Medellín (Colombia) demonstrates that violence prevention through well-thought-out cultural projects can work. The initiatives are the product of political commitments and bold leadership sustained over the course of a decade, covering three municipal administrations. From 1991 to 2010, homicide rates in the city dropped by 80%. Despite limited resources, Medellín has brought about transformative change through small-scale yet high-impact innovative urban projects targeting the city’s social and economic inequalities.
Medellín city authorities have conceived security as only one component of a broad social strategy designed to improve social cohesion, inclusion and quality of life. The cultural initiatives were designed to complement measures to improve public transportation and road safety, high-quality education infrastructure, provide safe recreational areas, upgrade infrastructure and public services, and increase citizens’ responsibilities towards their city. The city planning included the cultural component as part of a holistic approach to urban design and social engineering.
As part of the city’s efforts to regenerate the neighbourhood of Santo Domingo, an area severely deteriorated by urban violence and drug trafficking during the 1980s and 1990s, the Metrocable cable car system was introduced in 2004, helping to connect low-income areas, such as Santo Domingo, with the city centre. Reducing social inequalities has been tackled through the regeneration of public spaces. The library park Parque Biblioteca España was built in 2007 to enhance the vitality of the Santo Domingo neighbourhood, boost the participation of all citizens in culture, and improve the quality of life of vulnerable communities. Accessible by Metrocable, the library has created a link between the different neighbourhoods of the city, strengthening a sense of dignity and belonging in areas that have not been able to previously benefit from quality public spaces and cultural services.
By adopting an inclusive and innovative approach to urban renewal and environments, Medellín has achieved what many cities have struggled to do: create a strong culture of transformation and reduce urban violence.
Source: Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, report for Study Area 8/ Webber Ndoro, Leveraging culture for peaceful, tolerant and socially-inclusive cities