Medellín, Colombia: Innovative but Unequal

On March 1, 2013, the WSJ Magazine announced that Medellín had been chosen as the most innovative city of the world in the contest “City of the Year” organized by the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

That same day, the press reported that a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights had declared the city [es] one of the most unequal in the world because of the murders, disappearances, unemployment, and the war between criminal gangs and their control of some neighborhoods.

However, Medellín was selected as the most innovative city thanks to its modern transportation system, cultural centers, parks, libraries, public schools, and the city's environmental policy. Furthermore, it was recognized for reducing crime and CO2 emissions, and for implementing innovative ideas like the outdoor escalators at Comuna 13.

Medellín won this award after an arduous selection process among 200 cities. It was finally chosen by more than one million votes in the final round against Tel Aviv and New York.

Metro Medellín. Foto de  Robert Schrader bajo licencia Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Medellín subway. Photo by Robert Schrader under Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The big contrast in these two reports has generated various reactions on social networks.

Some see the “City of the Year” award as a relief to mitigate the stigma of inequality, violence, and drug trafficking. However, although “felicitaciones Medellín” [es] (congratulations Medellín) and the hashtag #MedellínInnovadora [es] (innovative Medellín) became trends on Twitter, users also used social media to draw attention to problems in the city. According to some netizens, many of the challenges that Medellín faces where hidden behind the media's [es] coverage of the award.

In the Mayor of Medellín's official Facebook page [es], many citizens, like Steven ABall [es], expressed concern over violence and poverty:

Pensaré que es verdad que somos innovadores cuando haya un esquema de seguridad que funcione, cuando ya no vea tanta indigencia en el centro ni en las periferias, cuando los programas sociales funcionen, cuando chatarricen tanto bus viejo y volquetas que dejan estelas de humo y gases invernadero, cuando se tenga un plan para embellecer el centro. NO me sirve de nada que sea “innovadora” mi cuidad, si no puedo salir a disfrutarla, solo porque a la administración no le da la gana hacer funcionar las cosas!

I will believe that we are truly innovative when we get a security scheme that works, when I don't see so much poverty downtown or on the outskirts, when social work programs work, when they get rid of old buses and trucks that leave behind trails of smoke and greenhouse gases, when they implement a plan to beautify the city center. The fact that the city is “innovative” doesn't benefit me if I can't go out and enjoy it, just because the administration does not want to make things work!

On Twitter, Andrea González Ospina‏ (@AndreGonzalezO) [es] quoted the president of EAFIT University [es]:

@AndreGonzalezO: “En Medellín tenemos dos grandes retos: superar la inequidad y la violencia (…) este reconocimiento nos obliga a esa tarea” Juan Luis M.

@AndreGonzalezO: “In Medellin we have two major challenges: overcoming inequality and violence (…) this recognition forces us to take on that task” Juan Luis M.

Archbishop Ricardo Antonio Tobón Restrepo also voiced his concerns [es] about violence in the city. For many, his statements and the UN's overshadowed the euphoria sparked by the “City of the Year” award.

But the people of Medellin are still betting on a better city, as Gloria Cabrera Sosa (@CabreraGlo) [es] tweets:

@CabreraGlo: Cuidemos a Medellín y aún podemos sacarla adelante a pesar de la violencia o la desigualdad. Seamos innovadores.

@CabreraGlo: Let's take care of Medellin and we can still push it forward despite the violence and inequality. Let's be innovative.

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