Future of Cities: Medellin, Colombia solves city slums


Imagine building a city for a million people
every week for the next 40 years.
Imagine what that would take.
Medellín, Colombia.
Colombia isn’t the largest country in South America
and Medellín isn’t even the largest city in Colombia.
But there’s something happening here that’s
made it a window into the future of cities.
Wilson Mejía and Angela Puello aren’t just
small business owners.
They’re participants in an unusual urban experiment.
One that’s happening in a place whose
past might never lead you to
believe it’d be a model for the future.
The city with the highest murder rate in the world.
If you know anything about
Colombia’s second largest city,
it’s probably that in the 80s and early 90s
Medellín was headquarters for a homicidal
drug cartel headed by Pablo Escobar.
And the bombings and bloodshed from the drug
trade regularly spilled into the streets.
In Colombia, the murders continue in the
cocaine capital of Medellín.
40 deaths have been reported there in
the last 24 hours.
Some of the worst violence plagued Medellín’s slums.
For decades, these makeshift neighborhoods
were hacked out of outlying hillsides
by migrants who were too poor to
find homes in the city center.
Perhaps the most notorious of
these was Santo Domingo
where Wilson Mejía lived when he was a kid.
Wilson’s family first arrived when he was 3 years old,
joining one of many waves of rural migrants
who flocked to Medellín. Some were pushed from the
countryside by Colombia’s decades-long civil war.
Others were pulled by the promise of better jobs.
But the only place they could live were the illegal
shantytowns beyond the reach of police or city services.
And yet the city continued to be overwhelmed by newcomers.
In five decades, Medellín’s population exploded
from 300,000 people to nearly 3 million.
And Medellín’s story is in many ways the whole world’s story.
Our planet is moving to town and faster all the time.
It took more than 10,000 years from the dawn of human
settlement to 1800 for the human population
to become just under 3 percent urban.
And by 1950 we were 30 percent urban.
By 2050, some projections say 70 percent
of humanity will end up living in cities.
So if there’s a legacy for the future generations,
it is the fact that they’ll be living in cities.
So what cities…what kind of cities?
And many of the new arrivals will end up making
their living in the informal hand-built shantytowns
that are sprouting in cities across the developing world.
Often, you’re talking about 50 percent,
60 percent of the people living informally.
So we are not talking about the exception, right?
So the city is that.
The population living in slums in the
large cities in the global south
represent at this very moment a billion people.
Wilson’s family eventually left Medellín as
the city became more violent.
But many more migrants kept coming.
And many of them arrived during an economic downturn
when Medellín’s factories were in decline
and the drug trade was on the rise.
The city was at the point of collapse.
It was that serious.
But contrary to the expectations of many observers,
the crisis in Medellín forced a change.
Voters fed up with the violence, elected a series of
reformist mayors, who joined with activists, urban planners and business owners
to invest heavily in upgrading some of the poorest informal neighborhoods to connect them with the rest of the city.
The key policies
bridged this psychological divide between the city center
and the very poor comunas on the hillsides
which were fairly detached from the city.
One of the most innovative of these policies bridged
this gap literally.
Medellin had built an above ground metro system to help people get around the middle of town on the valley floor.
And nine years later they added these.
Building a cable car from the city center to the
poorest neighborhood, Santo Domingo,
in the hills was hugely significant in
crossing this psychological barrier.
It’s among the first in the world to be
used for urban mass transit.
And it was part of a multi-billion dollar campaign
to knit the property and the people of
informal neighborhoods into the formal city.
At times, as much as a quarter of Medellín’s
budget came from a publicly-owned power utility
which drew money from all over the region
to upgrade city slums.
In addition to the cable car,
there were other crucial investments
that provided additional opportunities to people.
Schools for the kids, libraries, microcredit.
If we are to look at the cost, there were
probably eight times as big as the
cost of building the first cable car.
Thirteen years ago, the recovery convinced
Wilson to move back to Medellín.
Just down the hill from the new metro cable station,
he and Angela opened
two bars and a restaurant on the same street.
Angela’s younger sister, Karen,
she helps out at the restaurant
and she rides the cable car every
time she commutes to nursing school.
Today, urban researchers from around the
world have studied how Medellín
upgraded and connected its shantytowns to the formal city.
The lessons are easy enough to understand,
but they may not be as easy to replicate.
It boils down to politics, basically, and
the political will to create cities without slums
that accommodate low-income people, that accommodate growth.
Cities are where the economic activity of a nation
occurs if the cities are well-functioning and well-run.
Perhaps the most fundamental change is how Medellín
has accepted that informal settlements
and the people who live there aren’t marginal to the city’s success,
they’re essential to it.
Over time, and this is a basic principle of law, over time people get rights.
The changes have allowed the Mejía family to find their own ways to make the neighborhood a little better.
They employ a couple of people. They offer food deliveries to busy neighbors.
And for folks looking to relax, there’s now a spot close to the metro station
where you can grab a drink with friends, hear live music or watch the game.
It’s not rocket science. We know what to do. We have the knowledge about how you lay pipes.
We know how to set up transportation systems. But, can you get places to do it? That’s the question.
Even here success remains fragile.
Workers may be laying foundations for new metro cable lines in Medellín’s more established neighborhoods.
But, just up the valley, new shantytowns are growing.
Residents of this one called Nueva Jerusalén face many of the same challenges the Mejía family did decades ago.
They pay an armed gang for plots of illegally occupied land.
Homes are built by hand and a lot of freight comes in on foot.
The old way of thinking about slums was that they were a problem,
an intractable horrible problem that had to be dealt with by eliminating them.
But the reality is that they’re the solution.
And if they’re given the opportunity to contribute, they will be the key to sustainable cities in the future.

100 thoughts on “Future of Cities: Medellin, Colombia solves city slums

  1. La realidad es que esta sobrepoblada y la contaminación esta sobre el nivel de aceptacion afectando los residentes de Medellín y la naturaleza otra cosa es que el rio esta contaminado por toda la basura que baja de esa favela cada vez que llueva. Así que no vendan sueños

  2. This is just a way to look at it. It s better to check more reliable and serious sources. This video shows just a point of view.

  3. For any old minders
    Colombia is frikin' great , it's not only drugs
    For new minders
    Go visit Colombia is a great experience and is beautiful won't regret it 😊😊

  4. What I got from this video 3 minutes in was by 2050 70% of the Earth's population will be living in cities so I need to save up and buy a farm away from the city!

  5. For my 18th birthday i got myself a trip to medellin for 2 months, i stayed in la america, right near parque floresta. Medellin was perfect, i loved it and wish to go back again. Best time i have ever had in my life.

  6. I am Colombian and when I would tell people am Colombian they would say so ur parents take drugs and I would just stare at them like wtf…..

  7. I'm Colombian and before the Mafia wars of the 80s Medellin was one of the most successful cities in Latin America. But when the Mafia wars began they started Contracting the Guerrilla groups to displace rural Farmers from their land so they could use the land to grow cocaine. This created a mass Exodus of displaced refugees that ended up living and the hillsides of the city which is very very sad event because the City used to be Powerhouse of economic and social mobility. But being that Medellin has always been at the Forefront of innovation, rather than destroy these shantytowns they decided to invest in them. I personally think it would have been a better idea to demolish and rebuild these areas, but the alternative approach wasn't a bad idea either. Let me clarify that these areas don't make up the majority of the city, only maybe 10% to 20% of the city. The vast majority of the city is actually very nice, safe and quite modern.

  8. Colombia has always been on the Forefront of innovation in Latin America, it's our culture to be industrious and forward-thinking. The Mafia/Guerrilla wars of the 80s and 90s dealt a huge blow to our country and left it in ruins. All because of an illegal drug trade that took the lives of many and destroyed the very fabric of our society. That being said, we Colombians are resilient people we will never stop looking forward to the future and working hard to improve our way of life. On a final note, the illegal drug trade was established by Americans.

  9. I hope Medellin continues to grow. The more the cities and local industries grow, the less dependent the poor people of Columbia are on gangs and drug money. The people of the slums today could be the parents/grandparents of the future office workers, officials, doctors, and entrepreneurs.

  10. I am not Colombian , nor live in Colombia, but does everything have to mention Escobar? It get a little tiring and lazy. If things go well, Colombia can grow in the next 20 year, I am cheering for you!

  11. Mexico is doing this too ,but just putting smaller more compact houses that factory previously non or badly employed people can live in

  12. This would never happen in the US. No matter if it is the fault of the poor or not, that they live in poverty, the general consensus in the US is that "I don't want to pay for other people's children". They don't want their tax money to go to what they consider services that should be earned such as schools, while the rest of the world considers these things human rights.

  13. We need population control as well. Educate women of lower income, so they focus on bettering their lives before reproducing and adding pressure to the economy.

  14. Rio tried to do the same, but so much corruption which got worse with soccer cup and Olympics games and the city and the provicence went bankrupt. In a way, even Brazil is broken, but Rio is worse by far.

  15. How do you know that building cable cars did not just result in a gentrification of the neighborhood, converting it to middle class housing with the poor being pushed elsewhere? Sure a few enterprising poor remained, but the majority of them have to find work somewhere and that is not always available.

  16. Very impressive. I live in this city also called Mebeijing, because of the pollution we have here. We are "very smart", but our gobernment can´t/don't want to solve the SMOG problem. A lot o people die every day because of this problem. I don´t think this is a good place to breath/live.

  17. so there's a lot to take in in this video but holy shit the kid at 8:43 who is riding a wheelie in circles on his bicycle????

  18. My cousin lives there, I hear he gets robbed like once every two months, also, the soccer "barras bravas" are a real problem in every city of Colombia. I'm proud of my country, but this is a little too ideal, specially the comments section. It's not like the narco-culture has been erased at all, people still admire Pablo Escobar, and the young like me still are pretty open to the risks of this kind of philosophy.
    Extortion is a problem there too, informalism is something yet to overcome.
    Nice video tho, I believe our people will be capable of everything when we stop lazying around, that is the problem that leads to criminalism and corruption, which is our biggest issue right now.

  19. I've always wanted to visit Medellin and Colombia in general. Ironically, it was NARCOS that got me hip to the beauty of Medellin, the rolling hills, I just thought the show did a phenomenal job in allowing Medellin to speak for itself with its beauty. I can't wait till I travel there.

  20. I think the biggest reason why these cities are getting better is because of their people , they are not ashamed of where they started from they are humble and can adjust to change don't matter how difficult it gets. They are not waiting for a hand out they make it happen on their own good for them, being rich doesn't mean walking on marble floors it means being grateful for what you have and being happy.

  21. I'm from Bogotá and shamefully have to admit, we could learn a lot from the paisas, starting with learning to love, care and be proud of our city (a generalization of course, but just to make my point). I realize that creating such urban consciousness is a task that has to begin with good leadership and constant community activism. That's, regretfully, were us Bogotanos, have miserably failed. With the exception of our current city mayor, we had previously elected inept and corrupt leaders who once in power demonstrated their personal interest (power and money) were more important than our city's social and infrastructural urgent needs.

  22. I watched Narcos and when thinking about Medellin only drug wars and poorness came to mind. In this video I gladly learned they turned around 180 degrees and I put a ride on the cable car on my bucket list. In short: Thanks for showing me what a wonderful place Medellin has become!

  23. Another city that was even better at upgrading slums was Lima, Peru! Instead of constantly being a step behind, Lima essentially made their own slum in Villa El Salvador. Migrants still had to build their own houses, but the state enforced their property rights instead of some gang, increasing safety and allowing them to get access to the formal financial market for their trouble. It wasn't long before basic amenities and transportation links were dropped right in place, and the city is still growing today. It would be amazing if other countries, even mountainous Colombia, could parcel out their surrounding areas the same way, and accept their exponential growth before it becomes a humanitarian crisis.

  24. We just visited Medellin and posted a video about how amazing this place is, especially for families travelling with kids. We'll be back for sure.

  25. I just saw this video, i'm from Medellín, they showed alot of the bad side, but not talking negatively, Medellín is 49th in quality of life out of 196 countries, and Medellín is the most inovative city in the world! About 1/4 of Colombians live in poverty now, while in the 90s, it was 1/2… Colombia is alot better now, i visited it, and i became as in love with Medellín, not because i was born there, but because of it's beauty, like almost all who tell me thwy've visited it.

  26. it's going to be AI observed with facial recognition in the future. America is pushing to a facial recognition security like China has. Considering Apple got sued for 1 billion dollars by an 18 year old. Settled out of court.
    The 18 year old was wrongly arrested due to Apple's facial recognition AI.
    Japan is a safe country, not many slums. i don't have a means to contribute. i have a chronic fatal genetic disease. i don't play games. i deleted my Google Play Store due to hackers.

  27. I can't believe this is the same city that i saw in narcos series , beautifully transformed much love and respect for the people that made it happen .

  28. I've now been to Colombia 3 times. Medellin, I'm falling in love with this city. I may even buy a place there and maybe even retire there. It's so beautiful and all the people go quickly from strangers to parceros! Me ecanta esa ciudad! surrounding towns of El Retiro, La Ceja and others are wonderful and so accomodating. I can't wait until i return.

  29. but i swear to fuckin god can we stop using south america as a political playground like seriously have we stopped understanding the roots of colonialism. powerful people and institutions just sizing up cities like petri dishes

  30. one thing that these videos refuse to acknowledge is the fact that it isnt about government or communas/fabelas, but actually about PEOPLE. people who's culture and mentality change for the better, they could try to replicate what is being done in Medeliin anywhere else in the world, including other Colombian cities but if their mentality/culture isnt changed for the better, no metro cable, no amounts of investments will do the trick, also Colombia had a history before the narco times, a history rich in culture, progressive values and many great things that many countries fall behind in even up to now, enough with making the history of Colombia the history of narcos.

  31. Colombia no eres un país ponte te no eres famosos por la cosas buenas pero yo me ciento mil veces orgulloso de ser colombiano todo esto. Tiene fin nosotros vamos a gobernar el mundo♥️🇨🇴😢♥️🇨🇴🇨🇴🇨🇴

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