Medellín, once South America’s most drug-ridden city, terrorized by the infamous drug lord, Pablo Escobar and his cartel, has officially reinvented itself. The city now proudly boasts its new title as winner of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize for 2016 as awarded by the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Center for Liveable Cities.
Looking for change after many years of economic and cultural struggles, the city shifted their annual-budget focus to: social spending, a modern and efficient metro system, and partnerships between public and private sectors.
The city’s Secretary of Citizen Culture has always been concerned about the city’s level of safety, but it was only in recent years that attention went from creating large police forces to providing spaces in the city available to all for safe, welcoming cohabitation. Social, educational, and cultural projects were implemented, specifically in the city’s poorest areas, bettering the quality of life for all.
These programs were largely funded by Medellín’s public utility company Empresas Publicas de Medellín (EPM). The company uses 30% of their annual profits to fund local programs.
Due to its tainted history, Colombia’s—specifically Medellín’s—tourism industry has always suffered. But, in 2013, Citi and the Marketing Services Department of the Wall Street Journal recognized Medellín as the Innovative City of the Year pulling ahead of New York City and Tel Aviv. Since this designation, Medellín has become the fastest growing tourism destination in the country.
Regardless of the impressive developments in the city, not all crime or inequality issues have been resolved. They have, however, dropped by an amazing 70% since 2012.
In 2015 about 430,000 Americans visited Colombia, 27% more than 2014… something most would never have dreamed for Pablo Escobar’s old stomping grounds.