City of the Year 2012 – Medellin, WSJ’s Most Innovative City in the World

A city’s landscape constantly evolves to meet changing needs. Buildings are created and destroyed, industries emerge and disappear, demographics change, and urban areas are used for different functions. At their best, cities generate wealth and employment, promote cultural exchange and inclusion, foster creativity and ideas, provide access to recreation, education, and infrastructure, and facilitate participation and citizenship in public and private life. The most innovative cities spark visions, remove barriers, and cultivate collaboration to improve the quality of life for residents.

Few cities have transformed the way that Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, has in the past 20 years. Medellín’s homicide rate has plunged, nearly 80% from 1991 to 2010. The city built public libraries, parks, and schools in poor hillside neighborhoods and constructed a series of transportation links from there to its commercial and industrial centers. The links include a metro cable car system and escalators up steep hills, reducing commutation times, spurring private investment, and promoting social equity as well as environmental sustainability. In 2012, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy recognized Medellín’s efforts with the Sustainable Transportation Award.

But a change in the institutional fabric of the city may be as important as the tangible infrastructure projects. The local government, along with businesses, community organizations, and universities worked together to fight violence and to modernize Medellín. Transportation projects are financed through public-private partnerships; engineering firms have designed public buildings for free; and in 2006, nine of the city’s largest firms funded a science museum. In addition, Medellín is one of the largest cities to successfully implement participatory budgeting, which allows citizens to define priorities and allocate a portion of the municipal budget. Community organizations, health centers, and youth groups have formed, empowering citizens to declare ownership of their neighborhoods.

Medellín’s challenges are still many, particularly in housing. However, through innovation and leadership, Medellín has sowed the seeds of transformation, leading to its recognition as a city with potential for long-lasting success.

City of the Year 2012 - Medellin