LATINO VOICES
03/02/2013 10:17 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2013

Medellin, Colombia Named 'Innovative City Of The Year' In WSJ And Citi Global Competition

Whether it’s correcting the misspelling of their country’s name through social media, or revitalizing a city with a dark past, it seems that when Colombians come together there’s little they can’t do.

And the world is starting to notice. On Friday, Citi and the Marketing Services Department of the Wall Street Journal crowned Medellín, Colombia the “Innovative City of the Year,” beating out fellow finalists New York City and Tel Aviv.

In 2012, the banking group and newspaper partnered with the Urban Land Institute (ULI), a non-profit research and education organization, to choose the world’s most innovative city based on its economy, urban development, culture/livability, technology and research, among other measures. (Check Out A Video Of The Process)

Known by Colombians as ‘The City of the Eternal Spring,’ Medellín was chosen for its progress, potential, “rich culture and impressive strides in urban development” in spite of a past of violence fueled by drug lord Pablo Escobar and the Medellín Cartel.

“Few cities have transformed the way that Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city, has in the past 20 years,” the Urban Land Institute wrote in a statement online. “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.”

ULI selected 200 cities in June 2012 based on the above criteria, and after two rounds of voting, three finalists were announced in October. The Colombian city was announced as the winner on March 1 with almost one million votes, and will be featured in the April issue of the WSJ magazine.

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BEFORE YOU GO

  • 1 It's megadiverse
    Colombia is one the few&nbsp;<a href="http://www.colombia.co/en/environment/colombia-is-one-of-the-17-megadiverse-countries-o
    Getty
    Colombia is one the few "megadiverse" countries in the world. It manages to house 10 percent of the world's biodiversity.  And it ranks first in bird and orchid species diversity, and second in plants, butterflies, freshwater fishes and amphibians. 

    To put all of this in perspective, 68.7% of Colombia's surface is covered by natural ecosystems.
  • 2 It's also racially diverse
    Colombia is profoundly racially diverse, too. As of 2005, <a href="https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factboo
    Getty Images
    Colombia is profoundly racially diverse, too. As of 2005, 10.4 percent of the country's population was Afro-Colombian and 3.4 percent was Amerindian, according to the CIA's World Fact Book.

    Many of the country's afro communities reside along Colombia's coasts, near port cities that use to be hubs for slave trading in the Americas.
  • 3 It has world-renowned emeralds
    Colombia is known for exporting many things, but did you know the South American country is responsible for <a href="http://w
    AFP PHOTO/Guillermo LEGARIA
    Colombia is known for exporting many things, but did you know the South American country is responsible for 60 percent of the world’s emeralds? That’s right, it’s likely that the green gem in your jewelry box originated from the emerald deposits of Muzo. Known for its deep green color and brilliance, Colombia’s emeralds are some of the most sought-after in the world.
  • 4 It has (almost) every climate under the sun
    While many know the country as a tropical paradise thanks&nbsp;to its location near the Equator, its rich ecosystems are poss
    Kike Calvo/Getty Images
    While many know the country as a tropical paradise thanks to its location near the Equator, its rich ecosystems are possible due to its varied climate zones (rainforest, savanna, steppe, desert, mountain climate, etc.). Colombia’s temperatures vary based on elevations and rainfall. The country's capital, Bogotá, for example, is almost 9,000 feet above sea level and its average temperature is 57 °F.
  • 5 It has the best coffee in the world
    Ahh yes, if there&rsquo;s one thing Colombia has always been synonymous with, it&rsquo;s delicious freshly ground coffee. The
    Getty Images
    Ahh yes, if there’s one thing Colombia has always been synonymous with, it’s delicious freshly ground coffee. The “Eje Cafetero” (Colombian Coffee-Growers Axis), also known as the “Triángulo del Café”, located mainly within the Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío departments is home to what many consider the best coffee in the world.

    Fun Fact: The figure of Juan Valdez that represents the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia is not based off a real person. The fictional poncho-wearing character widely referenced abroad (remember that scene from “Bruce Almighty”?) is simply used to represent Colombian coffee farmers.
  • 6 It's home to the river that ran away from paradise
    The world is full of amazing rivers and lakes, but how many are as colorful as Caño Cristales? It's commonly referred to as "the river that ran away to paradise." Why? Because from September to November, the water level dips, and the moss on top of rocks begins to change and bloom in a variety of beautiful colors.
  • 7 Se habla español...y muy bien
    While the Spanish language may have its roots in the&nbsp;motherland of&nbsp;Spain, Spanish is <a href="http://caracol.com.co
    GUILLERMO LEGARIA/AFP/Getty Images
    While the Spanish language may have its roots in the motherland of Spain, Spanish is considered to be particularly well-spoken in Colombia.

    In 2007, Víctor García de la Concha, the director of la Real Academia de la Lengua Español, the official royal institution overseeing the Spanish language praised the country's Spanish while speaking to Caracol Radio.
  • 8 It's growing as a fashion hub
    &ldquo;La ciudad de la eterna primavera&rdquo; (the city of the eternal Spring) says plenty about the beauty of Colombia&rsqu
    RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP/GettyImages
    “La ciudad de la eterna primavera” (the city of the eternal Spring) says plenty about the beauty of Colombia’s second biggest city, Medellín. Once known as the home of the ruthless drug lord Pablo Escobar, its thriving textile industry has helped shed its past reputation and replace it with a growing fashion industry. Medellín hosts two important annual fashion-related events: Colombia Moda and Colombiatex.
  • 9 It's a country that values rest
    Only bested by Argentina, Colombia has the second highest number of national holidays in the world. With <a href="http://abcn
    AFP PHOTO/Rodrigo ARANGUA
    Only bested by Argentina, Colombia has the second highest number of national holidays in the world. With 18 public holidays and an average of 15 paid vacation days, it’s clear that this South American country values rest. In comparison, according to ABC, the U.S. only has 10 public holidays.

    Most Colombians take advantage of the long weekends, also known as “puentes festivos,” to travel within the country with friends and family.
  • 10 It prioritizes a healthy lifestyle
    Since 1974, on Sundays and national holidays the country&rsquo;s capital closes its usually congested main roads to give Bogo
    LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images
    Since 1974, on Sundays and national holidays the country’s capital closes its usually congested main roads to give Bogotá’s residents a chance to walk, run, bike, skate and skip with its ciclovía. In other words, from 7 AM to 2 PM Colombian families and tourists can use the over 75 miles of asphalt as their playground.
  • 11 It's filled with amazing food
    All that Aj&iacute;aco, Sancocho, Bandeja Paisa, Mojarra might be the real reason Colombians need the ciclov&iacute;as to exe
    Getty Images
    All that Ajíaco, Sancocho, Bandeja Paisa, Mojarra might be the real reason Colombians need the ciclovías to exercise on the weekends. With delicious typical stews hailing from different corners of the country, Colombians hardly lack gastronomic splendor. For more delicious food reason, click here. 
  • 12 It's home to salsa Caleña
    &ldquo;&iexcl;Oiga, Mire, Vea....vengase a Cali para que vea!&rdquo;<br><br> Colombia&rsquo;s third most populous city, Cali,
    AP Photo/William Fernando Martinez
    “¡Oiga, Mire, Vea....vengase a Cali para que vea!”

    Colombia’s third most populous city, Cali, is sometimes called La Capital de la Salsa (World’s Salsa Capital). With significant differences from other styles of salsa, “Salsa Caleña” is known for its quick footwork with a mostly still upperbody.  But Colombians do more than dance Salsa, the country is most well known for both its Cumbia and Vallenato genres.
  • 13 It was Gabo's birthplace
    Nobel Laureate and novelist Gabriel Garc&iacute;a M&aacute;rquez was&nbsp;perhaps the most well-known figure in Colombian lit
    ALEJANDRA VEGA/AFP/Getty Images
    Nobel Laureate and novelist Gabriel García Márquez was perhaps the most well-known figure in Colombian literature. Author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude" (1967) and "Love in the Time of Cholera" (1985), his works have not only been critically acclaimed but have made “Gabo” an icon within the Magic Realism genre.
  • 14 It's where the legend of El Dorado originates
    If you&rsquo;ve ever heard of the Legend of El Dorado, then you know of Colombia&rsquo;s pre-Columbine history. The <a href="
    AP
    If you’ve ever heard of the Legend of El Dorado, then you know of Colombia’s pre-Columbine history. The original narrative told the story of the Muisca people who used gold not as a symbol of material wealth but as a sacred metal for religious offerings. The legend describes the famed El Dorado ceremony which welcomed the new cacique (chief). Covered in gold dust, the chief would travel atop a raft. Later he would dive into the lake with his offerings as bystanders cheered.

    Bogotá’s International Airport “El Dorado” was named after the ceremony, and gold artifacts, like the Muisca Raft, can be found in the capital city’s Museo del Oro (Gold Museum).
  • 15 La Selección Colombia is full of love and talent
    Colombians rarely miss a chance to socialize over a good soccer match thanks to their common love of f&uacute;tbol. Whether i
    Getty Images
    Colombians rarely miss a chance to socialize over a good soccer match thanks to their common love of fútbol. Whether it’s celebrating a La Selección Colombia win or coming together after a defeat, Colombian wear their yellow, blue, and red with pride.

    James Rodriguez and los Cafeteros showed the world their growing power and dance moves at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Rodriguez took home the Golden Boot for most goals scored in the tournament and also won Best Goal of the Tournament.
  • 16 It's given the world beloved megastars
    Despite all of the country&rsquo;s qualities perhaps what shines the brightest internationally are its stars. The country has
    Getty Images
    Despite all of the country’s qualities perhaps what shines the brightest internationally are its stars. The country has produced everyone from the charitable Juanes and Shakira to the hilariously sexy Sofía Vergara. And don't forget about the musically talented Fonseca, Carlos Vives, J Balvín and Maluma. There's no shortage of stars in Colombia.
  • 17 It's made the art world fall in love with the chubby
    For all those chubby-loving art fiends, Colombian artist Fernando Botero&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertain
    Getty Images
    For all those chubby-loving art fiends, Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s work is nothing short of innovative. His figurative style “Boterismo” is characterized by portraying subjects in exaggerated volumes. His works are known to depict chubby women, men, children, animals, and even still-life in daily life with a sense of humor. Botero has also taken classics, like Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, and given them his own unique touch.
  • 18 It has more festivals than you know what do with
    It's not enough to have astonishing biodiversity and ethnic diversity,&nbsp;you need to celebrate it. Colombia has the world'
    AP
    It's not enough to have astonishing biodiversity and ethnic diversity, you need to celebrate it. Colombia has the world's biggest theater festival (Festival Iberoamericano), salsa festival and flower parade. It also has the second biggest carnival in the world! 
  • 19 It's made a hell of a comeback
    TIME magazine said it best when they featured the Colombian president on the cover of their international edition in April 20
    Getty Images
    TIME magazine said it best when they featured the Colombian president on the cover of their international edition in April 2012, and praised the country as thus: "From nearly failed state to emerging global player -- in less than a decade."

    Colombia's economy has been growing over the years and despite some setbacks, the country currently has one of Latin America's most stable economies.
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