Sustainable Cities™

Medellín's innovative infrastructure

Medellin, the second largest city of Colombia, has, since 2004 evolved to be an incredible role model for sustainable urban development. Focusing specifically on the poorest and most isolated neighborhoods located on steep hillsides far from the center, innovative mayors have created a new and innovative infrastructure with free cable cars and escalators as connections in the city. New large-scale constructions in the establishment of schools, libraries, green spaces, culture and knowledge centers have contributed to a fresh lease of life in the city whilst reducing crime and unemployment dramatically.

Medellin svævebane
Cable cars in Medellin, Photo: J. Drissen

Cable cars and escalators

The sustainable urban development in Medellin began in earnest in 2004, when Mayor Sergio Fajard adopted a plan for the city where all residents should be involved. The focus was on mobility, education and the construction of public spaces and green areas. The first project in the plan was a 1.8 km long metrocable in the very isolated, northeast sector of the city, along with the construction of metro stations, which at some locations are actively built into public buildings, such as the library "La Biblioteca España". Later in 2008, another metrocable of 2.7 km was built.

Poor inhabitants of the districts on the outskirts of Medellin had to commute 2.5 hours each way to and from work before the constructions of the cable cars. Due to the steep hillsides in those parts of the city there is no contact to the metro and in some areas not even a bus service, which made it difficult for residents to travel anywhere. Today the metrocable cars carry 553,000 inhabitants every day.

Another project focusing on mobility is a network of escalators, reaching almost 400 meters up to one of the poorest sections "Comuna 13" of the city, which was implemented in 2011. The distance, which before the escalators corresponded to a walk up the stairs of a 28 story apartment building, can now be taken in 6 minutes instead of 35 minutes.

Medellin rulletrapper400 m. of escalators, Photo: Holcim Foundation

In the period between 2004 and 2011 the two mayors Fajardo and Salazar led projects where young local architects were to build spectacular libraries, schools, parks and cultural centers - many of them located in the poorest areas of the city. Each project was planned and built in consultation with local  inhabitants, whom benefit from social projects, and called for start-ups of new businesses. Some of these buildings have since become major attractions and icons of Medellin.

Medellin bibliotekLa Biblioteca España, Photo: Municipality of Medellin

From one of the world's most dangerous cities - innovative city of the year in 2013

In 1992, Medellin was known as one of the world's most dangerous cities. Back then it was drug cartels and crime that was associated with the city - not sustainable urban development. Today, the unemployment rate has decreased as well as violent incidents, and the perception of safety is positive among residents. The city's leadership has focused on architecture and social investments, such as education, culture and infrastructure as a way to fight crime. This focus and new interest in the vulnerable and poorest areas of the city have implied that the attitude, sense of belonging and respect towards the city have changed in a positive direction.  Inhabitants are now proud of their city, and because of the vested interest from the city government into the living standards of the poor, the respect and concern for the city is replicated by the citizens, who are considerate instead of being reckless. On the first of March 2013, the city was elected to be the innovative city of the year by the Urban Landscape Institute, The Wall Street Journal and Citi.


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Friday, May 24, 2013 / By Nina Kirstine Busk

Last updated Monday, February 03, 2014