1. Medellin is diminishing the borders between its communities.
Medellin is divided into 16 districts, called comunas. In the past, especially on the outskirts of the city, the borders between these Comunas were especially violent. In Medellin, you’ll notice that most buildings have balconies, which were once a perfect place to hide with a gun and shoot down anyone you didn’t recognize entering your comuna.
However these borders between communities are being converted from battlegrounds to peaceful pathways. For example, the borders surrounding El 13 de Noviembre on the east side of Medellin have been transformed from a dangerous forest into a peaceful garden, managed by the locals.
2. It’s putting a lot of focus on creating community centers.
Medellin has potable water in its taps, which was a wonderful surprise upon my own arrival there. The area is supplied by 144 water reserve tanks situated around the city, 37 of which have been selected to become Unidades de Vida Articulada, or UVAs (Units of Articulated Life). So far, 13 of these water tanks have been converted into community centers.
Unlike many of Medellín’s current projects, which are designed to help the city as a whole, these UVAs are intended to build a sense of community and pride within the individual communities where they exist. Located in the heart of some of the poorest neighborhoods, the UVAs offer opportunities for things like art, self-expression, outdoor community activities like theater, music lessons, or picnic areas to those who may not otherwise have them.
3. Transportation is improving.
One of the biggest obstacles in Medellin is getting around. The city center is relatively flat, but the comunas on the outskirts are built on hills that make San Francisco look like Florida. The Medellín metro is considered the best in Colombia, and is a point of pride for many citizens — you won’t find a piece of trash on it. But it doesn’t reach everywhere yet.
Currently, buses are one of the best ways to reach the outer limits of the city, but they aren’t easy to navigate or flag down if you don’t know how they work. Medellin has been adding cable cars to the metro system, so that it’s extremely affordable to find reliable and fast transportation to all parts of the city. Two systems already exist, and more stations are under construction to connect areas that are poorer and farther from the city center.
4. Police access is increasing.
Although the city has military and police stationed throughout, it’s not always easy for them to access the most far-reaching and notoriously violent parts of the city. Just four years ago, Medellín added outdoor escalators to one of the most historically violent and drug filled communities: Comuna 13 (if you’ve seen Narcos, they reference this comuna several times) while the escalators don’t connect the comuna to the city center, they do make it easier for residents to reach the metro, attract tourists, have security patrols, and make the comuna much more easily accessible to police, which helps increase safety and attract people from outside of the comuna.
5. It’s nourishing economic opportunity.
Things like the community centers (UVAs) and the gardens are meant to create friendlier borders and help build pride within the community, but these projects also need to be maintained. Building them on the outskirts of the city helps to stop urban sprawl from climbing up the mountains, and it offers residents of these far-reaching communities, many of whom have been displaced from the countryside, opportunities to take part, use the skills they have, and offer something to the city of Medellín. For example, the circumventing gardens offer opportunities to use agricultural skills, and the option to sell leftover produce to the city, which helps build a connection to Medellín and economic gains.
6. It’s promoting tourism.
While Colombia may not be first on many people’s list of places to take a vacation, its people are very welcoming to foreigners, especially because they aren’t accustomed to seeing visitors. Take a minute to get out of Poblano (the wealthiest and most touristy neighborhood in Medellín), and you’ll notice that nearly every person you meet will greet you, smile, and welcome you to town.
7. Medellin is trying hard to make peace.
Recently, the Colombian government came to an agreement with a rebel group called FARC, which has existed in the country since the early 1960s. Although FARC has been losing steam in recent years, they’re still the largest organized group today that’s been behind a lot of the Colombia’s violence over the past several decades. Peace in Colombia could do wonders for its reputation, its people, and its tourism.
8. The people of Medellin are drinking better coffee.
Although Colombian coffee is known around the world as some of the best, Colombians have only started drinking their best coffee recently. In many places, they still drink the cheapest coffee, but in order to help change their reputation, Colombia is trying its best to support its best.