Published on Sustainable Cities

Medellin Lab 2.0: Sharing knowledge on urban transformation

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Medellin represents a remarkable story of urban transformation.  
At one point, it was considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world. From 1990 to 1993, more than 6,000 people were murdered annually.  Drive-by shootings were regular and indiscriminate, stemming from warfare between gang lords, drug criminals, and para-military groups.  The need for change was urgent and led to radical urban experimentation.
The city’s political and business leaders recognized that Medellín’s security issues could not be dealt with through policy measures alone. They initiated a series of radical programs to reshape the social fabric of the city’s neighborhoods and to mobilize the poor. 
City planners began addressing the problem of endemic violence and inequity through the design of public spaces, transit infrastructure and urban interventions into marginalized neighborhoods.  Key to their approach was a commitment to making the public realm a truly shared space, and a faith that they could transform Medellín’s public spaces from sites of segregation and warfare into spaces where communities would come together. 

The sheer enormity and complexity of the challenges demanded something unique – an urbanism of inclusion, where the dispossessed became partners in driving urban change.  Integrated urban transformation projects were designed with the objective of stitching the city together. Integrated mobility systems consisting of elevated metros, cable cars, trams and escalators were put in place to keep the city moving and link previously disconnected neighborhoods. These were accompanied by socially minded, architectural interventions in the poorest areas; libraries, community buildings and cultural centers – places for people to come together, interact and learn. 

Through these interventions, Medellin has transformed itself into a city that regularly features highly on indices if livability and innovation, not only regionally but globally, and as such is as an inspiration by other cities facing challenges similar to those Medellin faced in the past.

To share Medellin’s experience with other cities, the World Bank partnered with the city’s International Cooperation and Investment Agency (ACI) to organize a week long “Living Lab” program consisting of workshop sessions, site visits, peer-exchange and visioning exercises. 29 City officials from 8 countries in Africa and East Asia joined the Medellin Lab along with World Bank urban sector experts.  The event is part of an ongoing partnership between the World Bank and ACI to share knowledge on Medellin’s development experience.  Follow-up workshops in Africa and Asia will bring experts from Medellin to these regions to continue to share experience. ​


    Philip E. Karp

    Lead Knowledge Management Officer, Social, Urban, Rural, and Resilience Global Practice

    Peter Ellis

    Manager for the World Bank’s Urban Development, Resilience and Land Unit in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region

    Steffen Janus

    Senior Operations Officer

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