Taking a tour of a ‘Competitive City’

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Do you want to take a walk through a competitive city? Since today, October 31, has been designated as World Cities Day by the United Nations, today is an especially good day to explore that idea. 

Have you ever noticed how mayors and city leaders experience life alongside their citizens? It forces them to be more focused on the local manifestations of their policy decisions. They connect with what their citizens see and experience on a day-to-day basis. Numbers are crucial, because policies need to be supported by evidence – but what if the numbers and experiences could be brought to life? What does a 5 percent annual GDP growth rate look like? For that matter, what does a “competitive city” look like?

Members of the Competitive Cities team at the World Bank Group traveled to Bucaramanga, Colombia to find out. Here, amid the city’s famously rugged topography – with no ports or railroads nearby, and almost 10 hours away from the nation’s capital, Bogota – economic development seemed to be a tough proposal. Bucaramanga, however, managed to reinvent itself and become a globally competitive city – with the fastest rates of GDP growth and job growth in Colombia, and one of the fastest growth rates in the Western Hemisphere. As part of the Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth initiative, we had already looked at Bucaramanga’s success in numbers and had analyzed qualitatively how they managed to get things done. Now we wanted others to experience how it felt to walk through a secondary city that blossomed into a dynamic economic center.

Thanks to a donated helicopter, the use of hobbyist drone technology, a motorcycle and a hugely enthusiastic local chamber of commerce, the team captured images and videos of the places that were central to Bucaramanga’s growth story. Bucaramanga’s transformation began with the creation of a regional competitiveness commission, a public- private alliance spearheaded by the private sector. As you’ll see in the accompanying video, one single block within the city hosts the chamber, an industrial university, the enterprise center, the commerce association and important regional banks.


In Bucaramanga, Colombia, Erick Ramos Murillo (left) and Rómulo Cabeza (right) prepare to fly a 3-D camera rigged to a drone. 

During your tour of the city, you’ll pass by the Commerce Club and the site of regional and city governments. In fact, the development of public services in Bucaramanga has set a positive example for the rest of the country: It was the result of alliances between the public and private sector, and was carried out with regard to local leaders’ political affiliation. A coordination committee composed of these sectors and academia meets every month to discuss initiatives and programs.

You’ll also come across one of the city’s 17 universities. With ambitious growth goals in mind, the city developed a land-use policy to promote agglomeration and intensify urban density. This was done the Bucaramanga way, with a growth coalition uniting the city’s construction sector and its municipal government agencies. In fact, the city’s land-use policy is updated and revised frequently to respond to the city’s development needs. That has helped promote the city’s educational and medical centers, driving Bucaramanga’s development into a leading destination for medical tourism.

Statistics provide an important fact-base to discuss city-level competitiveness, but technology can be an effective enabler – helping make the important lessons more relevant to mayors and city leaders elsewhere. Watch the virtual Reality Video (The experience is truly immersive if you use Virtual Reality glasses – but it’s just as informative if you view it as a standard video).


“Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth” has been made possible by the contribution of the Competitive Industries and Innovation Program (CIIP). The overview report and companion papers were launched in Washington, D.C. in December 2015. To learn more about "Competitive Cities for Jobs and Growth," follow this link



Megha Mukim

Senior Economist, Social, Urban, Rural and Resilience Global Practice

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