro-chic lifestyle supported by ever-more-innovative modern comforts. This is an open-minded city committed to continued change, growth, and improvement.
A city that I am delighted to call home.
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