Huffpost Latino Voices

How Medellín Went From Cartel Center To Urban Superstar

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TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Ariela NavarroChildren run near covered outdoor escalators at Comuna 13, one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Medellin, Antioquia department, Colombia, on January 5, 2014. The system transformed the mobility of local people, replacing more than 350 concrete steps. The escalators are divided in six sections and benefit 12 thousand users. In 2013 Medellin was chosen by popular vote through the internet as the Innovative City of the Year during the City of the Year contest, | AFP via Getty Images

The Medellín Cartel, headed by Pablo Escobar, perhaps the only drug lord to become a worldwide household name, transported billions of dollars worth of cocaine, which had surpassed coffee as Colombia’s leading export by 1982. Arriving on U.S. shores, the exploits of cocaine cowboys made Miami the murder capital of the world in the early ’80s, an ignominious title Medellín itself stole in 1991, when it topped out at 381 murders per 100,000 residents, 40 times what the United Nations considers “epidemic.” That rate, if translated to New York City, would equal an unfathomable 32,000 murders annually.

In 1993, Escobar was killed by Colombian special forces, and a decade later, in 2004, the city’s first Metrocable gondola line opened, inaugurating Medellín’s now celebrated urbanismo social (social urbanism) agenda. Now, ten years after that gondola first connected the city’s poorer hillside neighborhoods to its bustling central business district, Medellín finds itself on the global stage once again, this time as a city basking in the glow of admiration for pioneering a new type of urbanism. The city’s newfound fame will be on full view for attendees of next week’s UN-Habitat World Urban Forum (WUF).

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